REPRESENTATION International Friendship Day, July 30


The International Day of Friendship is an annual day of celebration that was designated by the UN General Assembly to promote and encourage unity, peace and happiness. It takes place on July 30th. Eva Wong Nava, Features Editor for Representation, takes a look at the theme of friendship in children’s books for this month’s article.


I’ve yet to read a book written for children (or even for adults) that does not have friendship at its core. Whether it’s Tintin and Captain Haddock, Sherlock and Watson, or Sun Wukong and Pigsy, friendships are what cement great literature. I’ve named a trio of infamous pairings, but friendships can be of more than a pair, of course. Take for example, the famous five, or the secret seven. I find it charming that both these friendship groups created by Enid Blyton are odd in numbers. Perhaps she was after the alliteration, and as children’s book authors, we know how important alliterative language is.


Young readers find magic in sounds. When I used to teach alliterative techniques in creative writing to young children, I discovered that they found words that begin with the same letter sound spellbinding. It’s almost sing-song, one student shared to the group. And one brilliant button of a student even used the word mesmerising.


“It’s mesmerising like magic,” they said.


As a childhood educator, hearing this gave me nothing but pure pleasure.


* cover art by Wendy Tan

I was recently sent a copy of Spellcasters (Orchard Books, 2023) by Hachette Children's Group, written by Crystal Sung. I finished the book over the course of a day. This is a middle-grade book, good for readers 7 plus, and it’s not only enchanting, it’s also very entertaining. I was most charmed by this story that sets friendship at its centre. There are four girls — Jenny, Tamzin, Ananya, and Maya; they’re in a band. And, they have magic powers. I love a good book about girl power, girl bands, and magic spells. Here, let me recite four spells that I love from this book:


“Mófǎ fills me with might, Ancient powers help me fight.”


“Jādū rights what evil wrongs, Ancient powers, put this back where it belongs.”


“Idan, strong as the winds that blows, Ancient powers, make the water go.”


“Precious ring, ruby glow, Come and let my magic flow.”


This is such a fun way to learn about rhyming couplets, and how to write them. There is rhythm in these songs of spells. I can just see the children memorising these spells, or even inventing ones of their. I did when I was a child. Spellcasters takes me right back to being eight again.


Here’s a page that showcases Wendy Tan’s illustrations.


* (photo credit: Eva Wong Nava)

Crystal Sung is the pen-name of Tania Tay. Tay writes for children and adults, and the pseudonym is her children’s author avatar. This is her debut children’s book, and I can see that it will go on to cast a spell on her readers. The story is fun, relevant, and packed full of emotions around school life and friendships that would definitely resonate with middle-grade readers.

The exciting news is that Spellcasters is the first of four books. That means that I and the children have three more books to look forward to. Yippeee!


My next book involves a retelling, I love a good retelling. Year Of The Cat by Richard Ho, illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, 2022) is an epic retelling of a well-known Chinese folklore, the Great Race. Epic because I’ve not read a retelling this refreshing and this unique before. I’m talking about it here because this picture book also puts friendship at its core, but one that is not typically expected. It explains in a fun way how Rat and Cat became frenemies. 


cover art by Jocelyn Li Langrand (photo credit: Eva Wong Nava)

There were twelve animals, who took part in a race that the Jade Emperor organised. The winner would be the first animal to represent time, and start the Chinese New Year. Since the Great Race, Chinese people all over the world have come to refer to each new year by its animal name. For example, 2023 is the Year of The Rabbit. But for the Vietnamese, it is known as the Year of The Cat. To know why you’ve got to read Year of the Cat. This is a picture book about frenemies, forgiveness, and counting backwards. It's loaded with good humour and great illustrations.

The vibrant visual storytelling has all the elements that make a great picture book. Here’s my favourite page. I just love how the animals are represented print-wise, and how Rat is centred on this page, since he is the main character of the story. And the words: “Cat lived at the edge of the kingdom — across the Ruby River, through the Moonstone Marsh, and atop the Crystal Cliff.” [Note the alliterations!]


* my favourite page in the book (photo credit: Eva Wong Nava)

And last but not least, my all-time favourite book about friendship: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2010). This is a classic. 


Amos McGee is a beloved zookeeper. He is kind, patient, and avuncular. The animals — an elephant, a tortoise, a penguin, rhinoceros, and an owl — love him. One day Amos McGee took a day off sick. The animals waited for him, but soon realised that they needed to go find Amos McGee instead. So they all trooped to Amos McGee’s home to comfort him (and Amos McGee was still holding the animals’ space, and putting their needs before his own), and the book ends with the animals asleep heaped around Amos McGee. Aw! Children understand only too well having animal friends in their lives that they love dearly. 


* cover art by Erin E. Stead

I love Erin Stead’s use of muted colours against a white background on the page to create a visual story that stands apart from the textual one, yet beautifully animates the words simultaneously.

* Stead's muted tones against a white backdrop (photo credit: Eva Wong Nava)

*Header image: In-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo


Eva Wong Nava is children’s book author, who loves a good retelling. She is working on an anthology of East Asian folktales, myths and legends, that have all sorts of friendships at their core. She loves retelling these stories in her own words. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @evawongnava. 


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at:

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