Here are some of my favorite character building picture books for young kids I have came across over the years. Be sure to leave your favorites in the comments!
Please Say Please by Margery Cuyler
Sometimes it can be hard to self-analyze bad manners. Written in a Q&A format, examples of bad manners are given. “When a hippo sits down for dinner, she should put her napkin on her head. HOW PRETTY! Is that right?”
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Many know of this classic by Dr. Seuss. “Do you like green eggs and ham?” asks Sam-I-Am. “No, I do not like green eggs and ham!” Presented in Dr. Seuss’ typing rhyming style, this book encourages kids to try new things.
Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binkow
Listening is a valuable skill that will some adults have yet to master. Meet Howard B. Wigglebottom; who has a difficult time listening, and is often in trouble. This, and the whole Howard B. Wigglebottom, are gentle ways to build great life skills.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Young Chrysanthemum thinks she has the most perfect name in the whole world – until she goes to school and everyone begins to make fun of her. This is a sweet story of being yourself and embracing who you are.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
Three bears break their mother’s favorite blue seashell. Rather than tell her the truth, the trio decide to sail away to find a new one; braving sailors, whales, and storms. But, will they ever find what they’re looking for?
I Did It, I’m Sorry! by Caralyn Buehner
This was one of my favorite books growing up. Aimed at 7+, each page presents a different scenario where honesty and character is tested, and gives three options of the right thing to do. The letter (A, B, C) of each “right” answer will be hidden in an image for you to find. Themes include telling the truth, being nice to others, listening the first time, and obeying your parents.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree is a bittersweet classic about a nameless little boy, and a tree who loved him dearly. The little boy enjoys eating the tree’s apples, resting in the shades, and swinging on the branches. However, as the boy grows older, he grows greedier and greedier, as the tree keeps giving and giving.
Character Building Books for Older Children
The following books are a bit more serious in nature; exploring themes like honesty and courage in a way both kids and adults can enjoy, although all are appropriate for younger children. I would recommend these for ages 6+, because I don’t think younger children would be able to appreciate them as much.
The Empty Pot by Demi
This Chinese folk tale is an interesting story on honesty that both children and adults can learn from. When it is time to choose an heir, the Emperor gives a flower seed to each child in the kingdom. “Whoever can show me their best in a year’s time,” he proclaimed, “shall succeed me to the throne!” Young Ping takes extremely good care of his flower; he tends to it, and waters it daily. However, the flower doesn’t grow; while his classmates have big, beautiful, gorgeous flowers. Months pass, and it’s time to go in front of the Emperor. And Ping has an empty pot. One of the best stories about honesty I have ever read.
It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale by Margot Zemach
Once upon a time, there was a poor Jewish man who lived with his wife, mother, and six noisy children. In order to get some relief, he asks the local rabbi for advice. For children and adults alike, this is a great reminder of being thankful for what you have and knowing it could always be worse.
The Wemmicks Series by Max Lucado
Growing up, I have read the majority of Max Lucado’s Wemmicks series; the world of little wooden people and the lessons one small boy (I mean Wemmick) learns. In You Are Special and You Are Mine, in a world filled with the superficial bigger and better, where the pretty Wemmicks get the fame and fortune, humble young Punchinello learns a valuable lesson on God’s love for us.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin
During the Holocaust, Irena Sendler rescued 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She smuggled children out in everything from potato sacks to tool boxes. This is her incredible story of courage and bravery in the midst of evil. Amazingly, she, and every single one of the children she rescued, survived the war.
Anna and Solomon by Elaine Snyder
It’s 1897, and young Solomon falls in love with a beautiful girl named Anna. Being Jewish, they suffered persecution in their homeland of Russia, and the pair decide Solomon will move to America, and when he earns enough money, will send for Anna. When Solomon goes to meet Anna, her younger brother appears. Solomon takes in her younger brother, and again saves enough money for Anna. Instead, he is greeted by her older brother. Then, her mother. Based on the true story of the author’s grandparents, this is a really sweet story of selfless-ness. (And yes, Anna finally does come at the end. 😉 )
Passage to Freedom by Ken Mochizuki
Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara is known for rescuing over 6,000 Jewish people in Lithuania during the Holocaust, by giving them visas to Japan. The story is told through Sugihara’s son and presented an interesting scenario: if they helped the refugees, they could get in deep trouble. If they did nothing, the refugees would surely die. Fortunately, Sugihara and his family survived the war.
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Special thanks to Sight and Sound Reading for your recommendations in this post!