Picture Books that Teach Values for Kids

Last Updated on March 2, 2024

Are you looking for some great children’s books that help build character for your kids? Here is a list of some of the best picture books that teach positive values and valuable lessons for kids!

One of my favorite times of the day is story time. (To be fair, it is right before nap time, so maybe that’s a factor.) During story time, 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. 

Then, they each pick a picture 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. 

In this post:

Ideally, we’re just snuggling and talking about something we loved in the book, maybe relating it to our Christian 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. These books have important life lessons, and 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.” 

Kathleen Kelly

Can you remember some of the best or most life-changing books you read as a little girl or a little boy? Or even some of those you read most often? You may be surprised when you look back at the important lessons and good values you took away from those books that have stayed with you for years to come!

Children’s books that help build character

I love to look in my library’s online catalog and request books that I know will be great discussion-starters! There are more and more books being released all the time that create space for important conversations with our kids. So in that spirit — here are a few (not perfect, but still pretty great) books to start your own soul-molding adventures that teach children values.

Children’s Books about Gratitude and Generosity 

Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts

“Those Shoes” follows a young boy named Jeremy’s desire for trendy shoes, which is fueled by peer pressure, despite his grandma’s emphasis on needs over wants. When he finally gets a pair, albeit too small, Jeremy discovers the true value of warmth, family love, and helping others, realizing that what he has far outweighs his initial wants. This is perfect for kids 3-8.

Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming 

This is a heartwarming tale of friendship and generosity. After World War II, a simple box from America brings joy and hope to Katje’s war-torn town in Holland. Through a delightful exchange of letters and surprises, new friends Katje and Rosie show how small acts of kindness can make a big difference.

The Orange Shoes, by Trinka Hakes Noble

“The Orange Shoes” follows Delly Porter’s contented life, where she cherishes simple joys like the feel of the earth beneath her feet and her love for art. But when prejudice threatens the school’s Shoebox Social fundraiser, Delly learns a valuable lesson about the true measure of life’s treasures. It’s a sweet story that reminds kids that warmth, truth, beauty, and love are priceless. Great for ages 6-9!

Beatrice’s Goat, by Page McBrier

Based on a true story, this heartwarming tale tells how a generous gift of a goat transforms the life of a young Ugandan girl who desperately wants to go to school. Through the gift of her goat Mugisa, Beatrice finds a way to generate income for her family, realizing her dream of attending school becomes possible. This is a good book that shows the power of generosity and hope.

Stone Soup, by various authors

This classic picture book is great for young readers! There are quite a few versions of this book as well. A clever young man tricks an old woman into believing that soup can be made from a stone. Then as the pot of water boils with the stone in it, he tells her to add more and more ingredients until the soup is a feast “fit for a king.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein 

The Giving Tree is a timeless tale about selfless love, as a tree gives everything it has to a boy it adores. With whimsical illustrations inside, this wonderful book captures the essence of sacrifice, kindness, and the enduring bond between giver and receiver, making it a cherished read for generations young and old. It’s a great read for young children!

An Apple Pie for Dinner, by Susan VanHecke and Carol Baicker-McKee

This is a tale of Granny Smith’s quest to bake an apple pie. It leads to a whimsical adventure of trading plums for treasures until she finally acquires the apples she needs.

The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, by Patricia McKissack

This book tells the heartwarming tale of Nella’s longing for a Baby Betty doll during the Depression, only to realize that sharing the joy of the doll with her sisters brings more happiness than keeping it all to herself. The story is a great way to remind kids that true joy often lies in giving and sharing with those we care about most.

The Firefighters’ Thanksgiving, by Maribeth Boelts

Firefighter Lou prepares a special Thanksgiving feast at Station 1, only to be interrupted by emergency calls. Then when one firefighter is injured during a major fire, the team must come together to find a way to celebrate Thanksgiving, showcasing the resilience and generosity of first responders in the face of adversity.

Meaningful children’s books

Children’s Books on Compassion

How Many Days to America? by Eve Bunting

A young family is forced to flee their Caribbean island and set sail for America in a small fishing boat. This is one of our favorite books to read around Thanksgiving, but it’s also great for any time of year.

Say Something! by Peggy Moss and Lea Lyon

This book is a must-read for older children and school-age kids. Say Something is an important story that empowers children to stand up against bullying and teasing, showing how small acts of kindness and speaking up can make a big difference in someone’s life.

Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting

Smoky Night is based around the Los Angeles riots and shown through the eyes of a young boy and his mother, who are forced to seek shelter away from their apartment. It’s an important reflection on hope and compassion, great for kids 6 and up!

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe

This award-winning book is a retelling of the Cinderella story but set in the African nation of Zimbabwe. With themes of kindness and virtue, this story celebrates beauty, inner strength, and the power of compassion.

Listen to the Wind, by Greg Mortenson

After being saved by villagers in a remote Himalayan village, Greg vows to build them a school. Featuring very cool collage illustrations, this powerful tale shows the impact of one person’s determination and compassion on a whole community.

Enemy Pie, by David Munson

In this engaging story about friendship and forgiveness, a young boy learns to overcome his rivalry with a new neighbor through an unexpected recipe for turning enemies into friends. This book has a powerful message on conflict resolution and how to build positive relationships.

The Lady in the Box, by Ann McGovern

This is one of the best books I’ve found for compassionately addressing the issue of homelessness with your kids. The book follows a young girl Lizzie and her brother Ben as they embark on a journey of kindness to help a woman living in a box in their neighborhood.

Books on Purity

The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop

The Princess and the Kiss explores the concept of purity and the preciousness of love, as a princess receives her first kiss as a gift from God. This parable style story follows the princess’s journey to find the one worthy of her heart, and will start some great conversations on purity and faith.

