10 Books that Teach Kids Kindness

April 10, 2018

"Did you know that everybody has a bucket, Mom?"

The question came out of nowhere. Still rubbing the sleep and early-morning confusion from my eyes, I huddled back into the warmth of my comforter and turned toward the daughter who had just climbed into bed with me. Looking intently at me--her adult teeth still a little too big for her, the sprinkle of freckles across her nose inviting a smooch, her hair in a wild bedhead tangle--she tried again.

"Everybody has a bucket, and you're either a filler or a dipper."

Ah, now it was starting to make sense. She was talking about Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids (Bucketfilling Books) by Carol McCloud. In it, the author describes how everyone has an invisible bucket, and that we have the choice to fill other people's through being kind and loving or to "dip" into them by being unkind.

The concept is easy for kids to grasp, and it's been a topic of conversation here since that morning that my daughter asked me if I'd read it. After school that day, she asked if I had remembered to be a filler that day and couldn't wait to tell me what she, in turn, had done. "Did you fill a bucket today? I did! I smiled at everyone, and I hugged Jaicie."

I'm a huge book nerd, and my children have started to become that way too. A few months ago, I joined an online community called The Intentional Book Club, and it's been a catalyst for me to go through the hundreds of books we have around our home and analyze whether they're in our home for a reason or simply taking up space. Because kindness is something we want to emphasize, I've been reading through books we owned or borrowed from the library to see if they are worthy of a spot on the bookshelf. With that in mind, I thought I'd share 10 of the books that teach kindness that are kid-approved and mom-approved by our family, in the hope that they might help your family, as well.

Infant & Toddler Books

If you are still in the board-book stage, a simple introduction is I Am Kind by Jen Porter.

The book details all the things the child does that day for others, then repeats the mantra, "I am kind."

At the end, the child says that they are kind, and it made them happy. The simple language and sturdy pages are perfect for curious toddlers.


Preschool & Early Elementary Books

{MOM'S FAVORITE} One of my absolute favorite books on kindness is Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller. It begins when a girl named Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress. Wanting to make her feel better, her classmate wonders: What does it mean to be kind? From giving to others, to making sure to greet people by saying their names, to standing up for those being bullied, the pages go through the different aspects of kindness in an easy, conversational way. I love that the book is inclusive and shows people from varied backgrounds, and the way in which it moves the conversation from the small scale (how can I show kindness to those around me?) to large-scale ramifications (what would it mean if kindness extended around the world?). A well-done read.

Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, a book by Laurie Keller, has the subtitle "A Book About Manners," but I feel like it encompasses a lot more. When a group of Otters moves in next door to Mr. Rabbit, he's unsure how he feels about it. Will they get along? he wonders. When he hears that you should treat otters the way you'd like to be treated, he comes up with a whole list of what that would look like: saying please and thank you (in 5 languages!), apologizing, being honest, showing kindness, and more. Rather than just a how-to on politeness, Keller's book gets to the heart of deeper issues on how to treat others with respect and consideration. The illustrations are engaging and humorous. A kid favorite!

Although it's not kindness-specific, Strictly No Elephants is a charming book about friendship and inclusivity. When a boy is unable to bring his tiny elephant to The Pet Club, he decides to make his own club--one where everyone, with pets of all shapes and sizes, is welcome.

My girls love the Berenstain Bears books, and considering all the great lessons they usually illustrate, I love them too. In The Berenstain Bears: Kindness Counts (Berenstain Bears/Living Lights), Brother Bear takes a younger cub, Billy, under his wing and allows him to help him build model airplanes. His kindness is rewarded in an unlooked-for way when Billy's older cousin allows Brother Bear to help him with his rockets. (Bonus book: The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving is specific to Christmas, but is great for introducing ideas about generosity and the true Christmas spirit of love and giving.)

The illustrations in Pass It On, by Sophy Henn, are so darling. Although the word "kindness" is never used, Henn's book describes the way in which we can smile or focus on the good things in the world and "pass them on" to others. My girls, especially my 3-year-old, are drawn to the bright colors and accessible language.

The book mentioned above, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids (Bucketfilling Books) by Carol McCloud, is probably one of the easiest books on kindness for my children to recall with clarity, but the themes are easily reinforced through Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer's book How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids, which gives examples of how specific interactions throughout the day can add to or subtract from our invisible bucket.

Maria Dismondy has written several children's books that are related to kindness and other character-building ideas, although the only one we've read so far is Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage To Be Who You Are. In it, Ralph is unkind to Lucy for being different (having curly hair and eating spaghetti in a hot dog bun), but when Ralph becomes scared on the playground, Lucy remembers her Papa Gino's reminders to treat others the way you'd like to be treated, and chooses to respond to him with kindness. Two of her other books--The Jelly Donut Difference: Sharing Kindness with the World and The Potato Chip Champ: Discovering Why Kindness Counts--are currently on our must-read list, too.

Middle-Grade Children

The Kindness Club: Chloe on the Bright Side by Courtney Sheinmel (and its second installment, The Kindness Club: Designed by Lucy), introduces kindness to readers in grades 3-6.

In the first book, fifth-grader Chloe Silver's parents have recently divorced, which means that Chloe is away from her best friend and in a new school. At her new school, she's sandwiched between two groups of friends—"The It Girls" and "The Kindness Club" with her science partners Lucy and Theo. Although I haven't read these in their entirety, they've gotten good reviews: "While this is ultimately a book about altruism and understanding, Sheinmel deftly recalls the difficult days of fifth grade. Chloe has many tough decisions to make and has to live with the positive and negative consequences. The dialogue is candied but avoids becoming altogether cloying. The characters are well-developed and relatable. The true strength of the tale is in Sheinmel's presentation of tween politics and Chloe's inner struggles. Readers will be rewarded with a satisfying read and, hopefully, a little inspiration to be considerate in their own lives" (School Library Journal).

What children's books have you read on kindness? Let us know in the comments so we can check them out! There are so many great ones available that I feel like we're discovering new ones each day.

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Finally, have you bought our book, The One Year Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional? It is the story of how our families embarked on a one year journey of kindness—our successes, failures and how God redeemed it all in the most incredible ways. If you already have our book and love it, we'd so appreciate it if you leave a review on Amazon.   

We would love to walk alongside you in encouragement, inspiration, and community.

Happy reading!

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