Jesus and the Gift of Friendship – Trillia Newbell and Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship by Trillia Newbell, Kristen Howdeshell, Kevin Howdeshell
Also by this author: The Story of Us
Published by Crossway on September 12, 2023
Genres: Children's
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Storybook by Trillia Newbell Teaches Kids to Embrace Jesus as Their Closest Friend and Provider

Friends are one of the greatest gifts from God and reflect his ultimate gift―Jesus! But what happens when the desire for friendship goes unmet? Where should kids turn in their moments of sadness?

In this thoughtful children’s book, readers journey with Zeke as he suffers from missing a close friend and experiences rejection after inviting a neighborhood boy to play. With help from his mom and consistent prayer, Zeke develops an unlikely friendship and an important dependence on Christ.

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship will spur hope and comfort in the lives of kids ages 3–6, teaching little ones to embrace friendship as a blessing from God and a reflection of Jesus―our dearest friend and ultimate provider.

Written for Kids Ages 3–6: Jesus and the Gift of Friendship will encourage little ones to embrace Jesus as their closest friend
Thoughtful Story with Gospel Truths: Teach kids about the love and comfort found in and through Christ
Rooted in Scripture: Provides a biblical application for a common Bible passage on friendship―John 15:12–15

This children’s picture book is about a young boy who feels lonely after his family moves. Zeke wants to make new friends, but he experiences loneliness and rejection, and his mother encourages him by pointing him to Jesus, teaching him about Jesus’s earthly friendships and the ways that Jesus can be a friend to us. Zeke learns to talk to Jesus and pray for a friend in his neighborhood, and in the end, Zeke becomes friends with a Black girl who shares his interests. He sees that even though he was looking for a friend just like the one he’d had before, we can have all kinds of different friends, just like Jesus did.

There are a lot of great life lessons in Jesus and the Gift of Friendship, and Trillia Newbell blends the nonfiction elements about Jesus well with the unfolding story. The illustrations from Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell are sweet and tender, portraying Zeke’s emotional struggles and the happiness he feels at the end. The story takes children’s emotions seriously, and the short author’s note at the end encourages parents to think about the importance of friendship and the comfort that Jesus can provide in the midst of loneliness. However, the book only focuses on Zeke’s neighborhood, without exploring other avenues for friendship, like church and community groups. I wish that this book had portrayed the characters making positive efforts towards friendship in addition to praying and waiting patiently, but I get that this doesn’t necessarily fit within the story’s constraints.

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship addresses an important topic that rarely appears in children’s literature. There are lots of books about making and keeping friends, but there aren’t many about enduring a period of extended loneliness without that kind of companionship. I appreciate this book’s sensitivity to that struggle, and even though this book is a little wordy, it’s a great length for elementary-aged kids who are struggling with this issue. Also, I appreciate how Newbell integrates the Christian faith with a child’s experience of loneliness without using references to Jesus as a method of spiritual bypassing. This book takes children’s struggles and emotions very seriously, while also providing comfort and encouragement through Christ.