March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Kindness Counts | Great Books for Nurturing Compassion

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These superb offerings about caring and kindness make fitting choices for sharing with youngsters as we enter the holiday season. Perceptive but never preachy, these picture books also present children with enlightening instances of empathy, generosity, and compassion, demonstrating a standard of positive behavior that will go far in preventing bullying.

Bear in Love. By Daniel Pinkwater. Illus. by Will Hillenbrand. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4569-4; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6794-8. PreS–K.

Someone has been leaving tasty surprises outside of Bear’s cave, rousing his curiosity and causing him to sing appreciative songs. Later on, instead of wolfing down the entire honeycomb he finds, Bear sets some aside for his secret admirer. So begins an exchange of scrumptious treats that culminates with the bear and a bunny finally meeting face-to-softly-blushing-face to share their affection and relish a glorious sunset. Enchanting mixed-media illustrations and perfectly pitched prose tell a charming tale of blossoming friendship.

Because Amelia Smiled. By David Ezra Stein. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4169-6. K–Gr 4.

A young girl beams with happiness as she skips down a rainy New York City street and her smile inspires a neighbor to bake cookies for her grandson in Mexico, initiating a chain of sharing, caring, and benevolence that touches people across the globe. Simple text weaves together delightful and diverse moments of goodwill, depicted in dynamic paintings filled with swirling textures and gemstone hues. A jubilant exposition of human interconnectedness and how seemingly small acts go far.

Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift
. By Dara Goldman. Sleeping Bear. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-58536-859-4. K–Gr 4.

It’s true love for a pair of bears, and though neither one has very much money, both have generous hearts. Stella readily sells a cherished pine tree from her family’s farm in Italy to buy Boris a dreidel for Hanukkah; meanwhile, Boris willingly barters his beloved childhood dreidel collection, brought from Russia, to purchase a glittering glass star to top Stella’s Christmas tree. Illustrated with cozy cartoon artwork, this affectionate and accessible reimagining of O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” celebrates different cultural traditions and sends a moving message about the true spirit of giving and receiving.

Don’t Say a Word, Mamá/No digas nada, Mamá. By Joe Hayes. Illus. by Esau Andrade Valencia. Cinco Puntos. 2013. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-935955-29-0; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-935955-45-0. Gr 2–4.

Now adults, two loving sisters both plant vegetable gardens, and each is determined to grace the other with half of the harvest. Swearing their mother to secrecy, Rosa and Blanca unwittingly pass one another in the street as they sneak out at night to deliver baskets of tomatoes and corn. When the sisters discover a surplus the next morning, both generously bring the extras to Mamá, who finally reveals the truth when faced by a surfeit of hot chili peppers. Presented in both English and Spanish, the sweet-natured text and color-saturated, folk-style artwork glow with genuine affection and gentle humor.

Each Kindness. By Jacqueline Woodson. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24652-4. Gr 2–-5.

Chloe and her clique shun new-girl Maya, ignoring her hopeful smiles, making fun of her secondhand clothes, and coolly refusing her requests to play. When Ms. Albert teaches an affecting lesson—demonstrating how our actions ripple out into the world—Chloe does some soul searching, but Maya has already moved away and the chance to show her a kindness is “more and more forever gone.” At once lyrical and believably childlike, Chloe’s first-person narration makes her missteps, revelations, and regret all the more impactful. Lewis’s watercolor paintings masterfully illuminate the action and capture the story’s emotional nuances. An excellent discussion starter, this poignant book will linger in readers’ hearts.

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. By Kristine O’Connell George. Illus. by Nancy Carpenter. Clarion. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-618-42842-7. Gr 1–4.

Though Jessica’s little sister embarrasses her at soccer games (waving a feather boa from the stands), trespasses on her personal space (repeatedly wrecking her room), and cheats at board games, Emma can also be endearingly sweet, quietly admiring, and unconditionally loving. Told from the big-sister perspective, free-verse poems and sherbet-hued illustrations convey everyday occurrences with candor and tenderness to provide an insightful and heart-rousing look at sibling relationships.

The Invisible Boy. By Trudy Ludwig. Illus. by Patrice Barton. Knopf. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-582-46450-3; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-1-58246-451-0; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-449-81820-6. K–Gr 2.

Always quiet in the classroom, left out of games at recess, ignored by everyone during lunchtime, Brian feels…well, invisible. When a new student arrives, Brian is the first to welcome him with a drawing, garnering a smile and a “thank you.” Later on, Justin includes Brian in a small-group project that allows him to showcase his artistic talents—and suddenly, “Brian’s not so invisible after all.” Told with simple language and vividly expressive illustrations, this story presents an honest depiction of classroom dynamics and reminds kids that every individual has the power to make a difference…and make a new friend.

The Lion & the Mouse. By Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown. 2009. Tr $18. ISBN 978-0-316-01356-7. PreS–Gr 4.

Aesop’s age-old tale of kindness freely offered and rewarded is brought to life in Pinkney’s magnificently illustrated, nearly wordless version. Sun-splashed paintings depict the African savannah setting and its animal inhabitants with captivating realism, opulent detail, and vivacious élan. The story unfurls through images both epic and intimate, drawing readers into the action and allowing them to experience firsthand the courage and compassion of a gentle jungle king and lionhearted mouse.

Ten Things I Love About You. By Daniel Kirk. Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25288-4. K–Gr 2.

Rabbit is excited about making a list of his 10 favorite things about Pig, but continually bothers Pig for help with the particulars. Busy with his own project, Pig tries to send his pal away (“Rabbit, I’m starting to lose my patience!”), but cheerful Rabbit puts a positive spin on each brush-off (“Number 6—I love Pig because he’s not afraid to show his feelings”). Humor abounds as the dialogue shoots back and forth, climaxing with a revelation of Pig’s important endeavor: a compilation of 10 things he loves about Rabbit (both lists are appended). An entertaining tale about looking for the best in others, illustrated with personality-packed paintings.

Those Shoes. By Maribeth Boelts. Illus. by Noah Z. Jones. Candlewick. 2007. RTE $15.99. ISBN  978-0-7636-2499-6; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4284-6. K–Gr 3.

Jeremy dreams about owning a pair of much-hyped high-tops, but Grandma says that money is too tight. When his footwear falls apart at school one day, the guidance counselor helps him hunt through the giveaway box for the only pair that fits—bright blue Velcro sneakers with a cartoon character—and Jeremy is ridiculed by classmates. More determined than ever, he finds the sought-after high-tops at a thrift shop and buys them with his own money, even though they are the wrong size. When he finally admits to himself that the shoes will never fit, he presents them to a needy and smaller-footed friend. Filled with discussable themes, this tale is told through kid-savvy, first-person narration and articulate earth-toned artwork.

Zen Ties. By Jon J Muth. Scholastic. 2008. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-439-63425-0. Gr 1–5.

Stillwater, the contemplative giant panda first introduced in Zen Shorts (Scholastic, 2005), encourages his young human friends to help a cantankerous elderly woman, and their simple acts of kindness resonate in numerous and unexpected ways. Filled with clever symbolism and wordplay—including the small wisdoms of Stillwater’s haiku-spouting nephew—the text and lush-hued watercolor paintings present an important life lesson with eloquence and ease.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.



  1. Clearly Each Kindness is the best of them all!

  2. Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness is the best of them all!