Recommended Reading: Books to Build Character & Teach Your Child Important Values

By Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, FAAP

​In today’s world, children and teens are bombarded with conflicting, ever-shifting standards of ethics and morality. At the same time, you are trying to teach and instill good values at home. Fortunately, a really great book has the power to counterbalance these outside influences and teach children important lessons as they grow.

It might be a book on kindness after your child experienced or witnessed cruelty. It might be a book on expressing emotions after your child s​aw or heard scary news coverage, or maybe a book on understanding differences after your child saw someone who looked differently than they do.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Reach Out and Read have compiled the following list of books — organized by age and topic—to help you raise children who are aware of the world around them, curious, brave, kind, and thoughtful. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to review these titles in advance of sharing them with their children.

Then read together! Books are great conversation starters that can give you an opportunity to talk to your children about these issues and help them learn and understand your family’s values.

Books to Teach Kindness
Teaching kindness to children is an important skill to build and reinforce at all ages. Young children can learn how small acts of kindness help and please others, but teens can learn broader, larger concepts grounded in morals and ethics.

Stand​ in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy, by Bob Sornson; illustrated by Shelley Johannes
Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Kindness is Cooler, Mrs Ruler, by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
What Does It Mean To Be Kind?, by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed, by Emily Pearson, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton
Heartprints, by P.K. Hallinan

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams
Wonder, by RJ Palacio
Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents, by Sarah Conover and Valerie Wahl

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Rules, by Cynthia Lord

Books About Expressing Emotions
Children may see anger, sadness, and loss in parents and other adults in their lives and be uncertain how to respond. Younger children may have difficulty naming their emotions, but find it easier to identify with a character in a book. Older children may have difficulty sorting through complex feelings and worry about burdening adults who are struggling themselves. Books can help children process, clarify, and put a name to their feelings.

Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee MacLean
That’s How I Feel (Asi Me Siento), by Rourke Publishing
Have you Filled a Bucket Today?, by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing
What if Everybody Did That?, by Ellen Javernick, illustrated by Colleen M. Madden
I Was So Mad, by Mercer Mayer
Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, by Laurie Keller
My Many Colored Days, by Dr Seuss

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Queenie Peavy, by Robert Burch

Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens, by Sheri Van Dijk
A Still Quiet Place: A Mindfulness Program for Teaching Children and Adolescents to Ease Stress and Difficult Emotions, by Amy Saltzman MD
Learning to Breathe: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance, by Patricia Broderick PhD

Books About Bullying & Harassment
Bullying and harassment are difficult topics for everyone, and they are an increasing issue in schools across the country. It’s common for younger children to repeat language they’ve heard without understanding the implications of what they’re saying. Those who are harassed (or are worried about being harassed) may have strong fear and anxiety. Children who are bystanders may not know how to respond, particularly if they fear being bullied themselves.

Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes
The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
Edwardo: the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World, by John Burningham
Say Something, by Peggy Moss, Illustrated by Lea Lyon
Babymouse: Queen of the World, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
Bully B.E.A.N.S., by Julia Cook, Illustrated by Anita DuFalla
Confessions of a Former Bully, by Trudy Ludwig, Illustrated by Beth Adams

Stitches, by Glen Huser
To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful, by Shane Koyczan
Understanding Buddy, by Marc Kornblatt
Loser, by Jerry Spinelli
Veronica Ganz, by Marilyn Sachs
Blubber, by Judy Blume

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Freak Show, by James St James
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
7 Days at the Hot Corner, by Terry Trueman

Books on Listening to Others’ Views
Learning how to listen well and respect different views are important life skills. While younger children find it difficult to take the perspective of others, they gain that ability over time. Older children may become great debaters—especially with their parents. Books can offer models for engaging with others who have different views in a respectful and productive manner.

When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt, by Molly Bang
I’m the Best, by Lucy Cousins
Chocolate Milk, Por Favor, by Maria Dismondy, illustrated by Donna Farrell
The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania of Jordan & Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Junkyard Wonders, by Patricia Polacco
The Conquerers, by David McKee

Zero Tolerance, by Claudia Mills
The Cat at the Wall, by Deborah Ellis
The Three Questions, by Jon Muth

This Side of Home, by Renee Watson

Books About Respecting Differences
Children are naturally curious about others (particularly other children) who fall into groups other than their own. Think of your child’s curiosity as an opportunity to teach him or her about respecting these differences. Remember, in order to raise kids to embrace diversity, you’ll need to give them access to a variety of different cultures and traditions—books are a great way to do that!

I Like Myself!, by Karen Beaumont, Illustrated by David Catrow
Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall
Giraffes Can’t Dance, by Giles Andreae, Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
Strictly No Elephants, by Lisa Mantchev, Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Two Speckled Eggs, by Jennifer K. Mann
Willow, by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan, Illustrated by Cyd Moore

Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
The Ordinary Princess, by M. M. Kaye

Books on Social Change & Civic Engagement
Many children are drawn to helping others—even at young ages. Maybe it is raising money for a cause or having a passion for issue impacting their community. Books can help them understand the broader concepts of social justice and civic engagement. Younger children tend to thinking of things as “good vs. bad,” but as they get older they develop very sophisticated and nuanced moral reasoning.

Grace for President, by Kelly DiPucchio, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, by Edwidge Danticat, Illustrated by Leslie Staub
House Mouse, Senate Mouse, by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes
Being Me, by Rosemary McCarney, Illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart

Zero Tolerance, by Claudia Mills
Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
The Kid’s Guide to Social Action, by Barbara A. Lewis
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
Samir and Yonatan, by Daniella Carmi
The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine
March: Book One, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

About Dr. Navsaria:
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, FAAP is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and is director of the MD–MPH program there. He practices primary care pediatrics at a federally-qualified health center in South Madison and is the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. Dr. Navsaria regularly writes op-eds on health-related topics, does radio and television interviews, and frequently speaks locally, regionally and nationally on early brain and child development, early literacy, and advocacy to a broad variety of audiences. Follow him on Twitter @navsaria, Facebook, and visit his website ​
Editor’s Note: Our collective thanks to the following colleagues who also helped compose this list: Amy Shriver, MD, FAAP, Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, Perri Klass, MD, FAAP, Dina Joy Lieser, MD, FAAP, and the librarians at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


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