When I was younger, I was like Francie Nolan in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—I found my friends in books, rather than people.
But these books had characters animated so vividly that I learned, page after page, the importance of friendship in real life, and how to go about planting its seeds.
Here are 8 books that taught me the ins and outs of making strangers into friends:
1. Prepare to be an empathetic listener.
"'I don't feel very much like Pooh today,' said Pooh.
"'There there,' said Piglet. 'I'll bring you tea and honey until you do.'"
2. Take the initiative to connect and reach out, but without assumptions.
"This is the first time I have met someone who seeks out people and who sees beyond. That may seem trivial but I think it is profound all the same. We never look beyond our assumptions and, what's worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves..."
3. Get to know them better—before you jump to conclusions.
"'I've got a new friend, all right. But what a gamble friendship is! Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty—everything I don't like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?'
"Wilbur was merely suffering the doubts and fears that often go with finding a new friend. In good time he was to discover that he was mistaken about Charlotte. Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart, and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end."
4. Let them be whoever they are.
"...although he found it rather difficult for his slower intelligence to keep up with her brisk mental processes he thought that he 'kind of liked her chatter.'
"So he said as shyly as usual: 'Oh, you can talk as much as you like. I don't mind.'"
5. Connect over humour.
"Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face in the primrose. 'Oh dear,' she gasped with tears in her eyes, 'you are funny!' She stared upward at his puzzled face. 'Human beans are for Borrowers—like bread's for butter!'"
6. Give a compliment...
"Calvin said, 'Do you know that this is the first time I've seen you without your glasses?'
"'I'm blind as a bat without them. I'm near-sighted, like father.'
"'Well, you know what, you've got dream-boat eyes,' Calvin said. 'Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don't think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have.'"
7. ...and choose people who complement you.
"'Hey, Mateo. Nice hat.'
"He not only responded, but he likes my Luigi hat from my profile picture. He’s already connecting to the person I want to become. [...]
"'We can get a handshake going when we meet, but until then I promise to be the Mario to your Luigi. Except I won't hog the spotlight.'"
8. Keep up the friendship.
"'If, for example, you came at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am!'"
These 8 books (mostly children’s books, curiously) together showed me the importance of detaching from my little orbit and becoming a little more aware of those around me. As Anne of Green Gables taught us, "kindred souls” and “bosom friends" can be just around the corner.
Even if the other person turns out to not want to be your friend (it happens), don’t be deterred from reaching out to others. Or, if you feel that you and the other person aren’t all that compatible, it’s okay to just be acquaintances, rather than friends (but don’t ghost them...please).