Picture Books that Teach Values: A Beginning List

One of my favorite times of day is story time. (To be fair, it is right before nap time, so maybe that’s a factor.) Everyone, even my three wiggly boys, settles down. After I’ve read to the youngest and laid him down, the three oldest wedge themselves beneath my arms or on my lap. We often spread over ourselves the Magic Blanket, which is just a fuzzy green blanket so soft it makes us feel good just touching it — like magic. They each pick a book from one of the stacks we’ve brought home from the library or an “oldie but goodie” from our own stuffed shelves (we are blessed with books around here). And then, the adventure begins.

My favorite children’s books have values as vibrant as the illustrations. With nearly any book, it’s a ripe discussion opportunity for the picking. When they were little, Baby Einstein® and my mom got me into asking questions about board books: What color is that? How many are there? Can you find it? But now I notice that aside from the toddler, my questions (and thankfully, the books) have graduated. Ideally, we’re just snuggling and talking about something we loved in the book, maybe relating it to our faith. A lot of other times we’re laughing! Sometimes I want to make sure all of us think more deeply about what happened in the book.  It’s not completely unusual that a character has an attitude or behavior I don’t want repeated at home.  So that’s when I step in and ask a question — maybe about what they think a character should do or how a character would feel. My hope is to sharpen my kids’ own discernment and even shape their hearts.

I love what Kathleen Kelly, aka Meg Ryan, says in You’ve Got Mail because for this lifetime, voracious reader, it’s true: “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does.” Can you remember some of the best or most life-changing books you read as a child? Or even some of those you read most often?

I love to look in my library’s online catalog and request books that I know will be great discussion-starters! So in that spirit — a few (not perfect, but still pretty great) books to start your own soul-molding adventures.

Generosity and Gratitude: Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts; Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming; The Orange Shoes, by Trinka Hakes Noble; Beatrice’s Goat, by Page McBrier; Stone Soup, by various authors; The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein; An Apple Pie for Dinner, by Susan VanHecke and Carol Baicker-McKee; The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, by Patricia McKissack; The Firefighters’ Thanksgiving, by Maribeth Boelts

Compassion: How Many Days to America? by Eve Bunting; Say Something! by Peggy Moss and Lea Lyon; Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting; Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe, Listen to the Wind, by Greg Mortenson; Enemy Pie, by David Munson; The Lady in the Box, by Ann McGovern

Contentment: One Potato, Two Potato, by Cynthia DeFelice

Purity: The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop; The Squire and the Scroll, by Jennie Bishop

Faith: A Parable about the King, Beth Moore; You are Special, Max Lucado; Small Gifts in God’s Hands, Max Lucado; What is Heaven Like? by Beverly Lewis; My ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God’s Word in Little Hearts, by Susan Hunt; The Great Stone Face, by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Legend of the Three Trees, by various authors

Patience: A Little at a Time, by David A. Adler

Peacemaking: Elmer and the Hippos, by David McKee

Family: Love you Forever, by Robert Munsch; God Gave Us You, by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Perseverance: A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams; The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper (I love the illustrations by Loren Long); Brave Irene, by William Steig; The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart; Dandelions, by Eve Bunting

Honesty: Ruthie and the (Not So Teeny-Tiny) Lie, by Laura Rankin

Seeking God’s Dream for Your Life: You Can Do It! by Tony Dungy

Love of the Orphan: Finding Joy, by Marion Coste

Being a Friend: Skid and the Too Tiny Tunnel and Pete & Pillar and the Big Rain, both by Jeffery Stoddard

General Character: Aesop’s Fables

Your turn: Help us all out! What children’s books do you love that teach character?

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11 thoughts on “Picture Books that Teach Values: A Beginning List

  1. Janel,

    I love this list!!! It represents many books I have read to my children, too. Thanks for posting the list for the moms coming behind us. Blessings.

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    • Thanks, Robyn…so many good memories are on this list. I'd love your additions if you have some!

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  2. We did our whole kids camp for our state last year based off of the purity books you listed! LOVE those books and the workbooks that go with them. I'll be doing The Squire and the Scroll workbook with my almost 10 year old this summer.

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  3. Yeah, my kids ADORE those purity books, and I love that they come with the book on CD. My son has nearly memorized it, and I'm pretty glad! I'll have to check out that workbook.

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  4. We have 5 boys from age 14-4 and one little girl that's 2. Teaching character is forefront in our homeschooling. 2 wonderful books that have been wonderful for my husband to read aloud to our boys are: Boyhood and Beyond and Created for Work both by Bob Schultz.

    What I've been trying to find is purity books for teen boys . . . LOTS for girls but they are few and far between for boys. Any ideas??

    Grace & Peace

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    • Thanks for the book ideas, Vanessa! Sounds like my boys would love those. I, however, have not breached the purity books for teen boys in my momhood yet! In my experience from working in youth ministry, I can't think of any, but Passport 2 Purity is a top-notch resource (more of an experience than a book).

      Any help for Vanessa, ladies?

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  5. Francis Chan recently authored 3 Children’s Books, 2 of which we have AND LOVE!!!!

    “Ronnie Wilson’s Gift” is basically a parable for children on “whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me.”

    “The Big Red Tractor” is also a parable for children on how the Bible is like a user’s manual and tells us how to live life the way that God intended us to “work”. 🙂

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  6. I really appreciate your insights. Have you are any of your followers read Declan Grows Up: It’s Just Not Fair? Great book focused on finding and developing your gifts, skills, and talents. My 6 year old loves it and it includes an excellent discussion guide and interactive follow up questions to bring the message home.

    This book should definitely be on your list.

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  7. Great list, thank you! Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider” is a great one to teach working hard and independence. I am always on the hunt for books about perseverance and trying hard.

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