Kindness is quickly fading from our society. We are now living in a day and age where individuals will not come to someone else’s defense while they are being attacked, but instead will videotape the altercation. In public, people just walk by others, who are clearly in need, as if there is nothing wrong instead of offering a simple hand in situations such as helping someone cross the street, assisting someone who can’t reach an item on a high shelf, or helping someone who is choking. Instead of valuing differences in ability, religion, sexuality, class etc., society speaks and acts out and the hatred is felt worldwide. This type of behavior is becoming way too common.
This is concerning for many reasons as kindness isn’t just something some people value. There are actually many benefits to being kind to others, such as links between kindness and subjective happiness as well as academic/overall success, and spreading kindness helps fight against a bigger issue: bullying.
Below, you will find a list of books that can be used by parents and teachers to instill the importance of kindness in children through the use of literature. The book collection below consists of various situations, cultural variety, as well as genre variety. Whether you choose one or more of these books, you are helping the next generation in making the world a better place.
Annotated Bibliography (Geared Towards Elementary Age Students):
Aliki. (1998). Painted Words. New York: NY: Greenwillow Books
Book Summary: Marianthe (Mari) is beginning school in the United States, but does not know or understand English. At first, she learns and communicates through gestures, smiles, and listening and watching. She is able to communicate to others how she feels through drawings until one day she is able to share those drawings as spoken words.
High Quality Characteristics: The author uses similes in order to give the reader an idea of what Mari was experiencing during her first school day in the United States. The author also uses precise language in order to convey Mari’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences during her first few days at her new school. There is an implicit theme of how kindness affects others, as seen through Mari’s drawings.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: An important lesson to teach students from this story is that it’s not just words that can hurt someone. Mari couldn’t understand English, but knew Patrick was being unkind by the way he said things as well as his gestures. Parents/teachers can use this as a teaching tool to show you can be hurt someone in various ways. This story can also be used to in discussing small acts of kindness we can extend to others that may not speak the same language.
Boelts, M. (2007). Those Shoes. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Book Summary: This is a story about a boy who wants a popular pair of shoes that all the other children at school have, but his family cannot afford them. The boy finds the shoes at a thrift store, but his grandmother won’t purchase them because they are too small. The boy decides to buy the shoes, despite the tight fit, with his own money. He eventually comes to the conclusion that he cannot wear the shoes as they are too small, so he gives them to a classmate who is in need of a pair of new shoes.
High Quality Characteristics: This book includes a character that is developed through his actions as he begins as a child who wants the shoes that everyone has, but after his good deed realizes he needs to be appreciative of what he has. This story also shows the conflict that the character has within himself, to keep the shoes even though they don’t fit or give them to someone who needs them, which many children can relate to.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Sometimes it is difficult for parents to explain to their children why giving to others who are in need is important, especially because when children donate their belongings they are not able to see who they are helping and the effect that their donation has had on the person who receives the item(s). A parent could use this book to help show their children the importance of giving to others, as well as the effect it has on both the person who gives and the person who gets. It could also be used as a motivator in order to get children to part with some of their belongings they no longer use or clothing that no longer fits.
Bunting, E. (2006). One Green Apple. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Book Summary: Farah is a Muslim immigrant who recently came to the United States and is on a field trip with her new class. At the beginning of the story, she feels like an outcast as she does not speak or understand English. Her classmates ultimately help Farah feel more confident and accepted through small acts of kindness, such as introducing themselves and inviting Farah to assist in making apple cider.
High Quality Characteristics: This story is told in a first person point of view in a realistically represented setting. The author’s word choice includes vivid adjectives that help the reader engage their five senses so that the reader can see, hear, feel, taste, touch, and think as if they are Farah. This is a text that will promote discussion of cultural acceptance and how kindness can foster feelings of acceptance.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: This text is a great tool for teachers who teach a diverse population of students, or for teachers who will be welcoming a student into their class from a different country that may speak little to no English. Reading this text to students in these situations will help students recognize how another student feels, and to help students identify small acts of kindness that will make another student feel more comfortable and accepted without being overwhelming.
