Kindness in Kids’ Books

Spoiler-filled summaries of five children's books about kindness and friendship.

In the wake of last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, and in anticipation of the upcoming first Social Justice Story Hour at the Khalid Jabara Tikkun Olam Memorial Library on September 7, I wanted to do a post on social justice-themed books. Unfortunately, I do not have as many of those books at home as I would like and haven’t had a chance to visit the library, so for now, I will be reviewing five books on kindness. I hope to revisit the topic of social justice books in the near future.

If you are interested in social justice books, Social Justice Books has put together over 50 lists of books on various topics, which you can find here. Also, follow the Khalid Jabara Tikkun Olam Memorial Library on Facebook for upcoming events and exciting announcements about how to take advantage of this great community resource!

While reading isn’t a substitute for having ongoing conversations with your children about how to treat others especially in the face of bigotry and hatred (see this week’s Editor’s Blog), books can be a good starting place for conversations; plus, studies have shown that reading the right books can help children develop empathy. According to Empathy Lab, a UK-based organization dedicated to exploring how to best “exploit the power of stories and contact with authors to build empathy,” empathy is made up of three main elements: 1) emotional/affective empathy, in which a person feels what another feels; 2) cognitive empathy/perspective taking, in which a person can reason out how another feels; and 3) empathic concern, which motivates people to help others. This last type, the Lab writes, is a powerful force for social justice. Here is a list of 10 children’s books that you may want to look into if you are interested particularly in empathy-building literature.

I’m not an expert and don’t know whether the following books are “the right books” when it comes to teaching empathy, or exactly what the relationship is between empathy and kindness; but I do think these books have valuable lessons to teach young children about how to treat others.

Finally, read to the end of this post to learn how to enter to win one of these books in a giveaway!

“Stick and Stone” by Beth Ferry

 Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

“Stick and Stone” has been a favorite at our house, as evidenced by the tape holding together several pages. The lines of the rhyming text are short (just 4-5 syllables) and simple; very pleasant to read out loud and perfect for young children.

Stick and Stone’s friendship begins when Stick sticks up (get it?) for Stone after he is bullied by Pinecone.

Obviously, this is a good opportunity to talk to your kids about what to do when they see others being bullied or hurt. Another thing I like about this book is the final page–after a dramatic journey in which Stick and Stone are separated during a storm, they are finally reunited. The final page shows Stick and Stone walking (rolling?) into the distance–accompanied by Pinecone, who apologizes for his earlier behavior. Thus, it is a beautiful story not only of friendship and courage, but of redemption.

“Little Blue Truck” by Alice Schertle

Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

The “Little Blue Truck” series is quite popular, and no doubt you’ve heard of it. To be honest, my favorite book in the series is “Little Blue Truck’s Halloween” because…well, I just love Halloween! But the original book is a great story about being kind to others even when they aren’t kind to you.

When an arrogant Dump Truck gets stuck in a mud puddle after racing around a curve (nearly running over a poor goose!), Little Blue helps him, even though doing so is risky, and he gets stuck in the mud himself. Thankfully, Little Blue Truck is such a friendly soul,  all the neighboring farm animals quickly come together to rescue their friend.

As with Pinecone above, in the end, the Dump Truck realizes the importance of friendship and kindness.

“Dragon Was Terrible”, by Kelly DiPucchio

Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

Kelly DiPucchio has a wonderful way with words. Her book “Gaston” is full of alliteration that is used in a really clever way–not just because it sounds nice. So, even though the story is not my favorite, I still love “Gaston” just because of the writing. And the adorable puppies.

“Dragon Was Terrible” is a lot of fun to read aloud. There are some amusing, overly-dramatic bits, for example, the king’s sign: “Brave Knights! Whoever shall tame the terrible dragon shall be rewarded with a gift! It shall be a nice gift. Ye shall like it!” And of course, there’s a terrible dragon wreaking all sorts of mayhem that kids will appreciate (Burping in church. Loudly. Stealing candy from baby unicorns. TP-ing the castle. The list goes on.)

The one who finally “tames” the dragon is a young boy who recognizes that maybe the dragon just needs a friend. Instead of attacking the dragon, he writes a story, making the dragon the hero rather than the villain. Drawn in by the story, the dragon becomes friends with not just the boy but all those he was pitted against earlier.

“Chester’s Way” by Kevin Henkes

“Chester’s Way” is precious to us because this copy was given to us by a friend who read it to her kids as they grew up. It is the story of Chester and his best friend Wilson, who really, really, really like their routine. And then Lily moves into the neighborhood.

Lily shakes things up in a way that Chester and Wilson aren’t comfortable with, and they avoid her. But when she defends them against some bullies, they realize that 1) being different isn’t a bad thing and 2) they have more in common with Lily than they thought.

“Chester’s Way” is a book about trying new things, celebrating diversity, finding things in common with those who are different than you, and how much better things can be when you include others rather than excluding them.

“Come With Me” by Holly M. McGhee

Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre

This is not a book we own; actually, I only read it for the first time this morning. It is very timely, though, and offers practical advice on how to live a life of kindness and courage even if you’re young.

After hearing of anger, hatred and violence on the television, a young girl asks her father and mother if there is any way she can help make the world a better place. They teach her to venture out into the world rather than letting fear keep her at home, and also how small acts of kindness can go a long way toward this end.

I like how empowering this book is, in a way that isn’t overwhelming. It’s about doing your own part to spread kindness as well as the importance of joining together with others.

Finally, although I’d love to keep this book, we are going to give it away! Comment below or on the relevant Facebook post with your favorite children’s book(s) about kindness, social justice, or other related topic, and one winner will be randomly chosen on Friday, August 25!

Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall