Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: How to Grow a Friend


A prolific illustrator with a distinctive artistic style, Sara Gillingham had over 15 years of experience in the publishing industry before beginning her career as a children’s author.

Gillingham’s most recent book is How to Grow a Friend.  This picture book was published in 2015 offering the metaphor that building a friendship is like gardening.


Given the simple language of the book, Gillingham uses more complicated themes and metaphors to help children understand the complex journey to making a friend. The content requires children to make connections between friendship and gardening such as how both take time to grow, and there may be setbacks that must be overcome.  How to Grow a Friend helps show the intricacies of friendship with creative and colorful illustrations.

Gillingham’s personal artistic style creates illustrations seemingly made from laying paper overtop paper to create flat images that look intriguing and cute for children. The lack of strokes can make the illustrations seem uninteresting, but the illustrator goes out of her way to create detailed patterns and color overlays to add intrigue. The backgrounds and flowers especially are beautiful, however the portrayals of human faces are dull and uninteresting. The seed planted in the second page grows throughout the book to show how the boy and girl’s friendship in turn is growing with time and adventures shared.  This subtle detail shows Gillingham’s deliberate choice for her book.


Alternative cover to the book

Alternative cover to the book

Gillingham utilizes minimal words per page suggesting that this story is perfect for young children first beginning to read. At times, the author has ideas that apply only to friendship or gardening which can be confusing for the reader to follow, but the author uses the repetition of starting sentences with the phrase, “To grow a friend,…” which ties all of the ideas together.

While this book was confusing at times in an effort to balance both sides of the metaphor, the author’s fascinating illustrations and cute message designed for young children makes for an interesting read.

-Alyson Haffner


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