Choi, Y. (2001). The Name Jar. New York, NY: Random House
Book Summary: Unhei, a girl who just moved to the United States from Korea, is picked on because of her Korean name. While being introduced to the class, she tells the students she hasn’t picked a name yet (avoiding another incident like the one on the bus). The kids in her class wanted to help her pick her new name, so they gave her a jar with names they picked. One day after class, Unhei shows one of the students (Joey) her name stamp and he shows interest in. Soon after, Unhei’s jar goes missing, but she decides to keep the name Unhei. All along, Joey took the jar because he wanted her to keep her name. He also goes out of his way to get a Korean nickname (for friend) and gets a stamp like Unhei’s with his Korean nickname on it.
High Quality Characteristics: The settings and characters are realistically represented. The conflict within the story is within the character, but due to the kindness of the other students in her class she is able to overcome the conflict. The theme is the story is implicit, but the story will encourage discussion that will reveal the theme.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Multiculturalism, and how students can embrace multiculturalism through kindness, can be addressed through this text by both parents and teachers. This story also shows how simple actions, such as collecting names for a name jar or showing interest in a cultural item can make someone feel more welcomed and comfortable. This book can also be used by parents/teachers of students who have unique names to help students become more confident and proud of who they are and where they come from.
Cooper, I. (2007). The Golden Rule. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Book Summary: This story introduces children to The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Throughout the story, The Golden Rule is rephrased in various ways to help children understand the meaning of The Golden Rule, as well as to show how people all over the world live by The Golden Rule. The author also provides scenarios for what living by The Golden Rule would look like, what would happen if everyone lived by The Golden Rule, and describes that change can start by the effort of just one person.
High Quality Characteristics: Throughout the story, the text is visually displayed so that important information, such as the Golden Rule, stands out. Words are written in different typefaces, sizes, and are deliberately placed on a page. This text also provides exposure to the values of various cultures which all center around kindness. Also, the theme of this text (treat others as you want to be treated) is explicitly stated and represented throughout the entire story.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Parents and teachers are both able to easily use this text in order to teach children to treat others the way they would want to be treated. The focus of using this text should center around how living by The Golden Rule would have an effect on the people around them, and what effect that would have on their community. Holding discussions about how one person can promote change, since kindness is contagious, will help children understand the importance of spreading kindness.
Cuyler, M. (2007). Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Book Summary: In this story, Mrs. Ruler is teaching her students a huge lesson in kindness due to their unkind behavior. She challenges the students to participate in acts of kindness. As the students become more accustomed to acts of kindness, they stop and think before they act and choose to be kind. By the end, even the most reluctant student begins to participate in acts of kindness and the class reaches 100 acts of kindness!
High Quality Characteristics: The characters in this story begin as unkind and rude children who do not think before they are. They are developed into thoughtful, kind students through their actions (acts of kindness). In developing the characters, the author explicitly demonstrates the theme of “kindness is cooler” throughout the entirety of the story. The settings portrayed within the story are equally important and significant as the characters and their actions as the settings show that acts of kindness can be demonstrated anywhere at any time.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: This book can be used throughout the school year by teachers. This book gives students a plethora of ideas in ways to participate in small acts of kindness. After reading this story, teachers can challenge their class in reaching 100 acts of kindness, if not more. Acts of kindness can be displayed in the classroom or in the hallway (hearts, kindness chain…) to remind to students to stop and think before they act.
Hennessy, B.G., (2005). Because of You. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Book Summary: This is a simple text the highlights the importance of helping one another in order to make the world a better place. Each person can learn from each other, help each other, and create a feeling of peace by working together. This text also highlights that change happens through one person at a time, beginning with the change created by you.
High Quality Characteristics: The author uses precise words to show readers the simplicity in being kind, caring, and helpful to others. Through the use of the precise wording, a peaceful mood is represented. A peaceful mood is also created through the colors used in the illustrations. Also, the author makes use of rhythm and repetitive language in order to highlight the importance that change starts with you and what you can do in order to promote positive change.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: The world has a lot of negativity in it, but this text shows how one person can create a feeling of peace. Parents can use this text with children at a young age in order to support the importance of kindness, and how the child can help the world become a better place just by being kind. This text is also helpful to parents in teaching their children good morals. It is a great bedtime story with an important lesson.
