'Tis the perfect season to read a few children's books about kindness. (Okay, every season is the perfect season to encourage kindness with picture books!)
The book list below is in three parts, and of course there is a lot of overlap.
- Kindness books for toddlers
- Kindness books for preschoolers
- Kindness books for Kindergarteners and grade school
We want to raise gracious kids but we also have to give their brains time to develop as we teach them the importance of kindness, even to their younger brother. (Ahem.) You may have already seen my list of books to teach kids about empathy and I also get a lot of requests for books about kindness and that's lucky, because I make it a point to read children's books about being kind to my kids all. the. time. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Bonus: Since there are more wonderful books to read, at the bottom of this post you will find links to more book lists that encourage kindness and empathy in kids.
Books about Kindness for Toddlers
How Kind by Mary Murphy shows how a simple act of kindness can be passed on. It begins with Hen giving Pig a present and Pig answering, “How kind!” Pig is then inspired to pass on the kindness to Rabbit, Rabbit to Cow, and on it goes. All this kindness, of course, comes full circle when the original gift hatches and Pig returns the egg-now-chick to Hen.
Baby Be Kind by Jane Cowen Fletcher. In very simple text and sweet illustrations, Fletcher shows babies and toddlers all the simple ways they can be kind, from helping friends, to sharing toys and giving hugs.
Books about Kindness for Preschoolers
The Giant of Jum by Elli Woollard, illustrated by Benji Davies. This is a joyous rhyming story, and a fun twist on Jack and the Beanstalk that preschoolers will love to hear as they join in the refrain of "Fee!" he says, and "Fi!" he says, and "Fo!" he says and "Fum!". A hungry giant is in search of a tasty child named Jack to snack on. During his search, he meets several children who ask for his help—rescuing cats in trees, etc. that sort of thing that giants are especially good at—so that by the time he finds Jack, the children reward his kindness with a cake and the giant realizes that chocolate is tastier than children anyway.
One Good Deed by Terri Fields, illustrated by Deborah Melmon. Jake performs an act of kindness for his neighbor by picking mulberries. That good deed sets off a domino chain of good deeds throughout the neighborhood. The book has a gentle message about the Jewish responsibility of mitzvah (mitzvah is not mentioned until the end of the book). However, this is a book for all children, no matter what their religious background and I particularly appreciated the multicultural aspect of Jake's neighborhood.
Because of You by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Hiroe Nakatais. This book is out of print by look for it at your library. It relays the wonderful message that each child is born with the potential to change the world with his or her acts of kindness, and that seemingly small kindnesses are actually large. This book is particularly suited for preschoolers and depicts a diverse group of children.
What Does it Mean to Be Kind? by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch. There is not much of a story here; the light narrative is based on a girl finding the courage to meet students in a new class. Throughout the story, the listener is asked to consider whether or not certain actions are kind. This is a good book as a precursor to a conversation. It is a bit didactic for my taste, but it still has a lot of value. This book is part of a utilitarian series; the other books focus on patience, safety and other social issues.
Brunhilda's Backwards Day by Shawna Tenney. Brunhilda the witch delights in being ugly, wearing unfashionable clothes, eating spider gruel and being mean to small children. But one day she wakes up to find all her warts gone, a frilly pink dress in her closet, healthy oatmeal on the table and—horrors!—all her spells cause kindness! However, Brunhilda sort of like the high fives and applause that doing good deeds brings. Brunhilda learns that kindness to others brings her more joy than being a bully.
The Hide and Scare Bear by Ivan Bates. In jaunty rhyme, this book tells the story of a bear who revels in scaring all the other woodland creatures. Rabbit, however, takes it upon himself to teach bear the value of kindess and how much more fun it is to be nice than to scare. There is nothing mind-blowing here but this is a cute book that stresses the importance of social manners and kindness to others. Worth checking out at the library for a cuddly story time.
Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka. This is another "chain reaction" of kindness book. Mary picks blueberries for her neighbor, who bakes them into muffins, shares them with friends, inspiring more and more kind deeds. This is a good story to start a conversation about the long term effects of our actions.
