Motherhood

5 Books to Teach Kids Kindness

5 Books to Teach Kids Kindness (Photo by Amanda Jane Jones)

After such heartbreaking events in the news this weekend, it makes you think even more about how teach empathy to children. How they can help their friends, give others the benefit of the doubt, and be not just well-behaved but good — it’s a mighty endeavor. Obviously so much goes into raising kind-hearted people, but I think one small thing that can help is reading books that model compassion. Here are five I like…

1. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead. Amos visits his animal friends every day and does the activities they love most (like running races with the tortoise, and sitting quietly with the shy penguin, which I find so sweet). When Amos gets sick, the animals take the bus to his house to return the favor.

2. Days With Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. Cheerful Frog and cantankerous Toad are a funny odd-couple duo, who spend their days playing in their houses and outside. They have such an empathetic way of talking and are always there for each other. (Here’s an example: “Blah,” said Toad. “I feel down in the dumps.” “Why?” asked Frog. “I am thinking about tomorrow,” said Toad. “I am thinking about all of the many things that I will have to do.” “Yes,” said Frog, “tomorrow will be a very hard day for you.”) Bravo for this great illustration of friendship.

3. How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath, Mary Reckmeyer and Maurie J. Manning. A little boy learns that everyone has an invisible bucket above his or her head. When you’re upset, your bucket empties, and when you feel good, your bucket fills up. He learns to help keep his friends’ and relatives’ buckets full.

4. The Empty Pot by Demi. A Chinese emperor gives seeds to all the children, explaining that whoever grows the prettiest flower will be his successor. A little boy named Ping takes care of his seed all year, but nothing grows. Ashamed, Ping returns to the emperor to present his empty pot, and the other children mock him. The emperor reveals that he had given everyone cooked seeds, and Ping’s honesty and courage make him worthy of inheriting the kingdom.

5. My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems. Elephant Gerald is feeling down, and his friend Piggie tries to cheer him up by pretending to be a clown, a cowboy and a robot. What will it take to make the sad elephant happy? Author Mo Willems is a genius at understanding children (we LOVE the Knuffle Bunny books).

Also, I know everyone has different approaches to screen time, but I’ve been continually impressed by the TV show Bubble Guppies. The characters frequently discover that the scary dinosaur who is following them (and freaking them out) actually just wants to be friends, or the terrifying giant who is growling just has a toothache and needs help. Kids learn by example to see things from another person’s perspective and give people the benefit of the doubt.

What about you? I’d love to hear other recommendations…

P.S. Home as a haven, and six words to say to your child.

(Photo by Amanda Jane Jones)

  1. Amy P says...

    Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve added them all to my library list of books to check out. As for TV, I’m really impressed with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (based on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood) and the lessons it teaches about playing with friends – sharing, sympathizing, helping, etc. It’s been my daughter’s favourite show for two years now (she’s four and a half). Clifford the Big Red Dog is also great.

  2. Moral values are really important for the children and they should be inculcated from the childhood itself. The recommended books will be really helpful for kids to imbibe moral values and ethics in them.

  3. Laure says...

    As a kid, I loved The Giving Tree, read it so many times!

  4. Thank you for talking about starting young and teaching compassion to our kids. A kind child will grow up to be a kind adult and what a difference that will make.

    Shruthi
    http://nyambura.co

  5. gail says...

    Lovely post. It stood out to me that many of the books use animal characters to teach empathy lessons. I love that, and hope that they also serve to teach empathy towards animals as well, especially in an age where our children can be the future saviors of our dwindling planet’s animal species…

    • gail says...

      I meant to word that as “our planet’s dwindling animal species”…

  6. Julia E says...

    I, and my 6-year old son love Madonna’s book The English Roses. It’s about 3 girls not being kind to a 4th girl – until they learned her story. We also love Madeline series – many of the stories depict how to be kind… and the consequences of not being kind… such as what happened to Pepito.

  7. michella says...

    Lovely post. Thanks for sharing

  8. My mom is a preschool teacher and was recently diagnosed with cancer. Because she’ll be going through chemo and will be out sick for a couple of months, she used A Sick Day For Amos McGee to help her kids understand. Such a great book!

  9. KT says...

    I agree, children should be taught empathy and adults should practice empathy. But I wonder if I am missing something. How does empathy link to the tragedies in Paris? To say the terrorists lack empathy is a huge oversimplification if not completely inaccurate assessment of the situation. Or should be empathize with the victims? I am not clear on this, sorry.

