This post was written by Lauren Bercuson Davis of Happily Ever Elephants, a blog that celebrates children’s literature. I’ve been following her on Instagram for awhile and after the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend, I reached out to see if she would be interested in sharing her book recommendations on Mommy Shorts. Specifically, books that teach kindness, inclusion and the importance of diversity. I truly believe educating our kids has the power to change the world, which is why I have started to use the hashtag #raisethechange on social media. I have purchased many books in the past year in an effort to teach these virtues to my children (including a few mentioned here) and would love to grow our collection. Hopefully, my readers will follow my lead and add some of these books to their bookshelves as well or share their recommendations in the comments below. With that, I’ll turn it over to Lauren.
I’ll start with this: turning on the news these days is frightening. Between the statements made and the things left unsaid, I’m continually left with one fear-inducing thought: what kind of world will my two boys inherit? My children are young, only two and four, but I often find myself grappling with how I will approach daunting conversations I know we must have in the very near future. And when my own words fail me – when I find myself coming up with conversation starters only to cast them aside due to their banality, I always turn back to the same powerful, tried and true tool: children’s books.
When you can’t find the words to explain to your little ones some of America’s pressing issues regarding race, religion, gender and equality, children’s literature has a significant ability to convey the values we want our children to learn and live by every single day. Through books, we can impart the significance of upholding the ideals our great country was founded upon.
Read to your kids. Read every day, multiple times a day if possible, whenever you can get it in. Read before bed, snuggled with your kids in a comforting space where you can safely discuss their fears or your concerns. Never stop reading to them, especially when they begin to read to themselves; even our oldest children benefit significantly from read alouds with parents and teachers.
This is no longer a gentle reminder that reading nurtures empathy and can help children understand both their own feelings and those of others. No. This is a call to action. Infuse your children’s bookshelves, at home or in your classrooms, with books conveying messages of respect, kindness and inclusiveness. Read them books that act as windows, giving them glimpses into the lives of people around our country and around the world who may seem different, but share the same fundamental yearning for connection and respect. Read, and then make sure you are modeling the virtues you want to instill in your own kids— those of compassion, love and equality for all.
Every morning when I drop my oldest son off at school, he climbs out of his car seat, leans in for a hug and cranes his neck for a quick kiss on the forehead. And every morning, just as he’s getting out of the car, he glances back at me and we do our thing:
“What are we going to have today?” I ask. He looks at me with a grin.
“I knooooow, Mommy,” he always says. Yet my response remains the same.
“I know you know, but I love hearing it anyway.” And then he smiles wider, and he repeats the mantra we’ve been saying every morning since he began nursery school last year:
“Kind hands. Kind words. Kind hearts.”
I whisper it silently with him, and as he jumps out of the car, my heart swells with pride. I know I may not have all of the answers, and I know I’m by no means a super-mom, but I do credit the values my boys have learned through the great books we share each day. So what does that mean? It means I will never stop reading these important stories with my boys, and I will never stop advocating the power of literature to guide children through our darkest days. We can all use compelling stories to inspire the next generation of change agents and freedom fighters. We can, and we must.
Below is a list of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, funny and factual, that can be read with children of all ages. Each of these stories convey unique messages of kindness, inclusiveness, equality, and the power of voice to make a change.
We’re All Wonders, by R.J. Palacio: Help kids see the beauty and wonder in every person, despite how different they may appear on the outside.
Worm Loves Worm, by J.J. Austrian, and illustrated by Mike Curato: Teach children from the outset that love is love is love, no matter who you are or how you identify yourself.
One, by Kathryn Otoshi: Share the message that children are never too young to use their voices for good.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis: Use this book to demonstrate how every act of kindness- even the seemingly tiny ones- has a ripple effect that can change the world.
My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood: Encourage children to share a smile– and extend a hand– to refugees in their neighborhoods, enabling them to break invisible boundaries and celebrate multicultural friendships.
A Family Is a Family Is a Family, by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Qin Leng: Show little ones that every family is unique and beautiful, and there is no such thing as right or wrong when surrounded by love.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin: Teach kids to be true to who they are and never lose their voices, despite the naysayers who may try to silence them.
