Booklists, Books | August 22, 2022

What I Learned on Sabbatical – Friendships Make all the Difference


BookSmart Books About Friendship

Earlier this year, Worldreader instituted a sabbatical policy. The idea is to give employees who’ve worked hard for eight or more years time to disconnect, refresh, and come back even more focused on helping children read.

So after 12 years leading Worldreader, I volunteered to test the program out! For two months, my wife Jen and I traveled through the American South, learning more about the US’s history and its current political and cultural state. 

As remarkable as the cities and route were, one of my biggest takeaways from the trip was something less expected: the power of friendships. Our trip was highlighted by visits with friends from our past, folks we hadn’t seen in years or even decades. During the height of the pandemic, our friendships were largely reduced to video calls, and while we were grateful for that digital connection during lockdowns, nothing beats seeing your friends face to face. 

From Columbia, South Carolina to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to New York City, I met up with friends I attended elementary school with, attended college with, and some that Jen and I met while living overseas years ago. We ate and talked and reconnected (when we shared the same political beliefs and even when we didn’t). I was reminded that friendships animate our lives, boost our happiness, support us during crises, and keep us healthier.

I’m hardly alone in this thinking. David Brooks in the New York Times has written several great columns about the power of friendship, including this one called “The Secrets of Lasting Friendship.” It’s worth a read.

Childhood, of course, is a critical time when we learn how to be a friend and establish some of our most important friendships. Luckily there’s no shortage of books to read with your child about friendship. I’ve listed a few from our BookSmart app that you might enjoy reading as a family.

And a final note, making and keeping friends doesn’t necessarily come easily to everyone. It requires emotional risks; it requires effort. 

I encourage you to make that effort. Dash off an email or call someone you’ve not connected with in a while. Do it now. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

I’m back at work with more energy than ever about the power of reading to improve children’s lives. Thanks for being part of the journey.


My Girls & Curls Cover

My Girls & Curls by Layla Steele

Published by Young Authors Publishing

Ages 6-8

There is no better way to celebrate Lila’s birthday than cooling off at the pool. Her friend Ashley had just gotten a silk press, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping in with her girls. Realizing her hair is no longer straight, Ashley cries. Her friends decide to help Ashley style her natural hair. Will they find the perfect style for Ashley? This story celebrates the natural hair journey of three young girls finding beauty in friendship and their coils.

► Read it here.

The Friends Have Different Opinions Cover

The Friends Have Different Opinions by Rosie Linder and Paulina Olsson

Published by Peppy Pals

Ages 6-8

Sammy, Gabby, and Kelly are at the library reading a book together. While reading, they realize that they have different opinions. This book focuses on handling one another’s opinions and underscores how open-mindedness can strengthen friendships.

► Read it in English here.

► Leer en español aquí.

Emma Cover

Emma by Nadiah Abidin

Published by The Asia Foundation

Ages 0-5

Radinka is bored at the beach until she makes a new friend named Emma. What fun activities can they do at the beach?

► Read it here.

Courage the Heart of Night Cover

Courage, The Heart of Night by Diana Ferraro

Published by My Special Word

Ages 6-8

Special words are positive words that tell you, you can BE anything and DO anything. They make you feel loved and special. In this delightful story, David helps his pal Charlie overcome his fear of the dark by invoking his special word, “courage”.

► Read it in English here.

► Leer en español aquí.

The Forward and Backward City Cover

The Forward and Backward City by Diwa Boateng

Published by Voices of Future Generations

Ages 6-8

Kabwe and Tatenda live in the same city but have completely different lives: one boy has all the food and gadgets in the world while the other goes to bed hungry and plays with cardboard toys. Once they become friends, however, no one can stop them in their fight for justice and equality.

► Read it here.

► Leer en español aquí.

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