Growing Reader

Children’s Books That Show Kids the Goodness in the World

by Denise Schipani

You can be forgiven if, in recent times, it’s gotten harder for you to show and tell your kids stories that reflect goodness and a spirit of community. My boys, now teens, are old enough to absorb not just negative news stories, but my reactions to them. So I find myself casting about for the good stories to counterbalance the bad. We got lucky last winter when, while walking through a local park, we saw a bird in a pond, struggling helplessly, its wing tethered to a tree by a length of fishing line. My husband — a more intrepid person than I (this was winter, remember) — waded chest-deep into the mucky pond to free the bird. My husband’s a good guy, but he’s hardly alone. Just a few weeks ago at a beach in Florida, scores of beachgoers formed a human chain in the surf, saving a family that was in danger of being swept out to sea in a rough riptide.

But you don’t have to wait for heroic avian saves or heartwarming news tidbits, especially if you have little ones. Tons of books provide opportunities to bring to life inspiring stories of the innate goodness of our fellow humans. Start with these eight simple tales.

  • The One Day House

    by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz

    How many times have we looked into a hazy future and promised ourselves that “one day” we will do something to pay our good fortune forward or build something lasting or make a measurable difference in someone’s life? For young Wilson, that “one day” comes when he looks at his friend Gigi’s house, which is in obvious need of repair, and realizes there is something he can do. On that “one day,” a community comes together to rebuild the house — and restore everyone’s faith in themselves and each other. The book also includes information about nonprofits Labor of Love, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity, in case it’ll soon be your “one day.”

  • Most People

    by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris

    Longtime elementary-school teacher Michael Leannah wrote Most People specifically as a counterpunch against the stereotype that “most people” are different. Or, worse, that strangers are inherently scary. In the book, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris, a pair of siblings wander the city streets and see — on page after page — that “most people,” no matter how they look or what our assumptions might be, are just like us.

  • Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey

    by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illustrated by Sue Cornelison

    Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of heartbreaking stories in the news about refugee families desperately searching for new homes in a world turned upside down by conflict. But sometimes harrowing tales have happy endings and many involve simple but indelible acts of kindness and grace. This book tells the true story of an Iraqi refugee family whose beloved cat, Kunkush, travels with them as far as Greece, hidden away for safety. But he’s lost at some point in the journey, and the heartbroken family must go on. Amazingly, Kunkush resurfaces, a worldwide community of kindhearted folks scour the scattered refugee world via the Internet, and … well. No spoilers!

  • I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness

    by Kerascoët

    Inspired by true events, this wordless picture book tells the story of a young girl who is deeply troubled when she sees Vanessa being bullied after school. The next day she knocks on Vanessa’s door to walk with her to school, a small yet effective gesture that saves Vanessa from further mistreatment. I Walk with Vanessa is a simple story with a powerful message for little ones about caring for one another.

  • Good People Everywhere

    by Lynea Gillen, illustrated by Kristina Swarner

    A great example of the power of “show, don’t tell,” each page of this straightforward book shows children concrete examples of people doing what comes naturally — which is doing right by doing good — from heroic deeds to volunteerism to helping a child get down a slide that feels too high and scary.

  • How to Heal a Broken Wing

    by Bob Graham

    My husband isn’t the only bird whisperer out there. Young Will, on a city street streaming with oblivious people, notices a pigeon struggling on the sidewalk. With the help of his parents, Will carefully takes the injured bird home and nurses it back to health. It’s a simply told tale, but one that reflects the expression of kindness children are drawn to — noticing the suffering of something even smaller than they are, and having a desire to help.

  • A Hat for Mrs. Goldman

    by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

    This sweet book introduces young readers to the concept of a mitzvah — a good deed. Mrs. Goldman is always knitting hats and scarves for people in the neighborhood, but as winter sets in, Sophie realizes Mrs. Goldman doesn’t have a hat for herself. The little girl decides to surprise her neighbor with her own handmade hat. But Sophie isn’t very good at knitting, and the hat she makes has too many holes. Filled with small acts of kindness throughout, this heart-warming story of friendship is a model for creating generous and caring communities.

  • People

    by Peter Spier

    There are a great many people who share this planet — people that come in all shapes and sizes from different lifestyles, cultures, and personalities. The visually stunning, insightful illustrations in this picture book deftly capture the human experience across the globe, setting children up to be open-minded and respectful citizens of the world. People is a celebration of the cultural diversity that makes up humanity and a reminder that what makes us different is what makes this world beautiful.

  • Come with Me

    by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre

    Sometimes what it takes to see the goodness in your surroundings is deceptively simple: Get out there, and really open your eyes. In this story, a young girl is feeling overwhelmed by stories of fear and hatred, and asks her dad what she should do. “Come with me,” he says, and the two of them go for a walk and greet passersby. Later, the girl takes her father’s cue and goes out walking with her dog and the boy across the hall. Turns out you don’t have to stray too far to find examples of basic human kindness.

  • Miss Rumphius

    by Barbara Cooney

    The award-winning classic Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, tells the timeless story of the real-life Alice Rumphius, who lived in Maine and wished to leave the world a lovelier place. The gorgeous lupine blooms that grow wild on the coast of Maine are Miss Rumphius’s legacy, and the telling of her story reinforces that even simple acts have profound and lasting effects.

  • Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth

    by Oliver Jeffers

    This bestselling picture book provides a brief yet illuminating tour of Earth for little readers. With an emphasis on being kind, Jeffers reminds kids that our planet’s diverse ecosystems and people are what make it so beautiful. In its final pages, the book reiterates that no matter what, we humans are here for one another — after all, we’re “never alone on Earth.”

  • Three Magic Balloons

    by Julianna Margulies and Paul Margulies, illustrated by Grant Shaffer

    In Three Magic Balloons, award-winning actress Julianna Margulies shares a sweet tale her father wrote for her and her sisters when they were children. Every Saturday, three sisters use their treat money to buy food for the animals at the zoo. A balloon man is so moved by their selflessness that he gives each girl a magic balloon. A whimsical story that demonstrates the limitlessness of kindness — and how it can appear when you least expect it.

What books have shown your little reader the power of goodness? Let us know in the comments below!


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2018.