“These days, it seems more important than ever for books to show young people how to act with thoughtfulness, civility, and kindness.” ―The New York Times Book Review
These past two years have been difficult for many reasons. Our news has been filled with stories of illness, injustice, and rancor. Even though we surely have tried to protect our children from all the bad things happening, we cannot. As people of faith, we know that goodness and love and kindness win in the end. But how can we offer this foundational hope to our children? How do we comfort them when the news is frightening?
Mr. Rogers told the now-familiar story about seeing terrible news when he was a child and hearing his mother say, “Look for the helpers. Who is helping?” We must encourage children to find and emulate the kindness of the helpers. One of those ways is sharing carefully chosen books which do just that. “Good children’s books . . . are written out of a sense of what is true and good and hopeful about the human experience,” Virginia Thomas and Betty Miller wrote in their classic Children’s Literature for All God’s Children. My friends Sophie Maness, DCE at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN; Dr. Ann Neely, professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University; Alex, our 7-year-old grandson, and I offer these suggestions of books that celebrate kindness as a way of living out our faith.
Two books by Rabbi Sandy Eisenburg Sasso begin our list. Who Is My Neighbor? is an imaginative good Samaritan story in which enemies, the blues and the yellows, become friends through a caring act of kindness. The Story of And lifts up the power of that tiny word to initiate inclusion. Singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer has recorded an original song based on the story.
Trudy Ludwig’s The Invisible Boy, with beautifully inclusive illustrations, tells how one little note, an act of kindness and welcome, transformed classroom relationships. In a similar vein, Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed, available in its 15th anniversary edition, recounts ways one random act of kindness multiplied.
Caldecott winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead, is one of several we recommend in which friends are reminded to return kindness to one another. The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo describes the playground bench where anyone who is feeling lonely can sit so their friends will notice and come to keep them company. Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness raises the issue of regret that friends experience when they have failed to include a new friend. There is a strong anti-bullying message here. Pat Zietlow Miller’s Be Kind explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference―or at least help a friend. In Love Grows Everywhere by Barry Timms and Tisha Lee a gardener’s daughter finds and way to share kindness and love with a new boy in the neighborhood.
Inspired by the strong female role models in author Oge Mora’s life, Thank You, Omu recounts the kind generosity of one woman who gave all of her delicious-smelling stew away only to discover the strength of kindness in her community. Hope Is an Open Heart by Lauren Thompson features stunning photographs from around the world and shows that comfort can come in many ways from those who are kind.
Two titles by Bob Graham that help children experience kindness are How to Heal a Broken Wing in which only one small boy notices that a bird needs help, and A Bus Called Heaven gives an encouraging story about community — a whimsical tale about neighbors of all ages and stripes coming together.
Alex brought me his favorite books about kindness. In Knuffle Bunny Free, the third in Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny series, Trixie shares her beloved bunny with a baby who was in great distress. Miles of Smiles, by Karen Orloff, tells how one innocent smile transforms a day for people all over town. And last, he offered Stone Soup by Jon Muth. Pete Seeger’s version, Some Friends to Feed, comes with a cd of Seeger’s song that repeats throughout the book. This familiar tale celebrates the power of generosity, and as Alex said to me, “When the people were generous, they were being kind.”
Here’s what one reviewer said about Carol McCloud’s Have You Filled Your Bucket Today? “While using a simple metaphor of a bucket and a dipper, author Carol McCloud illustrates that when we choose to be kind, we not only fill the buckets of those around us, but we also fill our OWN bucket! Conversely, when we choose to say or do mean things, we are dipping into buckets. All day long, we are either filling up or dipping into each other’s buckets by what we say and what we do. When you’re a bucket filler, you make the world a better place to be! This is perfect for children, parents, grandparents, teachers and people who want to teach empathy, nurture kindness, and create a positive environment in their home, classroom, workplace and community.” And the church! May every book we share with our children help to fill their buckets.