Books about Kindness for Kindergarteners on Up
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. This is such and incredibly sweet and inspiring story! Mrs. Goldman makes hats for others. Sophie likes to help her by making the pom poms that top each one. When winter arrives Sophie notices that Mrs. Goldman doesn't have a hat of her own and although knitting is challenging for Sophie, she sets about making a hat for her friend. When she is done with the hat, her lack of knitting skills means the hat has a few holes. However, since Sophie knows Mrs. Goldman loves her pom poms, Sophie covers up the holes in a creative way. Mrs. Goldman, of course, loves the hat and the kindness shown to her.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson. A rabbit and his mouse pal are excited to harvest a few crops, but when the birds come to share in the spoils, rabbit and mouse have to make a decision. Will they plant seeds of selfishness or seeds of kindness? The importance of choosing kindness is clear but what really makes this book shine is Nelson's fantastic illustrations, and in particular one delightfully amusing spread of the birds on the lookout for seeds. This is an utterly charming picture book to teach about kindness.
Zen Socks. This is the latest in Jon J Muth's Zen Shorts series, and like the others, Stillwater the Panda offers important lessons to his friends about the importance of kindness and empathy towards others. Gentle humor and "ah ha" moments keep things from getting preachy and Muth's illustrations are marvelous as usual.
Last Stop on Market Street. A boy and his grandma catch the bus. We don't yet know where they are headed, but along the way the boy asks questions about why they don't have certain luxuries. He wants to know why they don't have a car or an iPod. The grandma has a ready answer about the advantages of what they do have and encourages him to think of positive aspects of lacking material goods. When they reach their destination... well... it will be even more inspiring.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by by Justin Roberts, illustrated by Christian Robinson. Sally may be small but she is the most observant kid in the class. She notices everything, especially when someone else is being bullied or teased. Sally decides the right thing to do is to stand up for others, and teach her peers about kindness. I liked this book a lot and how it emphasized that you can be kind no matter what your stature—physically or socially.
One Green Apple. During a class trip to an apple orchard, Farah, a Muslim girl who has not yet learned English is nervous about her new classmates. In her first person narrative she reveals that she knows there are tensions between her former home and her new country and she is uncertain if her classmates will welcome her. Eventually, however, one other student befriends her and the connection is made. That show of kindness spills over into the rest of the kids.
Lend a Hand: Poems about Giving by John Frank, illustrated by London Ladd. Fourteen free verse poems inspire kids to reflect upon what a powerful act of kindness it is to give to others. I especially appreciated how many of the poems showed kids crossing boundaries to help others who were very different from themselves. A lot of kindness books focus on being nice to friends and neighbors, but here the focus is on the greater community and learning about others through kindness and generosity.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton. Sometimes when I read a book I can hear the wheels turning inside my son's head as he processes the story. That was the case with this book about a boy who feels invisible, ignored, and left out at school. Then one day a new kid comes to class and a small act of kindness turns things around. It's a gently told story which teaches empathy and kindness. There are even questions for discussion in the back of the book.
Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter. My kids and I were fascinated by this biographical account of a man and his horse. In the 19th century, William "Doc" Key, a man who was born a slave, became a successful businessman after the Civil War. He loved horses and in a time when it was not uncommon to be cruel to animals, Doc Key understood the value of kindness. Using kindness, Doc taught one of his horses to read, write and perform sums. Doc and Jim toured the country, showing off Jim's skills. Along the way Doc stood up to racism and the skepticism of others, teaching that it was kindness that inspired Jim to learn. This is a truly fascinating historical story and the illustrations are spectacular.
Fly Free by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan. Mai longs to free the birds she feeds. She also know that "when you do a good deed it comes back to you." When she befriends Thu, Mai helps her and good deed karma is set in motion throughout the village. The catchy poem "Fly Free, Fly Free when you do a good deed it comes back to you," will resonate with kids and stick in their minds, reminding them of the book's message.
Maddi's Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel. Sofia and Maddi play after school but when the girls go to Maddi's apartment and the hungry Sofia looks for a snack she is surprised to find an almost empty fridge. Maddi makes Sofia promise not to tell anyone that her mom does not have enough money for the grocery store. Sofia worries about what to do, and ultimately makes the right decision. I like how this book emphasizes community, as well as kindness towards individuals.
More book lists that encourage kindness:
- Picture books that teach empathy
- Chapter books that teach empathy
- Picture books about acts of kindness (a guest post I did for Coffee Cups and Crayons)
- Books to inspire kids to change the world
- Books that celebrate being different