The Squire and the Scroll, by Jennie Bishop

This book is exhilarating adventure of otherworldly feats! It follows a young squire and his knight on a perilous quest that ends in a showdown with a menacing dragon. The Squire and the Scroll shows kids valuable lessons about facing temptation and the importance of guarding their hearts against impurity.

Children’s Books About Faith 

A Parable about the King, Beth Moore

A young princess disguises as a commoner and sneaks out of the castle to play with the village children. Moral of the story? In the process she learns a life-long lesson about unconditional love from her father, the king.

You Are Special, Max Lucado

“You are special, just the way you are!” That’s the message ofYou Are Special from Max Lucado, a great book for kids 3-8. The story follows Punchinello, a Wemmick covered in gray dots who feels worthless in a town where residents award stickers based on talents and appearances. However he finally learns that his worth comes from being loved by his creator.

Small Gifts in God’s Hands, Max Lucado

This book is great for home and church! It’s set in Biblical times and centered around the Bible story of Jesus feeding the multitudes – told from a young boy’s perspective. This is a beautiful book that you’ll want to read your kids again and again!

You Can Do It! by Tony Dungy

Linden, the youngest Dungy sibling, struggles to find his special talent. But through a little encouragement and guidance, Linden learns that with determination, faith, and the love of his family, he can overcome any challenge and achieve his dreams.

Other Great Books About Faith:

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

Books With a Moral Lesson 

Contentment: One Potato, Two Potato, by Cynthia DeFeliceThis retelling of a Chinese folktale, is about a poor couple who stumble on a magical pot that doubles whatever is put into it. This book can open up a whole new world of imagination for kids and illustrates the themes of sharing, friendship, and the joy of contentment.

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

This story follows a small boy’s curiosity about the city as he explores with his Grandpa, asking questions about skyscrapers, construction sites, and dinosaur bones in museums. It’s a tender story that beautifully captures the idea that sometimes life’s wonders unfold gradually, with a little bit of patience. 

Peacemaking: Elmer and the Hippos, by David McKee

Elmer is a patchwork elephant who goes on a mission to reconcile the elephants and hippos when the hippos’ river dries up, causing tension between the two groups. This is a great book for kids of all ages who will learn from the animals realizing the importance of cooperation, unity and working together.

Family Stories for Kids

Love you Forever, by Robert Munsch

Want a great book for your littlest readers? Love You Forever is a classic storybook about the unconditional love between a mother and her son. With heartfelt prose and sweet illustrations, it perfectly captures a parent’s love and the special bond shared with their children.

God Gave Us You, by Lisa Tawn Bergren

A young polar bear cub asks his mom the timeless question, “Where did I come from?” With adorable illustrations and a reassuring message, this book is perfect for bedtime, reminding kids of their worth and all the love that surrounds them.

Picture Books on Perseverance

A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams

A young girl and her family start saving coins in a jar to buy a new chair for their apartment, symbolizing comfort and hope after a devastating fire. I love how this book celebrates the power of determination in adversity, and its a great book about perseverance and family bonds!

The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper

I love the illustrations by Loren Long in this particular version of this classic book. Inside the little engine shows that hard work and a little optimism can help you overcome challenges. With its iconic message of “I think I can, I think I can,” this iconic story is just as much for us parents as it is for the kids.

Brave Irene, by William Steig

This story of courage and determination follows young Irene Bobbin as she braves a snowstorm to deliver her mother’s beautiful ball gown to the palace. She faces alot of challenges and proves that even the smallest person can accomplish great things even in the face of adversity.

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart

In this book, determined Lydia brings hope and beauty to a gray city with her passion for gardening. In the process, she transforms her uncle’s bakery and brightens the lives of everyone around her.

Dandelions, by Eve Bunting

Dandelions is set in the 1800s and follows Zoe and her family’s journey to the Nebraska Territory to start a new life on the prarie. As they struggle to make their mark, a chance discovery Zoe makes offesr hope and potential for their new home. This is a great book about resilience, family, and the power of small acts of kindness.

Books on Integrity and Honesty

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

Ruthie’s dilemma with a teeny tiny camera teaches kids valuable lessons about integrity and the weight of dishonesty. This is a fun book that encourages young readers around 3-5 years old to embrace honesty and integrity always.

Aesop’s Fables by Aesop

This classic book is full of timeless lessons for kids with enchanting tales featuring animals and insects, and more. It includes classic stories like “The Hare and the Tortoise” and “The Lion and the Mouse,” making it perfect for family read-alouds or bedtime stories based in valuable moral standards and life lessons.

Children’s Books About Loving Others

Love of the Orphan: Finding Joy, by Marion Coste

This unique book of a mother’s journey to China to meet her new baby, Shu-li, who is born into a world where the government permits only one child per family. This book is especially great for families going through the process of adoption and highlights themes of hope, love, and resilience for kids.

Being a Friend: 

Skid and the Too Tiny Tunnel by Jeffery Stoddard

Skid is the smallest tractor in the yard and faces doubts about his size. But ultimately, he discovers his true strength when he rescues a trapped bulldozer from a collapsed tunnel, showcasing that courage – and friendship- comes in all sizes. 

Pete & Pillar and the Big Rain, both by Jeffery Stoddard

This is a great book for younger kids about the specialness of a good friend. A diesel truck and a bulldozer’s friendship that is tested when a major storm threatens their village. One of the friends sacrifices himself to stop the flooding and save the village.

Now It’s Your Turn

Help us all out! What other meaningful children’s books do you love that teach good character?

[This post was first published on April 5, 2011.]

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  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.

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

  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.

  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.

  4. Jeanie Cullip says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful resource of books to strengthen and grow values in our children.

    blessings & giggles

  5. Vanessa S says:

    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

    1. 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?

  6. 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”. 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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.