Be a Friend, by Salina Yoon: Celebrate the beauty of accepting others for who they are at heart, especially the ways in which they are unique and special.
A is for Activist, by Innosanto Agara: Allow the ABCs to teach your kids how to advocate for change.
Strictly No Elephants, by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo: Convey the importance of inclusiveness with a simple story line even tiny readers can grasp.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton: Inspire child activists with the true story of a little girl who fought for freedom despite her young age.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury: Read this with infants and toddlers so they learn from the outset that despite perceived cultural differences, we are all one and the same.
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson: Help children understand gratitude and teach them that we can– and should –always be helpers.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger: Inspire a new generation of freedom fighters with the stories of women who used their voices to better their country and their world.
Spork, by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault: Convey the message to little ones that we all have a place at the table, no matter how different we believe we look.
Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue: Use this story as a springboard to discuss segregation and the unfortunate reality that it takes more than new laws to eclipse hate.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson: Teach children about the underground railroad with this true story of a young slave who mailed himself to freedom.
Hello, My Name Is Octicorn, by Kevin Miller and Justin Lowe: Teach your kids how to embrace their unique attributes- and to recognize that underneath the surface, we all long for the same thing- connection.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis: Provide kids with background on the Civil Rights movement and the childhood story of one of its most important heroes.
Grandfather Gandhi and Be the Change, by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Evan Turk: Use these two companion books, sharing the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, to teach children how to channel anger into light and be a change for good.
This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, by Matt Lamothe: Take your kids to countries across the globe to share the ins and outs of seven kids’ lives and the unifying passion we all share for family, love and education.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THE FOLLOWING UPCOMING RELEASES:
Love, by Matt de la Pena and Loren Long
Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
Come With Me, by Holly McGhee and Pascal Lemaitre
Why Am I Me?, by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Lauren Bercuson Davis lives in Miami with her family. After twelve years as an attorney, she decided to switch career paths and pursue her passion for children’s literature instead. She became a library media specialist at an elementary school, as well as an avid reader, writer and blogger. Lauren shares children’s literature reviews and other bookish fun on Instagram @happily.ever.elephants, on Facebook, on Twitter @KidLitLauren and on her blog Happily Ever Elephants.
Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with what to do and say lately and most of all how to make a difference. One of the biggest things I think I can do is to teach my 4 year old love, kindest and acceptance. We have 2 of these books and over time I plan to add as many as we can.
I wrote a book entitled, More Alike a Than Different… A Down Syndrome Awareness Tale. The main character, Arthur, must face differences head on. Illustrated by Jenny Kopp
Also don’t forget that all of these books are available for free through your local public library. Building a library habit for kids early on is a great step towards developing a sense of ownership and responsibility for ones own learning, socialization and entertainment!
I would love to see a post about taking Mazzy and Harlow to NYPL!
These look great! We love A is For Activist and I have Last Stop on Market Street as a “first day of preschool” present. Another diversity one that is great is “The Family Book” (so many kinds of families). In terms of standing up for what is right, I love the underrated Yertle the Turtle.
Wonderful post. I have a few of these books I read to my nieces and nephews and definitely plan to expand my library. I’ve always been a reader and try to impart my love of books to others. I took the liberty of sharing this post to my Facebook page. Thanks again for posting it.
I live the book Worm Loves Worm! Also Red: A Crayon’s Story and Jacob’s New Dress. All favorites of my 4 year old and me! Fantastic post, thank you for sharing. I’m adding all of these (that we haven’t already read) to my library list.
Thank you and Lauren so much for this!! I’m heading to the library tomorrow, list in hand! Stories are one of the simplest ways to start a bigger conversation, and I can tell that I’m going to love a lot of these books.
What a great list, thank you. Could you edit to include info on which books are appropriate for toddlers? I saw one the ten fingers and toes one but am curious about the others!
