Teaching young children about kindness and why they should be kind to others is a task that is much easier said than done, but it also isn’t impossible. With the help of these popular children’s books, you can illustrate the importance of kindness and inclusivity with a few fun and memorable visuals and phrases.
The best children’s books are those that take abstract concepts for young minds and turn them into a message that’s simplistic and easy to remember. The following is a list of thirteen of the best selling children’s books that discuss kindness and inclusivity. The short reviews include a brief summary of the plot and what they’re meant to teach their readers.
What We'll Cover
- Carol McCloud – “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
- J. Philip Miller and Sheppard M. Greene – “We All Sing with the Same Voice”
- Matt de la Peña – “Last Stop on Market Street”
- Amy June Bates – The Big Umbrella”
- Maribeth Boelts – “Those Shoes”
- Derek Munson – “Enemy Pie”
- Pat Zietlow Miller – “Be Kind”
- Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead – “A Sick Day for Amos McGee”
- N.G.K – “Harry The Happy Mouse”
- Trudy Ludwig – “The Invisible Boy”
- Rowboat Watkins – “Rude Cakes”
- Jory John – “The Bad Seed”
- Shel Silverstein – “The Giving Tree”
- Final Thoughts
Carol McCloud – “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
TURNAROUND PUBLISHER SERVICES
This book uses the simple visual of an invisible bucket and a dipper. The buckets illustrate how being kind can help fill up someone’s bucket with color and positively. On the other hand, the dipper illustrates being unkind, and it dips into other’s buckets to take away some positivity and eventually make it empty.
The fuller people’s invisible buckets are, the kinder they are to others. But if they are empty, they aren’t as kind. While simplistic in concept, the visual aid very accurately demonstrates how being kind versus being unkind affects someone, including the young reader themselves.
They can imagine how their bucket gets filled with positivity when someone does something kind for them, and the children in turn want to fill someone else’s bucket. It almost becomes a game of how many buckets they can fill in a day, turning kindness and empathy into a habit as they go.
J. Philip Miller and Sheppard M. Greene – “We All Sing with the Same Voice”
This book focuses on worldwide inclusivity, about how we are all different, but can find sameness in each other in some way. For this book, it uses music to unify many different children from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
The book comes with a CD that includes a song about how everyone is different, but we should celebrate those differences and learn from them. The music helps keep kids at any age interested while still sharing an important message.
Children can learn to acknowledge the differences between them and others, but they can also learn how to treat each other kindly despite those differences.
Matt de la Peña – “Last Stop on Market Street”
Putnam Publishing Group
Winner of the Newbery award in 2016, this book features a young boy asking a bunch of “How come.” questions to his grandmother as they ride on a bus. The questions are simple enough for young readers to understand, and they can relate to the young boy in the book since children often ask plenty of questions about the world around them.
The grandmother always responds with patience and kindness, teaching her young grandson about the world and how important it is to be empathetic towards others. They eventually arrive at a soup kitchen, where each answer starts to become clearer to the young boy as he helps his grandmother volunteer.
The story format makes it easy for young readers to follow along and remain engaged. And it still relays the important message of being kind to everyone because we never truly know what someone is going through.
Amy June Bates – The Big Umbrella”
Another book that uses a simple but effective visual, this picture book uses the analogy of a big, bright red umbrella that protects everyone underneath it from the rain. The rain represents being mean and intolerant towards others, while the brightly colored umbrella represents acceptance and friendship.
The visual is meant to illustrate to children that it doesn’t matter who someone is or what they look like. Everyone deserves to be safe and included under the big umbrella. It breaks down the concept of being tolerant towards other people into something fun and easy to understand.
Maribeth Boelts – “Those Shoes”
Though it addresses the idea of kindness, this book addresses a different element of being kind and inclusive. The story is about a young boy who wants nothing more than his own pair of popular new shoes. It seems every kid in his neighborhood has a pair except him.
This causes him to feel alienated and like an outcast until he manages to find a pair in good condition at a thrift store. The only issue is, they aren’t his size and won’t fit. He notices another classmate doesn’t have any good shoes to wear, and the ones he thrifted would fit him. So, the young boy gives his shoes to his less fortunate classmate.
This simple picture book tackles how being kind is more important than being like everyone else. When the boy manages to get a pair of shoes, they don’t end up making him feel as good as he thought they would. But when he gives them away in an act of showing support to his classmate, he feels elated.
The importance of being kind to others, even when it might not be the most popular thing, is highlighted in this short and simple story.
Derek Munson – “Enemy Pie”
If there was ever a book to perfectly emulate why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this is the one. The cover of the book features a disgusting looking pie held up by a smiling young boy, but the story inside has much more to offer. It features a young boy as narrator and another kid named Jeremy that lives down the street. Jeremy participates in all sorts of mean activities and seems to delight in making the narrator feel bad.
When the narrator asks his father for advice, he suggests that they make an enemy pie. If done right, the enemy pie will defeat Jeremy and make him leave the narrator alone forever. However, for the pie to work, both boys have to create it together. As a result, the boys play together the entire day and get to know each other better. By the time the pie is finished, they are great friends.
The book demonstrates how walking a mile in someone’s shoes or making a pie full of worms and leaves with them can help to alleviate tension better than immediately turning to unkindness. Communication and teamwork do a much better job at making the world a better place and the pie a little bit tastier.
Pat Zietlow Miller – “Be Kind”
The title is pretty straightforward, as is the story, but the message is no less important. This book illustrates how any kind of act, no matter how big or small it may seem, can make someone’s entire day better.
