If you’re looking for a creative way to teach and nurture values in your young listeners, try offering them literature that portrays them.
I seem to listen better to advice when it’s given to a person in literature than when it’s directed at me. Watching a favorite character learn a lesson the hard way often brings truths home to me and the same seems true of my children.
Just the other day my four-year-old proclaimed, “I want to do all the jobs she did!” after we had read about Martha in We Help Mommy. It was a golden opportunity to reinforce the fact that she’s my wonderful helper and I love it when she is a cheerful and willing assistant around the house.
While I can’t fully rely upon books to teach my children bravery or perseverance, books help as we facilitate conversations and foster an atmosphere where each child is raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). As we train our children in the way they should go, relying on the Holy Spirit to convict and persuade, books can be powerful tools.
Here are a few books that encourage, teach, and nurture values in our young listeners. Some are simple picture books that will reinforce saying “please” and “thank you”; others are books that illustrate concepts like compassion and honesty through stories more memorable than simple definitions of virtue.
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Books That Nurture Values for Young Listeners
Blaze and the Forest Fire by C.W. Anderson
Billy and his pony, Blaze, come across a forest fire and must jump across stone walls and a wide brook to sound the alarm. These books were my brother’s favorite growing up, and I can’t recommend the Billy and Blaze books enough, as they are sweet stories of adventurous life outside. Recommended for ages four through ten.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Based on a true story, this powerful book tells how six-year-old Ruby was one of the first black students to attend segregated schools in New Orleans. Unfortunately, many people were unhappy about the desegregation, and daily Ruby had to walk to school surrounded by hostile crowds and attend class in an empty building. And daily Ruby would pray for the angry people surrounding her. Ruby’s testimony of forgiveness, bravery, and fortitude is amazing! Recommended for ages five through twelve.
I Love You Always and Forever by Jonathan Emmett
Throughout a game of chase, Longtail and Littletail are reminded that many things will change, but even when Littletail is grown-up Longtail will still love her. The simple story reminds me of Guess How Much I Love You, another darling, animal tale which will remind your youngsters that you will always love them. This story will be enjoyed by ages two through six.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
Amos spends time on a daily basis with his friends at the zoo, running races with the tortoise and sitting quietly with the penguin, among other things. One day Amos is sick and doesn’t arrive at the zoo, and his friends miss him so much that they hop a bus to visit him. After they’ve properly cared for him, Amos feels much better and they all settle in for a giant sleepover. Recommended for ages two through eight. (Warning: two pages reference someone or an animal being scared of the dark. I just skipped those sentences, as I didn’t want to encourage that with my children.)
Bear Feels Sick by Karma Wilson
Bear is struggling with a case of sniffles and fever when his friends arrive to take care of him. With the warm broth, the healthy tea, and the tender, loving care Bear eventually gets over his illness. But suddenly Mouse, Hare, and the rest of Bear’s friends are feeling sick, and Bear gets to play nurse in turn. I’d recommend this tale as well as the rest of the Bear series by Karma Wilson for ages six and under.
We Help Mommy by Jean Cushman, Illustrated by Eloise Wilkin
Bobby and Martha help their mother with various chores, from making breakfast to cleaning to grocery shopping. By the end of the day, they clean up their toys and happily go to bed. The attitude of “this is what we do and it is enjoyable” encourages children to be helpers around the house. Recommended for ages six and under.
Farmer John’s Tractor by Sally Sutton
When a flood traps two little girls and their parents in the middle of the rising water, neither the tow truck nor the fire engine is able to rescue them. But then Farmer John’s tractor, which “lies locked in the shed, rusty yet trusty and orangey-red,” comes to the rescue. Recommended for ages two through seven.
A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting
Francisco’s grandfather has just arrived in the United States and does not speak any English. When Francisco lies to help his grandfather get a job, his grandfather (and the mistakes they make during their day’s work) help Francisco see the importance of the truth and of setting things right if one has done wrong. The sweet illustrations combined with the valuable lesson that even much-needed work isn’t worth lying about make this book one of the best. Recommended for ages five through twelve.
