This post was written by media specialist Lauren Davis, as part of my “Wednesday Reading” series in which Lauren and I share our favorite kids lit recommendations.

He handed it to me after school, his face glowing as if lit by a hundred lanterns. “Fankful,” he said. I looked at the orange construction paper, his turkey hand print, and his teacher’s handwriting, my heart instantly flooding the floor:

I am thankful for mommy, daddy, my brother and Daniel Tiger.

Yep. That about nailed the things my sweet boy loved and needed more than anything else in the world: his mommy for snuggles, his daddy for safety, his brother for laughter, and Daniel Tiger to teach him, well, pretty much everything.

I can’t bear to take his picture off the pantry door where I taped it nearly two years ago. To me, this simple, sweet list is perfection. As my son grows, I know his “thankful” list will morph and change, but I want to continually remind him that the things we should be most grateful for are our relationships and the necessities, not the materialistic objects that clutter up our lives, blinding our eyes with the fastest and shiniest games and gadgets.

I would like to use this November to go even beyond that. I aim to model an attitude of gratitude for my children, in which we continually express our appreciation for the things we are so lucky to have while simultaneously reminding them that others are not so fortunate— and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to help?

I know I’m not alone in seeking a way to encourage my boys to have grateful hearts all year round and not simply when Thanksgiving approaches. I’m confident that if I can instill a feeling of gratitude in my kids at these impressionable ages, the more likely they will be inspired to help those who may not be able to help themselves. This is what I hope for more than anything.

Of course, I want my children to become intelligent young men. But if they grow up to be compassionate, grateful and directed by a strong moral compass that encourages them to give back to their community, whenever possible, I will feel like I have succeeded as their mom.

Below are some of my favorite books to get both my students and my own children talking about the things for which they are thankful. But, perhaps more importantly, this list includes stories that can serve as “window” books— books that remind us that the things we take for granted are missing from many homes around the country. So many people face daily challenges while simply trying to provide for their families, and as thankful as we may be for what we have, we need these stories to open our children’s eyes to the struggles challenging the community around them and the myriad ways that they can give back.

It’s a good reminder for us grown-ups as well.

Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

1) Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Jones: Jeremy wants nothing more than the same pair of shoes that the rest of the kids at school wear. But, according to his grandma, Jeremy’s “wants” are not nearly as important as his “needs.” This is such a special story, one I read to my students every year around Thanksgiving because it masterfully sparks a discussion about wants and needs, as well as the fulfillment that can be found in helping others.

2) Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt and illustrated by Vin Vogel: This sweet story provides an important look at childhood hunger in a manner so readily understandable for young kids. I have been reading this all week at school with my elementary students, and it prompts great discussions not just about how important it is to help others in need, but also how to handle a situation when a friend makes you promise to keep a secret that causes you to worry about his or her well-being.

3) Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson: As a boy and his grandmother ride the bus one afternoon, the child continually asks his grandma about various luxuries they don’t have. His grandmother helps open the boy’s eyes to all of the ways in which they are rich, even though they may not have certain gadgets and gizmos. When their bus ride ends, the reader learns the two are going to volunteer at a soup kitchen. A surprise ending to a marvelous, remarkable book.

4) Thank You, Mr. Panda, by Steve Antony: I can’t get enough of this series of books. They are pure perfection when talking about manners with little kids, and this one, Thank You, Mr. Panda, shows us how we can graciously accept gifts even if they aren’t quite what we were hoping for. This is such a great story to help children understand that the simple act of being given a present is something to be thankful for, even if the present itself may not be our favorite.

5) All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee: This gorgeous book showcases the glorious wonders of life, from the world’s oceans to our human bodies, from sweet music to the earth’s bountiful harvest. The illustrations are breathtaking and the sentiment is spot on, giving us a gentle reminder of the many gifts our world continues to offer.

6) Secret of Saying Thanks, by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Greg Shed: “The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time. The more we say thanks, the more we find to be thankful for. And the more we find to be thankful for, the happier we become.” Need I say more?

7) The Thankful Book by Todd Parr:  This is such a perfect book to read with toddlers and young children! The Thankful Book, with its vibrant, childlike illustrations, encourages kids to recognize the everyday things in their lives for which they should be grateful.

8) It Could Always Be Worse, by Margot Zemach: I just adore this Yiddish folk tale, the story of an unfortunate man who lived with his mother, six kids and his wife in a one bedroom hut. When the man seeks advice from a wise rabbi because the home is crowded and the family is bickering, the rabbi tells the man on several different occasions to bring his animals into the hut– first his chickens, then his goat, then his cow. When the man eventually tells the rabbi he can’t take it anymore, the rabbi tells him to let all the animals back outside. What ensues? The man ends up exactly where he started – but now he is so grateful for the serenity!

9) Spoon, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon: Sometimes it is hard to recognize how much we have to be thankful for when it comes to ourselves and our abilities, especially when you watch your friends with envy and marvel at the things they do so well that you just can’t do at all. This sweet story reminds us to celebrate our differences and to be grateful for everything that makes us special as individuals.

10) A Chair for My Mother, by Vera M. Williams: After their home is a destroyed by a fire, Rosa and her family save coins in a big jar. What are they saving up for? A big, comfortable chair so the family can relax after their respective long days. This story is poignant and so beautifully conveys one spirited family’s will to persevere after a tragedy as well as the gratitude they display to those around them, even when their own losses were devastating.

11) The Thank You Book, by Mo Willems: Who better to teach young kids about gratitude than our dear friends Elephant and Piggie? Join the two animals in the last book of this hit series as they go on a thank-o-rama and show their appreciation for everyone who helped make their stories a hit. If your little ones love Piggie and Gerald like my kids and students, this is one not to miss.

Please share your favorite books to teach gratefulness in the comments!


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.