Our children depend on us to teach them about important issues such as celebrating diversity, showing kindness, cultivating compassion and building empathy. As a mother and a writer, I believe that reading books together with your little ones is a simple, fun and effective way to instill these values.
Here are our favorite picks for children’s books with strong messages about compassion, diversity and empathy.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Amos McGee works at the zoo, and every day he makes time to visit his special animal friends. He spends time with elephant, tortoise, penguin, owl and rhinoceros and treats them with empathy and kindness. One day when Amos is sick and can’t go to the zoo, his friends decide to take the bus to go and visit him so they can show him the same kindness and concern.
Stillwater, the lovely and thoughtful Panda Bear from Zen Shorts, returns with more inspiring tales for children and adults. Stillwater convinces his friends Addy, Michael and Karl, as well as his nephew Koo, to help a grumpy old neighbor who needs a hand. What results is a surprise to everyone (except Stillwater of course) and a wonderful lesson about kindness and compassion.
The Can Man
Tim really wants a skateboard for his birthday and since his family cannot afford to buy one for him, he decides to earn money for himself. He notices that his old neighbor, who is now homeless, collects cans and he decides to do the same. However, after his encounters with The Can Man, Tim changes his mind about what he is going to do with the money he earns.
The Hundred Dresses
Although this Newbery Honor book was written over 70 years ago, it is still relevant today. The story is about Wanda Petronski, a young girl who is teased by her classmates because she wears the same tattered dress to school every day. No one believes her when she says she has one hundred dresses at home. When Wanda is taken out of the school, her classmates are ashamed but it is too late try to right their wrongs. One of Wanda’s classmates decides that she is never going to stand by and say nothing again.
Last Stop on Market Street
This simple tale of a boy and his grandmother delivers a powerful message. They board a bus and the boy asks questions about why they don’t have many of the luxuries, like iPods and cars, that he sees around them. His grandmother helps him realize he doesn’t need those luxuries in order to appreciate the beauty and joy that they do have: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
Little Blue and Little Yellow
This simple children’s book addresses issues such as diversity and tolerance through simple pictures and words. Little Blue and Little Yellow are two little dots of color who just want to be friends. Their friendship is represented by the color green, but their parents do not approve… until they themselves also blend to become green. The sweet ending and the importance of friendship and diversity shine through in this story.
The Sandwich Swap
Lily and Salma are best friends. They go to school together, play together and eat lunch together. PB & J for Lily and a hummus and pita sandwich for Salma. But when each tells the other that her lunch looks yucky, their friendship comes to an end. The argument causes a divide at the school, which culminates in an epic food fight. The girls decide it is time to make some changes so they share their lunch and then they organize a food fair which leads to an important lesson in tolerance and multiculturalism.