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5 Books That Teach Kids What It Means to Be a Kind Person

by Iva-Marie Palmer

There are days when being a parent feels really hard. Not because of the day-in-day-out of it, but because bad news floods our screens and we feel a little like we’re leaving our kids an emotionally cumbersome world to inherit.

As is my way, I look to books to provide guidance and insight. And I think the best way to help my kids along is to teach them what it means to be a good person, which starts, I think, with how we treat and appreciate other people. These five books (and one bonus pick) are great places to start raising children who are kind caretakers of the people around them.

  • People

    by Peter Spier

    This ambitious picture book by Caldecott Medalist Spier might be the best starter-guide to thinking like a global citizen — and in fact, I’ve now made it my go-to gift to friends welcoming new babies. In detailed pictures, Spier shows the diversity of the human race — from the colors of our skin to what we eat to how we play to where we live — setting up children for a lifetime of curiosity and respect for our differences. So few of us can travel and explore the entire globe; Spier’s book is a reminder that in reading, we might have the next best thing.

  • The Lion and the Mouse

    illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

    A wordless retelling of Aesop’s fable, there might be no better tale about kindness, and how no act of it is ever wasted. If you’re not familiar with the story, in it, the sleeping lion catches a mama mouse and lets her return to her children, and later is rewarded when he’s saved from a poacher’s trap. It’s such a simple story of how we remember those who are good to us.

  • The Man with the Violin

    by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričić

    Attention is a commodity, and one that’s constantly being diluted as we have more and more things to look at and consider. So many of us miss beautiful things or just walk by everyday miracles, because we don’t notice them, or believe they could be real. This story recounts the true tale of when renowned American violinist Joshua Bell took his instrument into the D.C. subway and played a free concert. Only seven people stopped to listen, while more than a thousand passed right on by. In this telling, a boy named Dylan hears the music, and shows the reader how important it is to be awestruck, wonder-filled, and attentive to the world around us.

  • Peace

    by Wendy Anderson Halperin

    Peace starts from within. We all know this, deep down, but sometimes we need a reminder. (Parents, we might need that reminder more than most — our mini-angers, at everything from being cut off at school drop-off to feeling overwhelmed by the clutter and chaos of our domestic lives, sometimes color our days.) Based on the Tao Te Ching, this poetic, soothing, and beautiful illustrated read, is a nice meditation on how to do right no matter what feels wrong.

  • Last Stop on Market Street

    by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

    Comparison is the enemy of inner peace and when envy rears its head, it sometimes stops us from connecting to others. In this book, CJ and his grandma are riding the bus across town, causing CJ to ask, why don’t they have a car like his friends, or what about an iPod, for that matter? But his grandmother, being wise in the way grandparents are, brings him back to the bus, and to the simple joys of their routine and the busy city around them. It’s a great way of remembering that beauty is everywhere, even when it seems improbable, and it also reminds us to be grateful — which may be the key to living the richest lives we can.

  • BONUS PICK: Instructions

    by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess

    Like People, this is another book I like to give to friends with new babies. Gaiman’s guide to life is not of this earth — every lyrical word alludes or refers to the rules of fairy tales and landscapes. And while it may not be a great guide to how to live in the real world, it’s a perfect reminder to always be on the lookout for magic and wonder. Sometimes, we need those two things the most.

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