Spoiler alert: Children of all ages benefit from picture books. All of us want to raise kind and empathetic adults. But, in one study, “80 percent of the youth said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others.” (cite) I believe this is, in part, because parents are not intentionally teaching their children kindness. Reading children’s picture books about kindness is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to teach kindness. Many picture books are written for all ages – including older kids, even into high school. In this post, you’ll find some of our very favorite children’s books about kindness out there to open up rich conversations with your children, of any age, about kindness and empathy.
Reading From Day One
We have always read to our boys – literally from day one. I can’t claim that I was some super insightful brilliant mom when they were babies. It was more like – what else can I do with this baby who can’t do much more than lay there like an oversized spud? (Don’t get me wrong – that was one super cute spud!)
Reading seemed like a terrific way for us to spend time, snuggle, and be close.
And then I discovered soooo many benefits to reading out loud to children of all ages. And I never stopped reading and I never looked back.
Why Not Intentionally Teach Kindness?
I remember, before he was two, my son dropped a big sloppy fist full of toddler food from his high chair. I calmly said, “Sweetie, we don’t drop food on the floor.”
And then came the simplest of responses, “why?”
It was then that I realized – he genuinely had no idea. He really didn’t know why he couldn’t drop food on the floor; he needed me to teach him.
After I composed myself, I explained some of the many reasons that we don’t drop food on the floor.
And I must say that I felt slightly hypocritical as I remembered one of my favorite college bars where the whole point was to drink beer and eat peanuts while tossing the shells on the floor. By the end of the night, there was a gloriously thick carpet of peanut shells that some underpaid kid had to clean up.
But I digress.
My point is – our kids need us to teach them even the most basic of things. So why not intentionally teach kindness? Here’s the best part: we can start early with children’s picture books about kindness. I know to the depths of my maternal soul that children come into our world eager to learn and absorb all that is around them. I also believe that children need us to teach them even the most obvious things.
But Wait. I Thought Picture Books Were Just For Little Kids?
I so love reading picture books about kindness with both of my boys in our homeschool. Each can relate to the book on his own level and I can seek deeper thinking from my older son than from my younger one.
Always keep in mind – picture books are written for adults to read – not emerging readers. So, well-written picture books contain sophisticated language patterns, encompass a complete story arc, have well-planned characters and literary devices. So there is a lot of juiciness in there to explore with older kids!
How Does Reading Fiction To Children Help Them Develop Necessary Skills?
A child’s capacity for empathy increases through reading fiction. And, it’s not just any old fiction.
When study participants read non-fiction or nothing, their results were unimpressive. When they read excerpts of genre fiction, such as Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother, their test results were dually insignificant. However, when they read literary fiction, such as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, their test results improved markedly—and, by implication, so did their capacity for empathy.https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/
So good quality books make all the difference. Maybe you’ve heard the quote, “If I’d had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” (author unknown) The skill and craft that it takes to condense a meaningful story arc down into the few pages of a picture book are significant.
I view picture books as an art form unto themselves. The gorgeous artwork combines with skillful and succinct writing that forms a synergy to tell a lovely story in a very sophisticated way. Neither works as well without the other,
At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.” This powerful, timeless story has been reissued with a new letter from the author’s daughter Helena Estes, and with the Caldecott artist Louis Slobodkin’s original artwork in beautifully restored color.
When something sad happens, Taylor doesn’t know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn’t feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that’s not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to act, and one by one they fail to offer comfort. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen . . . which is just what Taylor needs.
With its spare, poignant text and irresistibly sweet illustration, The Rabbit Listened is about how to comfort and heal the people in your life, by taking the time to carefully, lovingly, gently listen.
All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need.” So, when his old shoes fall apart, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes. Even if they are a thrift-shop pair that is much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun. Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.
Inspired by real events, I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. Only pictures to tell the story. This brilliantly underscores the idea that someone can be an ally without having to say a word. Themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless story will resonate with readers young and old.
A young girl and her box of magical yarn transform a community in this stunning picture book. With spare, gently humorous illustrations and a palette that moves from black-and-white to a range of colors, this modern fairy tale has the feel of a new classic. And it’s an extra bonus in our house because we love anything by Mac Barnett or Jon Klassen!
Hunger is such a difficult topic to discuss with children. This book gently introduces the idea to children. Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, and play in the same park, but while Sofia’s fridge at home is full of nutritious food, the fridge at Maddi’s house is empty. Sofia learns that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough money to fill their fridge. So she promises Maddi she’ll keep this discovery a secret.
But because Sofia wants to help her friend, she’s faced with a difficult decision. She can keep her promise or tell her parents about Maddi’s empty fridge. Filled with colorful artwork, this storybook addresses issues of poverty with honesty and sensitivity while instilling important lessons in friendship, empathy, trust, and helping others.
