Promoting Positive Behaviors: There’s a Children’s Book for That

When working with students on kindness, empathy, friendship, and other positive behaviors, sometimes the characters from children’s stories say it best:

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” -The Lion and the Mouse

“If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew.” -Pocahontas

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” -Charlotte’s Web

From read alouds to theme unit studies, children’s books can be a wonderful avenue for promoting positive behaviors among students of all ages. The characters in children’s books often evoke and model behaviors which become springboards for morning meetings and other important discussions. Older students enjoy taking a closer look at the messages and behavioral themes involved with children’s stories, which can be used as writing prompts and reflection activities involving their own experiences. Older students can also read children’s book aloud to younger students and design mini lessons or activities to promote positive behaviors; peer teaching can be very powerful!

A countless number of wonderful children’s books have been written with valuable messages. Included below are seven of my favorite tried and true titles involving honesty, embracing differences, friendship, empathy, teamwork, kindness, and gratitude. It was difficult to put these books into categories because many of them covered several themes.

Honesty

The Empty Pot by Demi is a beautifully illustrated book about a little boy named Ping and an Emperor in ancient China. This tale teaches many valuable lessons about integrity, hard work, humility, and competition. I won’t give away the ending, but students will learn how honesty is truly rewarding.
 

Embracing Differences

Lucy, the star of Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun by Maria Dismondy, made me think of my husband who loves ranch dressing on eggs, pizza, chicken, hot dogs, and pretty much everything. He sometimes gets teased for his obsession with ranch dressing, but he always embraces it with grace and humor. When Lucy is challenged by Ralph (the “bully” of the story) about her own unique food preferences, she teaches us to embrace our differences and to do the right thing.  

Friendship

My son received this Caldecott Honor winning book from our public library for hitting a reading milestone and it has become one of our favorites.  A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip Stead and illustrated by his wife, Erin Stead includes the most beautiful drawings – we notice new details every time we turn the pages. There are not a lot of written words in this book, but the themes of kindness, compassion, caring, thoughtfulness, and friendship demonstrated by the zoo animals and by Amos McGee are loud and clear.

Perspective-Taking & Empathy

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose uses rhyming words and humor to highlight perspective-taking and empathy. The themes of peer pressure and bullying are brilliantly addressed as the authors inspire respect for all living creatures. The open-ended conclusion leaves the boy with a moral dilemma - “To squish or not to squish?” and is a perfect segue for important discussions.


Teamwork

The watercolor illustrations of the ocean that fill the pages in Swimmy by Leo Lionni earned this classic book the Caldecott Honor in 1964. I would definitely give Swimmy an award for the teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and ingenuity demonstrated by the characters in this encouraging story.


Kindness

More than just a story for Valentine’s Day, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, involves compassion, empathy, and the power of kindness and love toward others. Such a heartwarming book – have a box of tissues nearby!      

Gratitude

The title says it all. Good People Everywhere, written by Lynea Gillen, will touch your hearts as you celebrate the simple things in life that are often taken for granted. Mr. Rogers’ words always come to mind as I read this book, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This book inspires gratitude, generosity, and compassion for all.

Google the titles of these books and you will likely find free lesson plans, activities, and other ideas to extend learning. I hope you will head to your library to check these books out. And, please share this post – we would love to hear your own book recommendations!

                  As J.K. Rowling stated, “I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” May the “magic” of children’s books inspire your students to be on their best behavior inside and outside of school.


Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin.