Teach Empathy, Encourage Kindness & Celebrate Differences (A Book List for Kids)
When anyone ever asks me if I miss teaching, my answer is always, “I miss teaching reading.” But, it wasn’t just teaching students to read that I loved. It was the read aloud books. There’s something that books are capable of…they have the ability to place you right into the heart–and heartbreak–of the character. Books are powerful for teaching lessons because they captivate the audience. Without feeling forced, read aloud time could help tackle topics that were both uncomfortable and awkward.
The start of a new school year is right around the corner. And, while this year will look different for most of us, it’s still an opportunity to talk with kids about empathy, kindness & doing what’s right. After all, we’ve kind of been absent from civilization and socialization for six months. The kids might need a refresher. (I know there’s a bunch of adults on the internet that need one.) These topics are not always easy to teach–but, books can start the conversation, open up communication and create understanding.
Some of the books on this list are old favorites, some have come into our lives this summer, and a few are in my Amazon cart! I’d love to hear what you think, or if you love any of these as much as I do!
Who needs some some good book recommendations?
The Opportunity of New Beginnings
We’ve all been “new” at one time or another, right? Seeing scenarios unfold in front of you on the pages of these books…it hits close to home. It’s important to have conversations with our kids (& ourselves) about making people feel welcome–how to include others, how to notice when someone is alone and how to invite someone into a group.
The Day You Begin illustrates the fears of anyone who has ever been “The New Kid.” It also showcases scenarios of other children who are feeling left out, or those who may not feel “good enough.” It’s relevant and pulls you in to the isolation felt by the main character.
The Name Jar tells the story of a young girl who moved to the USA, with her parents, from her home country of Korea. When she’s initially met by school children who laugh at her name, she’s embarrassed and decides she needs a new one. The heartwarming ending will make you smile.
All Are Welcome follows the school day of children from different backgrounds, who come together in beautiful rhyme to chase their dreams and lose their fears, with the repeating line of, “All Are Welcome Here.”
The Invisible Boy is Brian, the kid no one notices or includes. When a new kid arrives, Brian is the one who welcomes him. It’s through this friendship that Brian finds his way to shine.
Doing What’s Right
There will always be kids that need to learn how to treat other people or how to follow the rules. (Sometimes those are my kids.) But, if they see the behaviors modeled by the right characters, with the right words, there’s hope that they’ll feel empowered to be leaders. They can truly change the world. Could it be your kiddo who makes a difference? (In some cases, they might have to learn to stand up for themselves!)
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is a well-loved story that was a staple in my first grade classroom for years. Molly Lou Melon is charismatic and lovable. She’s also new to the class. When the class bully harasses her, she does her best to ignore him, while staying true to herself, charming everyone in the process.
Hunter’s Best Friend at School introduces us to two best friends, newly off to school together. But, Hunter’s best friend Stripe is not making good choices. Hunter soon starts following along. An unfortunate event causes Hunter’s mother to help him realize that being a good friend means helping someone else be their “best self.”
The Recess Queen is Mean Jean. She is in charge, and no one tells her different. Until the new girl challenges her–and makes a friend in the process.
One is a story about what happens when someone finally takes a stand. The bully of the group feels more and more powerful with every interaction–no one challenges him. But, when the new “number” arrives, he speaks up and changes the entire dynamic.
Saying Goodbye to Antiquated Norms
Can we just stop with the “boys clothes” and “girls clothes” already? They are children. They wear clothes to express themselves and feel good about who they are. Who cares the shape of the outfit or the color? It’s ridiculous that we’re still having this conversation in 2020.
I’ve seen the destruction that comes from teasing and bullying done to children who think outside of society’s outdated rules. It sucks. These situations destroy kids–we can do better. We have to do better.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress tells the story of Morris, who loves everything about this special outfit. He is picked on and teased, but when he lets his imagination carry him away, he finds that there are other kids that want to be carried away with him.
My Brocky loves all things colorful, happy and carefree–including dresses and the color pink. The clothes emulate characters he looks up to–strong women, like Elsa or Violet Parr. He loves the idea of living in a magical world, like Tinkerbell. Why do we have to make this stuff about gender or societal rules? Why can’t we just let kids be kids?
Pink is for Boys encourages anyone–and everyone–to embrace what they love, from colors to activities, without worrying about what stereotypes are out in the world.
Sparkle Boy invites us to see the things that Casey loves–from trucks and puzzles, to glitter and shimmery items. He adores the things his sister has and wears. The adults support him, but his sister isn’t so sure. Finally, when faced with older boys teasing him, she begins to realize he deserves to be himself.
Our differences make each of us our own, unique selves. And, while it’s ok (& easy) to notice differences, there are so many ways that we are alike, as well. Let’s teach kids to celebrate each others’ differences and identify how much we have in common, too!
All Shapes Matter tells the story of shapes having fun on the first day of school. But, when a problem arises, they need the shapes that are “different” to help them solve it.
Different Just Like Me follows April throughout her week. As she sees new people at every stop along the way, she notices how they are different from her, but also identifies what they have in common.
Neither illustrates what happens when the society you’re born into turns you away because you’re different. Luckily, our main character finds a place where he belongs–celebrating what makes him unique, and he’s not alone.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun is the story of Lucy–how different she is, and how Ralph likes to point it out. But, when he really needs her, it turns out that she knows what’s right and how to make a good choice.
Whoever You Are takes us around the world to see differences throughout cultures–what we wear, how we look and where we live. And, it explains the way we are the same–deep down, where it really matters.
Above All Else, Be Kind.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. We all want kindness–from kids and adults. While it may seem like something you shouldn’t have to teach, you do. People need to know how to act, what to say, how to show kindness–and how to identify someone in need of a little kindness.
Be Kind explores the concept of being kind–whether you stand up for someone being bullied, or ask a friend to play–being kind can change someone’s life.
The World Needs More Purple People teaches us what “purple people” are and how to be one. They use their voice and their actions to be everyday superheroes and make the world a better place.
Kindness Starts with You showcases the way Emily spends her day, sharing kindness with others. Great to show how siblings, and family members, can be kind to each other. There’s also an “at school” version if you love the ideas in this one!
A Little Spot of Kindness is an introduction to ideas of how to spread kindness throughout the day.
Let’s Make This Year Great!
This year is a milestone for our family, as Broderick heads off to Kindergarten. He’s always been my social butterfly–I shouldn’t be worried. But, isn’t it the hope of each and every parent that new beginnings will be positive ones? I want my children to have friends, to be accepted and to be treated fairly by the children and adults that surround them. I also want them to be that for others.
Empathy and kindness…Easy to teach? Not always…and, even if you do, the kids don’t always use them. But, the more we try to help them understand and live with empathy for others, the better off the world will be!
Now, which books do you love–and, which ones did I forget?