    • Elisha says...

      I think the Paris attacks link to empathy because we as adults need to show empathy to people who are stereotyped and mistreated in America and Europe based on what a few people in their culture/religiohave horrifically done. Not pigeon hole or blame them as a whole group- and treat them as individuals.

  10. Rachel says...

    There is also a wonderful adult version of How Full is Your Bucket. It is one of the only self-help books that completely changed my life!

  11. Deb says...

    A few along these lines that we like: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Amazing Grace, a Visitor for Bear, Library Lion, and Odd Velvet

  12. SJ says...

    How much I love kid’s books! I must admit that as an adult and without kids of my own I sometimes buy for myself books and enjoy reading them. They have such nice and valuable lessons. Everybody is nice. It’s just my way of unwinding.

    SJ – simplyconversing.wordpress.com

  13. We love Dr Seuss in our household – I think I get more important messages out of his stories than the kids! All about caring for the environment and caring for others <3

    Nat Lewis
    Rocky Mountain Decals – Cute Wall Decals for kids, home and office!
    xoxo http://www.rockymountaindecals.ca

  14. Allison says...

    Thank you so much for this post, I’ve been trying to teach my 2 1/2 year old about feelings and expressing her emotions verbally, and also need to update her book collection! the Todd Parr books are great as others have mentioned – the Peace Book, and the I love You book especially.

  15. Frog and Toad! We have all of the books, but also LOVE the audio books, so wonderfully read by the author, Arnold Lobel.

    My six year old is crazy about listening to The Boxcar Children audio book, too. (It is just the first book from the series.) The caring and kindness between the siblings in that story is so lovely. And, Charlotte’s Web! That is probably the best book about compassion and friendship, EVER!

    I really appreciate Am’s comment above about how you can teach compassion with any book by talking about how the characters felt. Love that!

  16. I love Dr Seuss. The Sneetches is my favourite, it teaches about tolerance and acceptance and that no-one, no matter what they look like is better or worse than the other.

  17. Haylie says...

    I literally started to cry just reading the Amazon page description of “A Sick Day for Amos McGee”!!!! I’m going to get it as a Christmas gift for all my (adult!) friends. <3 you and your dear heart, Jo.

  18. #3 makes me happy! I haven’t heard of it but growing up my dad always referred to our “love buckets.” After work, he would spend one on one time with each of us before bed and called it filling up our love buckets. And when one of us was particularly cranky/needy instead of getting frustrated with our bad behavior, he would ask if we needed a little extra love in our buckets and make time to cuddle. Worked like a charm, especially on my sister. Now we are all grown with a family dog that gets whiny if we ignore her and my mom jokes and tells us we need to fill her love bucket.

  19. Elizabeth Miller says...

    What a perfect post following these tragic events. The only way we can heal the world is by raising children who are feeling and empathetic to all. One of the many reasons I love this blog.

  20. Wonderful post.

  21. annie g says...

    All of the Frog series by Max Velthuijs, especially Frog is Sad. Beautifully and simply written with wonderful illustrations. I find them very comforting. And buy them for my husband who is 51. Frog and The Stranger would be a brilliant read in these difficult times.

  22. Good and healthy education is one of the most important ways we can get hatred out of this world. Thanks for writing Joanna

    Kisses from Paris,
    B
    http://www.thisisb.be

  23. Aidel.K says...

    Brave Irene by William Steig–the best!!!!! The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle. A Chair for my Mother by Vera Williams. I love kids books!

  24. I love Mem Fox’s books and her book Whoever You Are is beautiful for teaching that we’re all the same and we’re all different.

    (I also have a list of books on empathy and perseverance here: http://www.inpursuitofloud.com/p/books.html)

  25. Michelle A says...

    Another Mo Willems’ book: Leonardo, The Terrible Monster. It’s about a monster who is terrible at scaring and finds a sad boy who looks like the perfect mark for a good scare. But then it turns into such a sweet story about friendship, empathy and dealing with emotions. My kids love it. Sweet, funny and so sweet.

  26. I always recommend Daniel Pinkwater’s ‘The Big Orange Splot’. I used to work in a small private school library, and I read it out loud once a year to everyone (right up the 8th graders). It’s a story about self-expression, and learning to respect and appreciate other people’s choices–even when they seem weird!–and I think that’s one of the foundations of empathy.