Hoose, P. & Hoose, H. (1998). Hey, Little Ant. Berkeley, California: Tricycle Press
Book Summary: A boy comes upon and ant and tells him that he is going to squish him. The ant talks back and tries to convince the boy not to squish him because in many ways the ant and the boy are alike, even though at first glance it doesn’t seem so. The story is left at a cliffhanger- to squish or not to squish.
High Quality Characteristics: This Reading Rainbow text, originally a song, incorporates the author’s voice in narrating the story at the end of the text when they ask the reader what the boy should do (squish or not to squish). Since this text was once a song, it is available as music for alternate learning. The author uses personification in order to give the ant a voice and shows that even the he is an ant, he has a house, family, and friends which is why the boy should not squish him. The text is left at a conflict- should the boy squish the ant or let him be?
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Teachers can use this text to have a conversation about whether or not the boy should squish the ant. The teacher can then relate this conversation to student-student interaction and how children need to take others into consideration before harming them through words and/or actions. Teachers can also use this text in music education or during Reading instruction with a focus on rhyming.
Kaufman-Orloff, K. (2016). Miles of Smiles. New York, NY: Sterling Children’s Books
Book Summary: The story starts with a baby giving its mother a smile. The smile then travels from person to person until it has reached everyone in the town. The end result of the smile traveling from person to person is a happy community.
High Quality Characteristics: The author creates a happy mood by using the smile as the main focus of her text and the illustrations are also colorful and upbeat. The settings are realistically represented. Lastly, the theme of “smiles are contagious” (a way to show kindness) is very explicit.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Parents can use this text as a way to introduce simple ways to show kindness in daily activities. It can teach children the power of a smile, and how something as simple as a smile can change someone’s day around. It also teaches that spreading kindness through a simple smile can have a bigger effect, such as making the community a better place.
McCloud, C. (2006). Have You Filled A Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Northville, MI: Ferne Press.
Book Summary: In this story, the author uses a bucket as a symbol in order to describe when people feel happy and good about themselves (a full bucket), and when people feel sad/lonely (an empty bucket). The author uses the terms “bucket dipper” and “bucket filler” to distinguish between people who say/do mean things and people who are kind to one another . Also, the author describes the effects that each of these actions have to the bucket each person carries. The lesson of this story is to spread kindness by doing little things throughout the day in order to be a “bucket filler,” which will not only help others feel good but will make you feel good as well.
High Quality Characteristics: This award winning text uses precise words that children will understand in order to convey the importance of kindness. The author prepares the reader at the beginning of the story by providing them with important information about the bucket before describing how it relates to kindness. Also, the images within the text promote the theme of kindness by providing a visual for children to display what happens when they are kind, or unkind, to others and how that affects those individuals.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: This is a story that can be used by parents or teachers in order to teach children the effects of being kind, or unkind, to others. Teachers/parents can use this text to help children self assess whether or not they filled any buckets (how they were kind, or not) throughout the day. It can also be used to ask students if their actions were bucket filling actions, or bucket dipping actions. This can then lead to discussion about how they could fill more buckets and/or how their kindness had an effect on other (or themselves). By having students self-assess themselves using what they learned from this story, it will allow students to stop and think before they act, therefore promoting kindness.
Muldrow, D. (1999). Do the Right Thing! Kindness. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Book Company
Book Summary: This is an informational text that defines kindness to children. This story also provides readers with examples of kindness. It is also important to be kind to others so that they will be kind to you, which is also explained in this text.
High Quality Characteristics: This book uses metaphors to show students what kindness is since kindness is an abstract concept. The theme of kindness is very explicit as this text identifies and explains what kindness is and how to be kind to others. The illustrations within the text are realistic, which allows children to parallel being kind in the story with being kind in their lived.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: At the end of this book, there is a kindness check that teachers or parents can use with their children to gauge their children’s understanding of kindness. This tool can also be used as a discussion tool with one child, or a whole group of children. There is also a sentence frame that can be used for a display, or a daily writing activity, in which students states who they were kind to, as well as how they were being kind.