The Empty Pot by Demi
Ping is excited to participate in a plant growing competition with the other children, in hopes of succeeding to the Emperor’s throne. But despite his greatest care, the seed he has been given does not grow. After a year the children gather, and Ping feels disgraced as he is surrounded by others who have grown beautiful flowers, even while he must bring his empty pot. But the Emperor proclaims that only Ping is worthy of succeeding to the throne because the seeds were all cooked and therefore none of the other children were honest by arriving their flowering plants. Recommended for ages four through ten.
A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno
When Mako accidentally cracks her new clogs while playing a game, she tries to trick her mother into buying her a new pair. But her mother wisely makes her carefully wash her muddy clogs, and tells her again to properly care for her shoes, even while commenting that perhaps they will buy new clogs again soon. The main lesson in this story seems to be that one should never trick one’s parents, but it would also be easy for a child to walk away from this book thinking that maybe careless behavior with one’s possessions isn’t that serious, since the mother responds by saying they will buy new clogs soon. But I think with proper discussion this point can point children toward honesty and responsibility. Recommended for ages six through ten.
Humility & Hard Work
Woof, the Seeing Eye Dog by Danae Dobson
Once a mutt, Woof now has a loving home with Mark & Krissy’s family. But Woof has forgotten his humble roots and believes he is the pride of the town due to his recent rescue of three puppies. When Miss Richards needs a substitute for her seeing-eye dog, Woof is volunteered to do the job. Through helping Miss Richards around town, Woof learns humility and the importance of “how we treat others.” I’d recommend this story (and the other Woof books) for ages five through twelve.
Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
Three friends are wrongly accused of throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski and chose to change his mind by giving beautiful Pysanky eggs to the elderly shopkeeper. And when the Pysanky eggs provide a way to bless Miss Eula with a beautiful Easter bonnet, the children are blessed in turn. I’d recommend this book for ages six through twelve. (Warning: at the end of the book, Miss Eula comments that once she’s dead she wants the children to bring chicken soup to her grave so that she can continue to partake in their chicken Sunday tradition. This could be used as a chance to teach your children about the truths of the Bible, but please be aware that it would be best not to overlook this mention.)
Gratefulness & Joy
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie Deeniham
In case you are ever given a lemon tree (instead of a robot dog, headphones, or a drone), here are a few instructions for you. And if you choose to care properly for an unwanted gift (instead of tossing it off a bridge) you may find, just like this young girl did, that unwanted gifts are full of surprises and bring all kinds of happiness. This book encourages discussion with children who have their hearts set on certain gifts. Recommended for ages five through twelve.
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss
When challenges or struggles come our way, it can put things into perspective by considering what issues we aren’t dealing with and counting our blessings. In classic Dr. Seuss style, an elderly gentleman sits on a cactus and proclaims the truth that there are many people more unfortunate than he is. I mean, you could live in Ga-Zair, with your bedroom and bathroom miles apart; or perhaps even be “a left sock, left behind by mistake in the Kaverns of Krock!” Recommended for ages four through ten. (Warning: one page does show the back of a young fellow running from the pants-eating-plants.)
Kindness & Self-Control
Little Dinos Don’t Hit by Michael Dahl
In this basic board book, Little Dino is encouraged to help, not hit, family members. In its sweet ending, “You’re a good helper, Little Dino! And helpers don’t hit. Helpers hug!” While I haven’t been fond of many of the “hello genius” books I’ve read, this one is one I can see using with my youngsters to reinforce a subject we’re already working on. Recommended for ages two through four.
Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose
An ant tries to convince a thoughtless kid that squishing tiny creatures isn’t the best choice. The illustrations in this book really make the story come alive, especially the pages where one must turn the book sideways to get the full effect of the tallboy and then the tall ant. While the unknown ending was rather troubling to my four-year-old, it’s thought-provoking as it leaves readers to decide whether or not the ant survives. Recommended for ages four through ten.
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud
While I’m sure I’ve heard the “bucket explanation” before, this colorful book introduces children to the idea that we all have something inside of us that needs “filled up” with happy thoughts and feelings. McCloud encourages young listeners to be a “bucket filler” — a “loving, caring person who says and does nice things to make others feel special.” I’d recommend this book for ages four through ten, although both older and younger children would likely benefit too.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
When Maya arrives in Chloe’s classroom, Chloe and the other girls are mean to the new girl. Many days Maya brings something to show the other girls or tempt them to play with her, but neither the jacks nor the jump rope entices the girls to join her. Suddenly one day Maya is gone, and Chloe realizes what chances she missed to show kindness. I’d recommend this thought-provoking book for ages eight through twelve.
