Books to help us take a breath, calm our fears, be kind
Forgive me, but I have spent a lot of time these last few months checking in with the late children’s TV host and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers, who died in 2001, has nevertheless been ever present in my mind and heart because of his gentleness, his humanity, and his ability to calm and soothe.
And isn’t that something we all need right now?
Of the countless quotes from Mr. Rogers that I check in with frequently, my favorite is probably “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
So, in honor of Mr. Rogers and his insistence that kindness is the best way to true success in life, here are a few of my favorite children’s books where kindness is a theme – divided into three categories.
1. Books where characters clash and then reconcile
These books show conflict (because interesting plots usually need some kind of problem to be interesting!), but also resolutions that involve empathy and understanding – pillars of kindness!
Charlie and Lola: I Am Extremely Absolutely Boiling by Lauren Child
As it’s still summer in Oklahoma, this one might be particularly timely – Lola has an ice cream kerfuffle with a friend, and things get heated before they come to an understanding.
Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah O’Hora
Our unnamed protagonist flies her kite into a hibernating bear’s cave…where he promptly turns over in his sleep and ruins it. She insists he is a “Horrible Bear!” – before something happens that makes her realize that sometimes, mistakes just happen. Everyone ends up friends.
2. Books where characters show kindness
Seeing kindness demonstrated in picture books helps kids start to understand ways that they, too, can be kind. Here are a few of my favorites with kind characters.
A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead
Vernon the toad just wants to make sure his new friend – a cuckoo clock bird – finds a home. A gentle story that shows how looking kindly at others’ quirks (i.e., Vern interprets the silent cuckoo bird as “shy” and “a good listener”) can go a long way to making life sweet for everyone.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill
Another sweet story, but one that will help your children think through all of the ways they might show kindness to others. You can use this book to brainstorm other ways to be kind in the world! Consider starting a family “Kindness Calendar” where you regularly write down the ways you were kind to others…and others were kind to you!
3. Quiet books of beauty, joy, and peace
I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About A Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët
A wordless picture book, this story gives plenty of space to introduce discussions about how it feels to be bullied, different ways children can help each other when they see bullying, and what even simple acts of kindness can do for others.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez
The official description tells you everything you need to know: “Other students laugh when Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, introduces himself but later, he meets Angelina and discovers that he is not the only one who feels like an outsider.”
With lovely illustrations from the incomparable Rafael Lopez, this is one of those books you and your children will want to look at again and again.