Love this post! We have a few of these books too. One of my strategies when buying or borrowing books is to find books that feature all races. I have an almost 4 year old and we have conversations about what looks different and how people have been mean in the past and today just because someone looks different. I ask ‘do you think that’s nice or okay? What could you do if you saw someone being mean or treating someone unfairly? What is beautiful about this character/person?’. Having the conversation at all ages is so important and it’s not enough to teach color blindness and that everyone is equal.
You should try Wonder with Mazzy!
Thanks so much for this list!! We took your recommended on “last stop on market street” last year and my five year old loves the story. I love the use of dialect and it allows her to see something different than what she is used to. Just put two of these in my amazon cart! Thanks again.
Thanks for these! I added many to my shopping cart on Amazon!
THANK YOU for posting this! I’ve added a ton of these to my shopping cart.
Thank you! I’m always looking for new books to share with my first grade students and my own two boys to guide conversations about kindness, empathy, teamwork and respect. There are some books on this list I’m really excited to get my hands on. We’re All Wonders and She Persisted are my current go-to gifts – I think every child should have them in their library.
We just read One Good Deed by Terri Fields and it really resonated with my kids.
Thank you so much for sharing this list! We are always looking for new books to teach our three little ones to be kind, inclusive and respectful. Usborne Books & More has some amazing titles that could be added to this list! Can I Join Your Club? Teaches children that being inclusive of everyone is always more fun. Cordelia and Bob is a Unicorn teach children to love themselves and believe in their dreams! Tale of Two Beasts is all about perspective taking. There is also a title, Cuddle Bear that is all about loving one another and how powerful love is to change someone’s day. There are SO many others as well if you’d like to check them out http://www.KristenwithUsborne.com
I own a few but am looking into more of these now! The Freedom Box book is actually offered for FREE right now through Kellogg’s Family rewards if you buy a product at walmart and send in your receipt. I got it for my son! Thank you for posting this books. I always look for a way to teach my son about differences and accepting them but most of the time I have no idea how to explain it correctly.
Great and timely list! If you have space for one more, you might consider looking at my own STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS (Lee and Low, 2016). It’s a picture book biography about the power of kindness.
Please add The Barefoot Book of Children to your beautiful list! Thank you so much for this post!
[…] 21 Children´s books to teach our kids to be kind and inclusive (Mommyshorts.com) […]
AMAZING list. I just ordered a ton of books. Thank you!! Excited to read to my kids. xoxo
Thank you for posting this, always looking for ways to teach my girls. Just ordered them from our public library. Great list!
I sent my mom this post. She’s a preschool teacher and forwarded it to her Director. My mom bought a couple of the books and when she went to drop them off at the school, the director had printed a large banner outside the front door saying “Kind hands, kind words, kind heart”. Thank you for posting this!
[…] values we hold so dearly of openness, inclusivity, kindness, generosity, and love into our kids. This post has great book ideas to help teach our kids those […]
Thank you again for this. We just returned the first four to the library today, and picked up the next four! My son has enjoyed all the stories, and he is making connections to his life. This will 100% help him to grow into a caring and compassionate human being.
[…] Teach kind – great books to have around (thanks for the find, Tanis!) […]
Check out The Green Ladybug: A Book about Kindness, and The Green Ladybug 2: A Book about Making New Friends. Both of these books are stories about kindness and inclusion.
Thanks for this list.
good article https://offbeatbride.com/cake-and-punch/
a very good selection of books, and most importantly do not forget that children read the behavior of adults around them and based on it create their own picture of the world and norms. Growing up in the company of parents who prefer to sit at the computer, the child adopts their behavior.
Parents can teach their children not only how to brush their teeth, dress themselves, read and count with confidence, but also how to be kind! Kindness is not only a character trait, often inherent from birth, but also a habit of behaving and treating others kindly, which can be instilled in a child in childhood and developed later in life. Thank you, great article!
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I have thought so many times of entering the blogging world as I love reading them. I think I finally have the courage to give it a try. Thank you so much for all of the ideas!
Thanks for your informative article. I’m going to add them to my reading list. Read a book with children of all ages! This collection includes picture books with stories ranging from humorous to true. The common theme of these tales is that good things happen when people take action. edit my sociology essay