  27. Rebecca says...

    We have the complete George and Martha stories. I love the way they represent the true complexities of friendship in a simple, humorous way.

  28. margery says...

    another fantastic book is One by Kathryn Otoshi — it’s about bullying and kindness and it’s beautiful and perfect.

  29. Love this post ;)

  30. Amanda says...

    “Tear Soup” by Schwiebert and DeKlyen is a fantastic book for teaching children about grief, helping others grieve, and how to best help those who are dealing with a loss. Honestly, it helped me as much as my kids when we lost a family member.

  31. I agree. It’s very hard to know what to do or say in such sad times. One of my family’s favorite recent books about friendship and kindness is Little Elliot Big City. It’s simple and beautifully illustrated. As a reading teacher, I sometimes read Enemy Pie and Stellaluna also. Thanks for posting! My girls love a Sick Day for Amos McGee.

  32. Tammy says...

    I love all these suggestions! Going to check them out with my girls.

    Along a different line is my favourite book about when it’s okay to break the rules – Library Lion. So good!

  33. Savala says...

    I love this idea and will check out the books for my daughter… but I was disappointed that all the books feature male protagonists. I’m sure you know how under-represented girls are in children’s media. I wonder if you have any titles featuring girls to add to the list?

  34. Christi says...

    Hooray for Hat! Fantastic illustrations of animals cheering each other up when each is “grumpy” by sharing crazy hats. Ends with “Hooray for Friends!”

  35. Susan M. says...

    I love this post and all the replies and suggestions. I’m getting great new ideas to explore; some authors I knew. Frog and Toad series — get all 3 books! — are keepers. We often give the complete Frog and Toad as gifts, too. While the characters are boys, the gender aspect is weak. It’s actually pretty good to show how boys can be good and kind to others and each other. Girls get it so drilled into them. Angelina Ballerina series has plenty of acts of kindness; in a Christmas themed one, Angelina brings company and hospitality to a lonely aging neighbour. My son (5) likes various girl-protagonist books like this, partly I think because they deal with the more nuanced affective side of life (and maybe it explores the world of girls for him — not sure!). The Ladybug Girl series also has a girl who sometimes does kind things for others, as in the Halloween story (Ladybug Girl and the Dress-up Dilemma).
    I love this post especially today, after Paris and the enormous sadness. We need to foster more kindness everywhere. Thank you so much. So good for the soul.

  36. Irene says...

    I would love this for my little girl! I think she would love the SpinAgain. :)

  37. Krista says...

    We’ve just been reading “How to Heal a Broken Wing” by Bob Graham. It’s about caring for a bird with a broken wing, but really it’s about empathy, hope and healing. Highly recommended!

  38. A Sick Day for Amos McGee is one of our absolute favorites. The author and illustrator, Philip and Erin Stead, are a young married couple who live in “a barn in Michigan”! They have a brand new book out, titled “Lenny and Lucy,” that is also incredibly endearing..

  39. Nori says...

    Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

    Learned about her in my social justice for children’s literature course!

  40. Wonderful suggestions! Another good one: What Does It Mean To Be Kind? by Rana DiOrio

  41. Lauren says...

    Amos and Boris is a beautiful adventure story about friendship. I love anything by William Steig, but this story particularly touches me and my two little ones.

  42. Caroline says...

    Dogger by Shirley Hughes is wonderful – it’s a simple story about a little boy who loses his beloved toy, and his sister’s selfless act to get it back for him. Lovely illustrations too xo

    • I love Shirley Hughes!

    • Meg says...

      “Alfie lends a hand” is another good one by Shirley Hughes, Alfie is scared at a party but he sees someone more scared than him and comforts her. When I read it I feel like it also deals with parenting. Alfie’s mum prepares him for events and explains what will happen, while Bernard’s mum just scolds him all the time because he doesn’t behave!

  43. Trish O says...

    My Friend is Sad is one of MY favorite books ever love it

  44. Fiona says...

    Not so much a book, but I spoke with a co-worker last week and she was telling me how her son had LOVED “Pinky and the Brain” growing up, and that every morning they “would do what they do every day, plan to take over the WOOOOOORLD” (in pajamas, jumping up and down, hand gestures and all)… all they needed to do was find a “Victim”. In their case, a “victim” was someone who needed help, or a hug or a kind word or someone to play with, and every evening at dinner both the little boy and his mum had to report back on how their plans to take over the world were going. I thought it was the sweetest interaction to have it be a daily challenge and an opportunity (full of excitement!), and just loved that she had the same challenge as he did and was responsible for her successes and failures same as he was. After a weekend as hard as this one, I want to make it my challenge to take over the world every day as well!

