Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Choose Kindness. Teach Empathy. Listen Actively.
“Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” — Jacqueline Woodson
As we start a fresh new year, I want to take a moment to focus on kindness. We can actively shape the conversations by choosing books that focus on friendship, empathy and compassion. Share these picture books, start a conversation, plant a seed of kindness. Show children that they matter, that their actions have the power to impact other people.
“Be a Friend,” by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury; $17.99; ages 3-8; 40 pp.). This adorable friendship book follows Dennis, a little boy who only communicates through miming. One day at school, he kicks an imaginary ball and—to his surprise—his classmate Joy catches it! A delightful story about finding a kindred spirit and discovering a new friend.
“Big Friends,” by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies (Henry Holt; $16.99; ages 4-8; 32 pp.). Best friends Birt and Etho love playing pretend with cardboard boxes every day—racing, battling pirates, constructing forts. When another boy joins them, Birt retreats home sulking, until Etho and his new friend use their imagination to create an invitation Birt can’t resist.
“If You Plant a Seed,” by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins; ages 4-8; 32 pp.; $18.99). A rabbit and a mouse work together to plant a garden, but when other creatures ask to share they refuse. In this metaphor for friendship, Nelson shows young readers: “If you plant a seed of selfishness, it will grow, and grow, and grow, into a heap of trouble.” The lush illustrations complement the spare text that reads almost like a fable, letting readers think about how they reap the “seeds of kindness.”
“My Friend Maggie,” by Hannah E. Harrison (Dial; $17.99; ages 3-7; 40 pp.). Paula and Maggie are best friends, but when this duo (a beaver and an elephant) encounter a bully at school who teases Maggie because of her large size, their friendship is put to the test. At first, Paula gives in to peer pressure and shuns Maggie; but in the end, she realizes that a true and loyal friend is the best sort you can have.
“Last Stop on Market Street,” by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons / Penguin; 32 pp.; $16.99; ages 4-9). Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal and a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, this wonderful picture book makes me smile every single time I read it—it’s so filled with love, friendship and an appreciation for life, in such a real way. California natives de la Peña and Robinson not only capture a small moment between grandmother and grandson but also the heart of our city.
“Each Kindness,” by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Nancy Paulsen / Penguin; $16.99; ages 5-9; 32 pp.). Maya arrives in the middle of winter to a new school. Behind her back, Chloe and her friends call Maya by the harsh nickname “Never New” for the second-hand clothes she wears—until one day, when Maya’s seat is empty. Chloe realizes the hurt she’s caused too late to do anything about it, and readers are left to ponder the way we impact one another. Woodson does not provide easy answers, but helps children and adults talk about important questions.
“One,” by Kathryn Otoshi (KO Kids Books; $17.95; ages 3-7; 32 pp.). Bay Area author Kathryn Otoshi uses round splashes of watercolors (where the colors are characters themselves), showing the impact of bullying without labeling or stereotyping it. Blue is having trouble with Red. Blue is quiet, but Red likes to tease: “Red is HOT. Blue is NOT.” As Blue withdraws from the group of friends, Red literally grows bigger, meaner and angrier. But then the number One comes along. One stands up to Red, saying “If someone is mean and picks on me, I for One, stand up and say No!”
“Can I Play Too?” (an Elephant and Piggie Book), by Mo Willems (Disney Hyperion; $9.99; ages 4-8; 64 pp.). Gerald and Piggie start playing catch, when Snake slithers up asking to play too. Snake is sad when the pair wonders whether he can play catch: “You do not want to play with me?” Snake asks sadly. “No!” exclaims Gerald. After some giggle-inducing bonking, creative play eventually overcomes the awkward moment as the trio figure out how they can play together. Loads of humor, relatable stories and simple text in easy-to-read speech bubbles make this series a favorite with new readers.
Mary Ann Scheuer is the librarian at Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley. Find more books she recommends sharing with your children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.