The book also includes a call to action, with six effective ways for children to help fight hunger. It includes information on anti-hunger groups as well.
A simple act of kindness can transform an invisible boy into a friend…
Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody in class ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.
When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.
Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource. Includes a discussion guide and resources for further reading.
“Misery loves company,” Mama says to James Otis. It’s been a rough couple of months for them, but Mama says as long as they have their health and strength, they’re blessed. One Sunday before Valentine’s Day, Reverend Dennis makes an announcement during the service– the Temples have lost everything in a fire, and the church is collecting anything that might be useful to them. James thinks hard about what he can add to the Temple’s “love box,” but what does he have worth giving? With her extraordinary gift for storytelling, McKissack–with stunning illustrations by Harrison–delivers a touching, powerful tale of compassion and reminds us all that what is given from the heart, reaches the heart.
Everyone knows the cool beans. They’re sooooo cool. And then there’s the uncool has-bean . . .
Always on the sidelines, one bean unsuccessfully tries everything he can to fit in with the crowd—until one day the cool beans show him how it’s done.
Jake’s voice has a different sound.
Other critters won’t come around.
But he is sweet and only wants to play.
Will others start to see him that way?
Follow Jake, a sweet, kind, and misunderstood dog as he tries to make friends despite his differences. Meet forest critters of all kinds while getting to know Jake. Jake loves to swim, hike, and play, but when he realizes he’s lonely a true friend comes to his aid. Soon others find friendship and understanding filling this tale with heart and hope.
Young Nikolai is searching for the answers to his three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?But it is his own response to a stranger’s cry for help that leads him directly to the answers he is looking for. This profound and inspiring book is about compassion and being engaged in each moment. With his stunning watercolors — and text that resounds with universal truths, Jon J Muth has transformed a story by Leo Tolstoy into a timeless fable for readers of every age!
Molly Lou Melon is short and clumsy, has buck teeth, and has a voice that sounds like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor. She doesn’t mind. Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that advice to heart.
But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that.
Heidi is a stick insect, tall and long like the twig of a tree. It’s her first day at a busy bug school, where she hopes to learn and make new friends. But finding friends isn’t easy when no one can find you! It’s such a fun surprise to see what the kids do so that Heidi can be seen!!
Miss Nancy’s lost her memories and Wilfred wants to help her get new ones. This is a terrific story about helping elderly people and modeling kindness to all.
Pigalina teaches Claire the loving-kindness meditation to help Claire embrace the world with compassion and caring.
May All People and Pigs Be Happy follows seven-year-old Claire and her stuffed animal Pigalina. From Pigalina, Claire learns a simple meditation that helps her to feel kinder toward herself and spread caring and love to others. The loving-kindness meditation can be practiced by anyone regardless of religion to cultivate loving presence, friendship, tenderness, and love. This book is perfect for those with or without a background in the loving-kindness meditation.
William “Doc” Key had a special way with animals. Doc grew up enslaved in Tennessee. He went to plantations around the state to care for sick and wounded animals. When the Civil War ended and Doc was freed, he began to dream of breeding a winning racehorse. But those dreams were dashed when his colt was born weak and sickly. Although many people would have euthanized the colt, Doc nursed him back to health and named him Jim.
Noticing a level of curiosity and eagerness in the horse, Doc began teaching Beautiful Jim Key first to recognize letters, then to read, write, add, subtract, and more. Doc soon took his talented horse on the road, spreading a message of patience and kindness, over cruelty, to all animals.
With striking illustrations by Daniel Minter, Step Right Up is the inspiring story of one man and one horse who showed the world the power of kindness.
Children’s Books About Kindness For All Ages
Teaching children about kindness can never start too early.
Math? Yes, you could start teaching math too early.
Handwriting – yes, tiny muscles and bones aren’t always developed enough to begin learning handwriting.
But kindness? Always. Reading books about kindness to our kids? Always on fleek.
So, reading children’s books about kindness not only fosters bonding time with your children, but it can help strengthen multiple cognitive muscles.
Children’s Books About Kindness Nurture A Child’s Empathy
As our children face a future fraught with uncertainty and we, as parents, don’t know what jobs or professions may be available to our children, it’s imperative that they learn skills that will transfer well to any job.
These are skills – often referred to as “soft skills” – that employers will be looking for. Skills such as empathy, kindness, self-discipline, self-awareness, creative problem-solving, learning agility, adaptiveness, flexibility, positivity, rational judgment, and generosity.
These are exactly some of the skills that reading books about kindness with our kids can help strengthen.
How important is reading fiction in socializing school children? Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/
That’s called empathy. I don’t know about you – but I really could have no greater success as a parent than to raise a kind and empathetic human.
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