  45. Jess. says...

    Oh, my goodness, “Louie” by Ezra Jack Keats. I can’t even think about that sweet book without getting tears in my eyes.

  46. A few more books full of kindness – with female protagonists – The Gardener – Rose Meets Mr Wintergarden – The Promise – My Two Blankets – Miss Rumphius – Because Amelia Smiled. (There are reviews for all of these at wherethebooksare.)

    Thank goodness for innocent children and empathetic parents who care enough to teach them about all that is good.

  47. Jessica says...

    My Mom was an elementary school guidance counselor for many years and after she retired she gifted many books to my now four year old daughter and six month old son. Our daughter is a very spirited child, very determined, and likes to do things her own way (all great qualities!) and one of her favorite books is one from my Mom’s collection called, It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr. We used to smile when she’s request it since in our eyes she is very unique :) I highly recommend this book not just for empathy but for teaching acceptance of all different kinds of people and things. Thank you for a wonderful post Joanna! My mom has told me for so many years how important it is to teach empathy to children. Another good one about feelings is My Many Different Colored Days by Dr. Seuss.

  48. Frog and Toad forever! Such a sweet series. :)

  49. marie says...

    Thank you for this, and for bringing up kind souls in this world!

  50. What a wonderful post! As my daughter becomes more and more interested in reading books, and with our 2nd on the way – I love the idea of reading books to them which will help with their emotional development! I remember reading frog & toad when I was a child! Wonderful post!

    xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

  51. What a positive view as a result of an unspeakable tragedy…I am not a mother but as I blogged myself yesterday, all I could think was how scenes like those emanating from Paris must make parents despair about the world we are creating for the next generation – maybe we all need to read children’s book and learn a little more about fellowship and empathy

    https://champagneinateacup.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/a-sunday-poem-yeats-the-stolen-child/

  52. Julie says...

    We love In My Heart by Jo Witek. It’s a gorgeous book and discusses feelings, making them more real & accesible to little ones.

  53. Nina says...

    Lovely ideas. I read how full is your bucket to my son’s kindergarten class and gave them all tiny buckets. He still talks about things that fill his bucket. :) 2 years later

  54. Darcy says...

    Just wanted to comment on Bubble Guppies — I talk about that with my boys all the time — that polar bear just wanted to be friends with them! LOL! The other thing I love most about the shows is the songs — I actually don’t mind when one of their songs gets stuck in my head after a marathon of watching the same show 3 times in a row!

    • Danielle says...

      What time is it? It’s time for lunch! Yes, I too like how Bubble Guppies is a gentle teacher.

    • My 2 year old loves bubble guppies too! We sing the outside song when we get ready.

  55. Remy Arguello says...

    Another great book on kindness is Each Kindness by the wonderful Jacqueline Woodson (author of one my all time favorite children’s book, The Other Side).

  56. Am says...

    I’m sure all of these are great, *BUT* you can help teach your kid empathy and to put themselves in someone else’s shoes with almost any book. (This is from a scientific study that came out a few years ago.)

    Just ask them how they think characters feel about what’s going on, and what they might be thinking.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great point! thank you for this.

  57. Ana says...

    Love this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  58. Katie says...

    the very cranky bear by nick bland. It’s a new favorite at our house along with your suggested sick day for Amos McGee!

  59. J.D says...

    This made me cry. I’m French and it’s been a very hard week-end for everyone. We need more kind souls. Thank you.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so sorry. sending so much love your way.

    • Karine says...

      Thank you Joanna.
      Friday was the day of kindness. How ironic is that, hmm?
      Karine, a French loyal reader from London

  60. Bridget says...

    Check out books by Cheri Meiners. She is a wonderful author of books that help promote all kinds of social skills among the early childhood set. I used them all the time when I taught preschool and now read them to my 4 year old boy.

    Great topic…I really believe teaching social skills, such as kindness, is the most important thing to impart on young learners. Without those skills, children really struggle in the classrom. Good luck!

  61. Allison says...

    We love all the Frog and Toad books. They are brilliant. A lot of pretty deep philosophical stuff is touched on but in a subtle (and funny) way.

