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How to Be Kind: Books to Inspire Kindness for the Whole Family

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • February 17, 2021

Fostering Kindness

Today is Random Acts of Kindness Day. We all know that reading is a great way to foster kindness, especially for kids. It helps all of us to learn about and consider circumstances and perspectives that are different from our own. Here are books that will inspire kindness in kids of all ages.

Picture Books

For young kids, it is best to offer very clear and simple examples of kindness, showing how easy it can be to show compassion for others.

From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone, Be Kind shows how any act, big or small, can make a difference. Written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill, this simple story asks, what does it mean to be kind?

Illustrator Amy June Bates makes her authorial debut with daughter Juniper in a timely book about inclusion and acceptance. The Big Umbrella is so big that when it starts to rain there is room for everyone underneath.

I Walk with Vanessa is the story of a girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. By using only pictures to tell the story, husband-and-wife team Kerascoët show that someone can be an ally without having to say a word.

Today is Pet Club day. There will be cats and dogs and fish, but Strictly No Elephants. The club doesn't understand that pets come in all shapes and sizes, just like friends. Lisa Mantchev’s story is a sweet and affirming tale of inclusion.

His grandma says they don't have room for "want," just "need," but Jeremy really wants a pair of Those Shoes that everyone else seems to be wearing. Maribeth Boelts shares the story of a kid learning what's most important in life.

Middle Grade

Older readers will start to understand how kindness comes from a place of understanding and caring about circumstances different from their own.

Each of the seven narrators in Rob Buyea’s Because of Mr. Terupt has a unique perspective. They’re all so different, but somehow their new, energetic teacher seems to know how to make the classroom a fun place for everyone.

Perfect for fans of R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, this is the true story of an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. Born with a tumor in the middle of his face and short twisted legs, Robert Hoge had to learn to overcome bullies who called him Ugly.

Caitlin has autism. Before, when things got confusing, she went to her older brother for help. But since his tragic death, things are more confusing than ever. Mockingbird is a National Book Award winner by Kathryn Erskine.

Jackson’s family has fallen on hard times. His friend Crenshaw may be the only one who can help. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he's outspoken, and he's not real. Bestselling author Katherine Applegate shows the importance of friends, whether real or imaginary.

Despite her own troubles, Ryan Hart is a girl who tries to see the best in people. As her brother says when he raps about her, she's got a talent that can't be seen. She’s nice, not mean. Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson celebrates what matters most.

Young Adult

There is a tendency to assume that teens are too addled by hormones and drama to think of others. But in fact, this is a time of tremendous development, both emotional and intellectual. Teen readers are especially primed for stories that deal with social justice and big-picture issues.

The memoir of lawyer and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson offers a glimpse into his work to fight for the freedom of those wrongfully imprisoned. Just Mercy, made into a 2019 film, has also been adapted for young adults.

From bestselling author Nic Stone comes Jackpot, a pitch-perfect romance that examines class, privilege, and how a stroke of good luck can change an entire life. Rico is a working-class teen struggling to make her own luck in the world.

A year after the devastating fire that left her orphaned and scarred, Ava’s aunt and uncle have decided she should return to school and get back to “normal.” Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart is a powerful story of resilience and healing.

Darius has never really fit in at home, and he's sure things are going to be the same in Iran. But then he meets Sohrab. Adib Khorram's Darius the Great is Not Okay shows how true friendship can break through all barriers.

Ed Kennedy’s life is one of habitual incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is a portrait of a young man whose life is transformed when he embarks—unintentionally—on a life of service.

For the Whole Family

Teaching young children to be socially conscious may seem like a daunting task, especially for busy families. In Simple Acts, Natalie Silverstein presents parents with practical, accessible ideas to involve the whole family in volunteering and helping others in the community.

Designed to be read with children as young as four, The Kindness Advantage by Dale Atkins and Amanda Salzhauer presents ten fundamental concepts to weave into your family's daily life. The book offers simple ideas and activities to inspire a culture of compassion and connection.

It’s important to let kids know that having empathy and understanding for others isn’t always easy. It’s like a muscle we have to work on strengthening all our lives. (For that matter, it’s good to remind ourselves of this message too!) That’s one reason that lifelong readers have been proven to be a more compassionate crowd. Reading helps us expand our perspective of the world and consider experiences different from our own. So carry on, dear readers!

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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