Arriving a few minutes late to our favorite museum class, we tiptoe in to the African exhibit, Ellie finding a space to sit amongst the familiar faces, while I join the other parents in the back of the gallery.
Within minutes, Ellie is engrossed. No more turning around to smile, making sure I’m still there. These are my favorite moments, when she forgets I’m watching.
Which is why the following scene was especially precious.
The teacher holds up a small shell that is used to adorn ceremonial garments—a cowrie, I believe—and offers to pass it around for children to touch. Ellie, my kinesthetic learner, is clearly anxious to hold the shell, but she waits and watches as it makes the rounds between curious fingers, somehow passing her each time. Finally, her eyes watching the shell as it moves past her again, she speaks up.
“Excuse me, but I would like to touch it please.”
As she speaks, she reaches out, gently placing her hand upon her neighbor’s shoulder. Her presence is kind, polite, yet she still asserts herself.
This is one simple story of choosing kindness over rudeness. Life is made of moments such as these, and as we choose to fill our days with kind moments, practice can make permanence.
Of course I could write about other moments—exasperating and exhausting moments—but aren’t we full of those stories already? Why dwell upon them? She has them, Evy has them, and goodness knows, I have them (I did actually write about one of mine recently).
But after two months of focusing on the meaning of kindness in our character study series and twelve days of celebrating “Christmas Kindness” with pretend fairies, it’s nice to see that something is sticking.
Below you will find a list of our favorite books that illustrate an aspect of kindness—whether it be courtesy, generosity, empathy, forgiveness, and/or compassion. Of course, my concern is particularly for teaching girls, so these selections mostly feature female protagonists.
Empathy & Compassion
1. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
This timeless 1945 Newbery Honor book has never been out of print for a reason: it is a powerful tale bringing girls into the heart of empathy and compassion. The Hundred Dresses is a story about bullying written decades before this became a hot topic of social concern, which is likely why it is handled so beautifully here. It is a small chapter book with simple illustrations throughout, making it perfect for children who are still adjusting to chapter books.
2. The Girl with a Brave Heart by Rita Jahanforuz.
Hands-down, this has become Ellie’s favorite picture book. In some ways it reads like a Persian cinderella tale, but the focus is more on compassion and “listening with your heart.” It also weaves together bravery and kindness, illustrating how these two virtues are often inextricably linked, which of course, I love! This one is worth buying.
3. Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine.
This is a precious multicultural story about kindness, forgiveness, and redemption. I’ll admit that it doesn’t have the narrative strength of The Girl with a Brave Heart, but it’s a meaningful read, especially if you can find it at your local library. A great bonus to this book is the Spanish language interspersed throughout the dialogue, making it ideal for dual language learners.
4. Marianthe’s Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories by Aliki.
Marianthe’s story is told from two points of view in this wonderful two-story set. Ellie particularly loves this narrative because it’s similar to her grandmother’s experience (her grandmother being the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants). It encourages children to consider the lives of others before placing judgement, especially with those who do not speak English perfectly because they are of another heritage.
5. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.
It’s likely that most of you already know this adorable picture book that encourages girls to embrace each other’s individuality, but if you don’t, you should. We love it.
6. God Bless the Gargoyles by Dav Pilkey.
I discovered this beautiful narrative poem storybook on this list, and I’m so glad that I did. The language is lovely, the illustrations stunning, and the message quite meaningful. Furthermore, it supports our medieval study, a clear bonus for us!
7. The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeu.
The Quiltmaker’s Gift has been one of our favorite children’s books for a couple years now, to the point that the spine is falling apart and the pages are loose. It’s a book about loving, serving, and blessing others—the ultimate kindness.
8. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.
What a joy to rediscover this, a book that I had loved in my own childhood (it won the Caldecott honor when I was six). My sister-in-law, who used to work for the nonprofit Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and has a fabulous knowledge of children’s books, selected this for Ellie’s Christmas gift. I’m so happy that she did.
9. St. Jerome and the Lion by Margaret Hodges.
We have completely fallen for Margaret Hodges’ medieval storybooks, such as Saint George and The Dragon, so when I discovered this retelling of a classic saint’s tale, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, this lovely book of generosity and forgiveness is now out of print, but if your library has a copy, definitely check it out!
10. Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo.
Newbery Medal winner for both The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo offers a touching Christmas story of compassion and generosity in Great Joy. This was one of our favorite picture books throughout the holiday season.
11. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.
The gorgeously illustrated Miss Rumphius provides a unique tale for girls about living with purpose, adventure, and generosity, encouraging them to “do something to make the world more beautiful.” Suggested by the honorific “Miss,” the female protagonist never marries, instead choosing to travel the world and live by the sea; yet the story feels quite vintage, as it begins long ago, “once upon a time.” I like that it subtly illustrates a woman living out her dreams through an untraditional route, while never discouraging the more traditional choices. All in all, it’s a beautiful story highlighting a special form of kindness.
12. Madeline Says Merci: The Always-be-Polite Book by John Bemelmans Marciano.
We LOVE the Madeline books, so when I discovered that there was a Madeline book (written/illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans’ grandson) that focuses on good manners & being polite, I immediately put it on my wish list. Madeline says Merci has provided the perfect, sweet reminder of the importance of common courtesy, and it is quickly becoming a favorite for both Ellie & Evy.
And there you have it! Several books didn’t make the list; they were read one time then put aside. But all of these we recommend. If you think of one that we have forgotten here or that we need to know about, please feel free to tell us in the comments. With the new year, we’ve since moved on to a new virtue in our study, but we will happily read about kindness any day.