The narrator is a young girl that finds out a new student is coming to her school. Though she is excited, her classmates aren’t too welcoming. They end up isolating and bullying the new girl, making her feel lonely and scared. The narrator decides to step up and ask the new girl to play with her one day during recess. They end up having a wonderful recess together and quickly become best friends.
The story is easy for young readers to follow, as is the message it’s conveying to children. Any act of kindness is important, and you might gain something good from it in addition to the person you were kind to.
Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead – “A Sick Day for Amos McGee”
Another award-winning children’s book, this sweet story is about an elderly zookeeper named Amos Mcgee. He is great friends with all of the characters that he takes care of and treats them with kindness every day. But one day, he is too sick to be able to take care of the animals. This saddens him greatly until he discovers that all his animal friends have come to visit him.
He winds up having a lovely day with all the animals, as they keep him company and help take care of him. This story tackles two aspects of kindness in an easily digestible way. The first is that what you put out into the world comes back to you. If you are kind to others, they will eventually return the favor in one way or another.
The second is that friends can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, or even species in Amos’s case. It’s important to be kind to everyone you meet, no matter how different they might be from you. You never know when you might make a great friend who will support you further down the road.
N.G.K – “Harry The Happy Mouse”
This is one of the bestselling children’s books about kindness due to its lovely illustrations and a wonderful message. It tells the story of a little mouse named Harry, who lives in the English countryside with other small animals. As Harry goes about his day, he does his best to do something kind for everyone he meets. All he asks in return is that the animals pay the good deed forward to someone else.
The animals honor his request, and the kindness eventually circles back to Harry. His small acts of kindness helped make so many animals across the countryside so happy that happiness managed to find its way back to Harry. This book perfectly illustrates how a little bit of kindness can go a long way in helping to make the world a better place and how it might even come back to you one day.
Trudy Ludwig – “The Invisible Boy”
Used Book in Good Condition
In a sweet story that celebrates differences, this book features a narrator named Brian. Brian feels like he has the power of invisibility, though he doesn’t find it to be as awesome as it sounds. He has a quiet and shy personality and prefers not to have all the attention on him. This causes him to feel left out by his teachers, who pay attention to louder and more troublesome kids.
He eventually starts to get lonely and wishes that he had the confidence to show that he’s more than the quiet kid in the back of the classroom. When a new kid comes to Brian’s school, he’s the first one to be kind towards him. They start to develop a strong friendship and become partners for a school project. Brian still feels shy, but his new friend encourages him to find a way to shine.
This book illustrates that being kind can lead to the receiver and the giver becoming better versions of themselves. Brian starts to come out of his shell when the new kid is kind to him, and the new kid gains a great friend from being kind. Everyone wins when someone is kind to another, and you never know how much a simple kind act can change someone for the better.
Rowboat Watkins – “Rude Cakes”
Giving inanimate objects personalities is a whimsical way to grab a young reader’s attention, which is exactly what this book does. It tells the story of a cake who is very rude. Yes, the main character is a pink colored layer cake that is very rude to the other cakes in the bakery. Eventually, the cake’s rudeness catches up to it in the form of a well-mannered but no less frightening cyclops.
The cyclops wear the rude cake as a hat, and the rude cake is witness to the cyclops’ well-mannered behavior. The cake learns from the cyclops how treating others the way you want to be treated is very important. Once the cake has learned its lesson, it escapes the cyclops’s head and returns to the bakery. The rude cake has now become a kind cake and treats the other cakes in the bakery kindly.
Although comical in imagery, this book does a great job of illustrating how kids should treat others the way they want to be treated. If they treat others rudely, then they will be treated rudely, such as a cyclops wearing them as a hat. If they treat others nicely, then they will also be treated nicely, so they won’t have to worry about being a cyclops’s fashion accessory.
Jory John – “The Bad Seed”
Continuing with the whimsical imagery, this book features a personified sunflower seed that constantly refers to themselves as a bad seed. And rightfully so, as the seed has a bad reputation throughout the neighborhood. The seed finds joy in making others feel bad, from making faces at babies to not taking care of its personal hygiene. But the seed has a reason for acting this way.
The seed is acting out because of tragic events that happened to it in the past and is holding onto anger that affects how it behaves towards others. Eventually, the seed gets tired of making others feel bad and starts to change for the better. The seed finds that being kind to others makes it feel much better than being mean and turns into a good seed by the end of the story.
This novel simply illustrates how feeling bad is perfectly normal but acting bad is not the way to fix it. When you make others feel good, you make yourself feel good. Being kind to others creates a situation where everyone benefits and leads to a brighter world for everyone.
Shel Silverstein – “The Giving Tree”
Last but not least, a classic in the children’s book world. This well known book tells the story of a young boy who loved a simple apple tree very much. The boy started slowly taking parts of the tree, starting with the apples it grew to eventually taking entire branches. As a result, the tree soon became nothing more than a stump. At this time, the young boy has grown into an old man.
After an exhausting walk, the old man needs a place to sit and rest. He spots the stump of the tree that he loved so much growing up. He and the stump sit together, the old man peacefully remembering everything that the tree gave to him.
The book illustrates that being kind to others is definitely important, but you should also be kind to yourself. If you give too much away to others and don’t keep some kindness for yourself, you’ll start to get worn out. Kindness starts with you, so remember to be kind to yourself so you can share that kindness with others.
While the imagery might be silly and the stories straightforward, these books can still be very effective teachers. Children’s books can do an amazing job of illustrating difficult concepts in simplistic ways. They can also do a fantastic job of teaching young readers important lessons about themselves and the world around them. If kindness and tolerance are taught from a young age, it can lead to a better future world for everyone.
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