Polacco, P. (1998). Thank you Mr. Falker. New York, NY: Philomel Books.
Book Summary: Trisha is a student who has a difficult time reading which led the school children to pick on her. The author shows how their unkind words and actions broke Trisha down. Then, Mr. Falker becomes Trisha’s teacher and he learns that she is having difficulty reading, but he goes out of his way in order to teach her how to read. With Mr. Falker believing in her, Trisha learns how to read and it changes her outlook and path in life.
High Quality Characteristics: The settings and characters are realistically represented in this text. This story, told in the third person point of view, highlights complications between characters and complications within the main character that are overcome by the kindness of another character. The theme of kindness in this story is implicit, but can be brought to the attention of students through discussion.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: This is a text that can be used by both parents and teachers in order to show how being unkind can have a negative impact on a person and hold them back from being successful. Discussion can be held to talk about what the other students should have done instead of picking on Trisha. This text can also be used to show how the kindness of just one person can promote a positive outcome.
Polacco, P. (2015). Tucky Jo and Little Heart. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Book Summary: Johnnie Wallen, a soldier in World War II, befriended a little girl (Little Heart) from the South Pacific and went out of his way to help and protect her and the people of her village which neighbored his camp. He helped them find food and evacuated their village right before a firebombing that was meant to stop enemy troops from attacking. Many years later, Johnnie needed medical care, but he was on a very long wait list and couldn’t afford most of the care he needed. A new nurse arrived at the medical facility and informed Johnnie he would receive the best care, and at no cost to him because he took care of her, and the people closest to her, so many years before.
High Quality Characteristics: The theme of this text is implicit, but can be discovered by children through the discussion this text will elicit. The author also uses vivid, precise, and appropriate language in order to bring the reader back to the place and time this story occurred. This text is also available as an audiobook as well as online for needs of different types of learners.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Parents and teachers can use this book in order to teach how acts of kindness, whether big or small, can have a long lasting effect and will always be remembered. Since this text is based on a true story, it also provides a real life example of caring across cultures that parents and teachers can discuss with children. This text can also be used by teachers in cross-curricular lessons in Social Studies in order to read an experience from World War II.
Spinelli, E. (1991). Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch. New York, NY: Bradbury Press.
Book Summary: Mr. Hatch, a man who keeps to himself, receives a Valentine’s Day package. This completely changes his mood and he begins to socialize with his co-workers, helps the people in his town, and holds a gathering in his backyard. It turns out the package was delivered to Mr. Hatch by accident and Mr. Hatch falls back into his old ways. The neighborhood comes together and reminds him how much his community cares about him.
High Quality Characteristics: Colors used in the illustrations of this story helps convey the mood. When Mr. Hatch keeps to himself when he feels that no one cares for him, the colors are gray and sad. When he interacts with his community, the colors are bright and happy. When the mood changes within the story, so do the colors used in the illustrations. Also, the author uses precise words in order to convey the feelings of Mr. Hatch as his feelings change throughout the story.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: This is a story that can be used by either teachers or parents in order to show the impact that kindness and caring has on someone. This book can lead to the discussion on acts of kindness to make people feel wanted, loved, cared for, and accepted. Teachers and parents can also discuss the importance of making others feel wanted, loved, cared for, and accepted.
Wallace, N. E. (2006). The Kindness Quilt. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish
Book Summary: In class, Minna’s teacher (Mrs. Bloom) read “The Lion and the Mouse” in order to teach about kindness. From that story, Mrs. Bloom started a do-draw-share where students complete an act of kindness, draw what they did, and share it the next day in class. Minna made her acts of kindness look like a quilt and soon the other children did too. Their acts of kindness were displayed on a small bulletin board, but the kindness soon spread throughout the school and kindness quilts lined the hallways of the entire school.
High Quality Characteristics: Visual media used in this text is not traditional media as it is composed of various materials: felt, fabric, tissue paper, etc. Personification is evident throughout the stories as the characters are rabbits but have human characteristics. The theme of kindness is explicitly discussed and shown as the students demonstrate acts of kindness, discuss their acts of kindness, as well draw their acts of kindness for others to see.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Teachers and parents can use this text in order to have children keep track of their own acts of kindness through the use of their own kindness quilts. This can be displayed as a reminder for students to continue to act kind towards one another. This text can also be used to discuss how kindness spreads (it started off as a class and ended up taking over the school) and how children can spread kindness in their environments.
