In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, here are some of my favorite books featuring acts of kindness—because love is more than just romance! Speaking of love, I’m crushing on this list. It’s got some great books.
Keep in mind that most of these books aren’t really about kindness, but rather they include characters who perform kind acts. (Personally, I prefer picture books that avoid heavy didacticism and simply inspire kids through a great story.)
Do you love a picture book with an awesome act of kindness? Tell me about it in the comments!
For my master list of book lists, click/tap here.
Note: After each author’s name, I’ve designated the book’s general age range (T=Toddler, P=Preschooler, EE=Early Elementary, LE=Late Elementary).
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (EE/LE).
After traveling to faraway places, Miss Rumphius settles down in a cottage by the sea. However, she realizes she won’t be completely happy until she follows her grandfather’s advice to do something to make the world more beautiful. This classic story will leave readers pondering what small but powerful things they can do to beautify the world, too.
Super Manny Stands Up! by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (P/EE).
Manny the raccoon loves to wear superhero capes and fight imaginary foes. When a big pig bullies a little hedgehog at school, Manny decides to do “the bravest, most courageous, kindest thing he ever could have done”—he puts on an imaginary cape and tells the pig to stop. This timely picture book will charm little superhero fans and remind them that the best heroes are the ones who care for others and stand up for what’s right.
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (P/EE).
In this engaging story, an adventure-craving snail catches a ride on the tail of a kindly whale. Together they explore the world, from the frigid Antarctic to a tropical paradise. When the whale gets stranded on a beach, it’s up to the clever snail to save his friend (with help from nearby villagers). Julia Donaldson’s rhyming story has great rhythm and flow—just like her Halloween classic, Room on the Broom.
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (T/P/EE).
When a little fox steals a girl’s beloved stuffed fox from the playground, the girl and her friend follow the little fox deep into the forest, where they discover a magical animal enclave. The girl finally finds the little fox, but she has a big decision to make when she discovers the little fox adores her stuffed fox as much as she does! My family loves the charming, beautifully detailed illustrations in this wordless picture book. They’re the kind you’ll want to go back and pore over once you finish reading.
The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna (T/P).
A fish with a frowny face feels he’s destined to remain a “pout-pout” fish all his life. Though friends encourage him with kind words, nothing helps until a shimmery new fish swims up and kisses him. Through this simple act, the pout-pout fish is transformed into a smiling “kiss-kiss” fish who’s eager to spread “cheery-cheeries all over the place.” I appreciate how this very popular book shows the power of deeds over words when it comes to helping others.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson (P/EE).
As a mouse and rabbit work diligently in their vegetable garden, they attract the the attention of hungry birds. When the mouse and rabbit refuse to share their harvest, a scuffle ensues that leaves the garden in shambles. But when they offer some vegetables to the birds, the birds return the favor by spreading seeds—resulting in a bigger, better garden with plenty of food for all. I’m a huge fan of Kadir Nelson, and, as always, this lovely, meaningful story doesn’t disappoint.
Kermit the Hermit by Bill Peet (P/EE).
A lifetime of scrounging for food has turned Kermit the crab into a cantankerous and compulsive hoarder who fills his cave with junk he can’t possibly use. But when a boy saves his life, Kermit’s decision to repay the boy’s kindness leads to adventure, danger, and a brave, selfless act that transforms Kermit’s character. I have vivid memories of reading this book as a kid. I loved it then, I love it now.
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (P/EE).
This is a fabulous (and nearly wordless) retelling of the classic Aesop fable. After a lion spares the life of a mouse, the mouse returns the favor and saves the lion when he’s captured by poachers. I love the message of kindness perpetuating kindness as well as Jerry Pinkney’s vividly detailed illustrations, from the flora of the African savanna to the many animals observing the proceedings.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (P/EE).
A boy peppers his patient grandma with questions as they travel by bus through a big city. As their journey progresses, the grandma helps the boy appreciate the beauty of the city and the diversity of the people who live there. I love so much about this book, from the evocative text and the vibrant illustrations to the loving, intergenerational relationship and the wonderful act of kindness that occurs when the pair reach their destination.
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (T/P).
Little blue truck is friendly to all the farm animals he passes—unlike dump truck, who’s too busy doing “important things” to say hello. But when dump truck gets stuck in the mud, he learns an important lesson about the value of kindness. With its catchy, rhyming text and pitch-perfect message about the importance of being helpful, Little Blue Truck (and its many sequels) is a surefire hit with young readers.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (P/EE).
Despite his responsibilities, elderly zookeeper Angus McGee always makes time for his animal friends, from running races with the tortoise to sitting quietly with the shy penguin. When Angus becomes sick, his animals friends travel (by bus!) to his home to care for him. This delightfully whimsical story—the 2011 Caldecott Medal winner—sweetly celebrates the many kindnesses shared among friends.
The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Amy Walrod (P/EE).
The original Little Red Hen folktale is pretty much the opposite of a story about kindness—after the hen’s friends refuse to help her make bread, she won’t share it with them. However, in this enjoyable retelling, the hen magnanimously shares her pizza even though her friends wouldn’t help her make it. Inspired, her friends offer a kindness in return—they do the dishes!
Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox, illustrated by Lydia Monks (EE).
A prince’s efforts to rescue Rapunzel from her tower are foiled by her inability to hear him correctly. When the prince calls, “Rapunzel, let down your hair!” she tosses out…underwear (cue giggling). After a few more communication fails (rope/cantaloupe, ladder/pancake batter, etc.), the exasperated prince finally asks her to let down her braid. Rapunzel throws out her maid—and it’s love at first sight (or, as the maid tells the prince, “I fell for you when we first met.”). This very fractured fairy tale is so much fun.
For my master list of book lists, click/tap here.
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