Sharing & Peace
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
An elderly quiltmaker gives her beautiful creations to those in need, but a greedy king demands she makes a quilt for him. After she refuses his request, she escapes from his wrath multiple times. The king finally takes the quiltmaker’s advice and begins to give away his plethora of wonderful things. As he journeys around the world the king discovers that in giving he can find happiness. Recommended for ages eight to twelve.
Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney
When new neighbor Nelly Gnu visits, Llama disaster strikes when the two youngsters don’t share well. In the end, some creative help from Mama Llama helps encourage Nelly and Llama to share, and they are able to “bake” a cake together. This simple story is probably best for your youngest children, as it encourages sharing at the most basic level of blocks and other toys.
The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Jim Field
Cyril and Bruce have both spotted the last pinecone of the season, and are each determined to grab it before the other does. But the pinecone leads them a merry chase until a bird snatches it from right under their very noses. After bouncing down a waterfall the two work together to wiggle to safety. Bruce then speaks some wise words, “How silly we are! How greedy I’ve been! We shall change from today. May the squabbling cease. We should celebrate – seeing we’re both in one piece!” Recommended for ages eight and under.
It’s Mine by Leo Lionni
Milton, Rupert, and Lydia are comical in their inability to share their island, the water, the air, and the worms. A neighboring toad tries to encourage them that their bickering is awful, but it’s not until a rainstorm threatens their lives that they learn life is sweeter when shared together. Recommended for ages two through eight.
An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
One day while helping serve a meal to hobos, Frankie secretly gives away his special Christmas sweater to bless an elderly man. But when sister Stella announces she made Frankie a muffler to match his Christmas sweater, Frankie isn’t sure what to say. Later, Frankie loses his Christmas orange, adding to his feelings of guilt. But when Frankie finally confesses to his mother, she encourages him that while losing the orange was a thoughtless thing, the fact that he gave away his sweater was selfless and noble. Based on a true story, the real Frankie passed away after the Christmas in this book. Recommended for ages five through twelve.
Perseverance & Patience
The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
This classic story of a small train who couldn’t make it over the mountains, and receives help from “the little engine that could” has sweet illustrations and is a favorite of my children. Natalie actually requested it so frequently that my husband finally recorded a reading so that it could be played back any time she wanted the story! The “I think I can, I think I can” is a good motto for children to remember when faced with difficult tasks! This tale will likely be enjoyed by children under the age of ten.
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother lost everything they owned in a house fire. But they are determined and persistent in once again making a home for themselves, specifically focusing on the goal of a comfy chair. They put Mama’s tip money, anything Grandma has saved from the grocery budget, and half of Rosa’s coins into a large pickle jar, excitedly anticipating the day when it will be full and enough to buy that comfy chair. Recommended for ages four through ten.
As I’ve compiled this list I’ve realized how so many books may be used to encourage discussion of a fruit of the Spirit or of other important values. Books such as Mama Lion Wins the Race (by Jon J. Muth), Do Unto Otters (by Laurie Keller), and The Bear Who Shared (by Catherine Rayner) are new discoveries to me, each one a creative look at one (or more) of the values I’d like my children to learn. And then there’s Nurse Nancy (by Kathryn Jackson) and A Child’s First Book of Virtues (by Emily Hunter), old favorites that also contribute to our goal to raise our children in a home that is Christ-honoring.
Off to the library,
Originally from Oregon, Jennifer Church relocated to North Carolina with her husband Tyler to serve with Trans World Radio. Previously Jennifer taught missionary kids with Africa Inland Mission in Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and Chad. These days Jennifer is loving life as a stay at home wife and mother to Natalie, Seth, and Noah. She enjoys reading, gardening, and sewing when she has a spare moment. Follow Jennifer on Goodreads.
Here at Club31Women, we recognize that not everyone has the same taste or point of view on books, music, or movies, but we offer these short reviews for your consideration. Our hope is that you will find something new and wonderful on this list of recommended resources!
~ Lisa Jacobson, Club31Women