Weninger, B. (2003). The Magic Crystal. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers Group.
Book Summary: Pico, a dwarf who is ashamed of how he looks, only goes out at night. One night, Pico came across a group of crystal dwarves who sang a song over and over again even though there was not an end to the rhyme. Pico finishes the rhyme and is rewarded with a crystal that allows him to see who he is on the inside- a beautiful, caring dwarf. From this day on, Pico no longer hides and has made many new friends.
High Quality Characteristics: The setting of the story takes place in an alternate world with trolls and dwarves, although the conflicts within the main character is a conflict that many humans have with themselves. The visual backgrounds used in the story change as the moods within the story change- green/jealous, yellow/happy, red/angry.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: Teachers and parents can use this text to show children that it isn’t what’s on the outside that matters, it’s what’s on the inside that counts (kindness). Discussions should also include why was the troll treated different than Pico? How did Pico and the troll feel at the end of the story? These questions will help students see the benefits of being kind. Teachers can use this in Reading instruction by talking about character traits and how they relate to what was seen in the crystal.
Woodson, J. (2012). Each Kindness. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
Book Summary: A new girl (Maya) starts at Chloe’s school and the girls do not accept her. They make fun of her and never show her an ounce of kindness. One day, Maya doesn’t show up to school. The teacher does a lesson in kindness and Chloe realizes all of the missed chances she had to be kind to Maya. Each day, Chloe waits for Maya to return until she is informed that Maya has moved away. Upset, Chloe realizes that she has missed her chance to be kind and the opportunity is forever gone.
High Quality Characteristics: This text has a realistic setting that many students can relate to. In order to support the theme, the author plants the image of a stone making a ripple in the water to provide a visual that kindness also has a ripple effect. The author creates a very somber mood throughout the story which is key in showing how students how others feel when they are unkind, and how they will feel if they don’t act kind when the have the opportunity to do.
Teacher/Parent Use to Address Kindness: This text approaches teaching kindness from the opposite side- what happens when you are not kind. Teachers and parents can use this text in order to teach children that they should act kind when they have the opportunity to do so, otherwise there may come a time where it is too late and you will be filled with regret. This text can also be used to have a discussion with children the “ripple” effect that kindness has which reinforces the importance of being kind. Parents/teachers can also have children drop pebbles into water, like the do in the story, to discuss acts of kindness in order to promote positive actions and discuss any ripple effects that kindness had.
At the younger elementary level, the books in this collection can be used in order to support instruction in the area of civics and government. Areas that could be addressed include, but are not limited to, defining respect for self and others, explaining reasonable classroom behavior, identifying school projects that support leadership and public service, and identifying how students can work together. Kindness is Cooler, Mrs Ruler, The Kindness Quilt, and Have You Filled A Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids are three books from this collection that have activities (100 acts of kindness challenge, kindness quilts, bucket filling) that can be adapted for classroom use to show off kindness demonstrated by students. These activities will produce artifacts in which students have showed respect for themselves and others, artifacts that exhibit reasonable classroom behavior, and are projects that show leadership in exhibiting kindness and acts of kindness that include public service work. These activities also promote students working together as you need to give kindness to get kindness, and many of theprojects require teamwork.
Each Kindness and Hey, Little Ant can be used in conjunction with the three books mentioned above in order to elicit conversation about the importance of respecting yourself and others as well as leadership. In Each Kindness, Chloe did not take leadership in welcoming Maya to their class, nor did she show any respect towards Maya. The missed opportunities in leadership and respect now have Chloe full of regret. Hey, Little Ant will promote classroom debate on whether or not the boy should squish the ant, even though the boy’s friends are watching and waiting for the squishing to begin. In this debate, students should debate concepts of leadership within the boy and his group of friends, respect towards one another (boy and ant), and working together (boy and ant) before making a final decision.