  62. Meg says...

    Thanks for posting. I do like these books too. I wish some of them had female main characters though. Why can’t a zoo keeper, frog, etc be a girl?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i agree, i find it so surprisingly difficult to find female protagonists! we are actually working on a post with great children’s stories about girls. stay tuned…

    • kiki says...

      agreed! and as an aside..randomly…my Netflix app had a category of “recommended shows with a strong female lead” and i was like “woo hoo! go Netflix”

    • Heather says...

      I tell my daughter that the pig in Mo Willems’ books is female. I have not run into any mention of gender although I have not read them all (the elephant is named Gerald, so he is probably male).

    • Fiona says...

      Replying to Heather — we have read almost all the Gerald & Piggy books and Piggy is indeed a girl (although gender isn’t really a topic in the books) — in the party one (I think it’s I Am Invited To A Party) they get dressed up for a formal party and Piggy is wearing earrings & a gown, if I recall correctly. (I mean, I suppose a boy could wear those too, but…) And I’m pretty confident there are female pronouns used for Piggy in at least one, but I can’t sneak into my kids’ room to check without waking the little guy up.

    • K says...

      I think there are lots of great books with girl characters. The Fancy Nancy books are very sweet and thoughtful, same for Ladybug Girl. We’re also big fans of Grace for President, Crafty Chloe, George and Martha, Imogene’s Last Stand, Me…Jane, all of the Knuffle Bunnies, Olivia, Kevin Henkes’ Lilly and Chrysanthemum, plus any good re-telling of Little Red, Hansel and Gretel and Goldilocks. And then once you can start reading chapter books with your child, the girl characters totally outweigh the boys both in quantity and quality Clementine, Ivy and Bean, Dessert, Violet Mackerel, Bink and Golly, these books crack me up! Some are a little naughty, but that’s good for girls to read, I think. And Violet Mackerel is wildly sweet. And of course, parents can just switch the pronouns for whatever they want. There’s a great dear Prudence letter about a husband being upset that his wife turned Harry Potter into Harriet Potter for their daughter. Ha!

  63. I just now remember my dad reading me Days With Frog and Toad from my childhood! I would have never thought about that book if it weren’t for this post. I will be getting that book to read to my babe! Thanks, Jo.

    http://www.velvetcrate.com

  64. This is a random question unrelated to this post, but just wondering – what are the favorite blog reads of the cupofjo team? I always love your recommendations. Case and point: when you had a post on podcasts, if I didn’t already love the series, I soon became a fan. I’d love to know!

  65. Liz says...

    I love the Filling your Bucket method with kids. I teach Pre-K in Paris and we have been asking students to fill buckets and no bucket dipping (tearing people down). In light of the events that occurred in our beautiful city of light, thank you for this post. I need to read these books to my students this week. Take care!

    • Great and timely post. Thankfully my kids are too young to grasp what’s going on.

  66. Love this!!! I really love the book Two of Everything and Berenstain Bears has books on kindness too. I also think Horton Hears A Who is a great one as well. <3

  67. Jenne says...

    “Knuffle Bunny Free” by Mo Willems. It teaches the big three: kindness, empathy, and growing up. My daughter is now 7 and has outgrown it, but I still read it occasionally on my own and unabashedly tear up every time!

  68. trisha says...

    The Peace Book, by Todd Parr! Beautiful illustrations of compassion, embracing diversity & differences…all lead to kindness and a warm heart. Even my teenager still loves this very simple book!! :)

  69. great post! i love that books for kids are starting to become more socially conscious – such as teaching kids about multiculturalism, they have become much more creative than when i was a child!

    http://www.footnotesandfinds.com

  70. Irene says...

    love this!! totally saving this post. (you might (but probably won’t with all the hundreds of comments you get! ;)) remember I just got a positive pregnancy test a few weeks ago… if all goes well, your website and posts like the above will be so so useful in the coming months/years!)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so happy for you, irene!

  71. Courtenay M says...

    Thank you for this post!

  72. Christy says...

    My daughter’s school used the Bucket Filler book as their theme and what they worked on last year. Each week students got rewarded for being a bucket filler. They all loved it!

    • Trish O says...

      My children’s school uses this too

  73. Katharine says...

    What a great suggestion! The events of last week had me thinking of empathy as well and specifically how I can raise my boys to be empathetic. Books are a big hit with my son Bjorn, I can’t wait to read these with him.