The Practical Art of Kindness: Navigating the World Demands It | Great Books

We need more than ever inclusive ways to socialize with family, friends, and neighbors. In this list, two dozen books about kindness offer a recalibration or supplement to manners to account for the many ways our cultures, families, and differences manifest practices of getting along with one another.

Every Little Kindness by Marta Bartolj, Courtesy of © Chronicle Books LLC


Among the titles at my local library that tentatively fall under the category of “books about kindness” is a 1988 copy of Aliki’sManners, still on the shelf. It’s a well-worn, well-loved volume, with pages showing those familiar bumps and dents of young readers learning to turn pages and of adults holding the now-a-bit-wiggly base of the spine to read aloud.

Teaching kids manners is still important, as Aliki’s book points out, because it helps us know how to behave in safe, social situations with strangers; given the diversity of our communities, we need more than ever inclusive ways to socialize with family, friends, and neighbors. In this list, kindness is offered as a recalibration or supplement to manners to account for the many ways our cultures, families, and differences manifest practices of getting along with one another. These are books that are read for kindness, through three deeply entangled themes: Kindness for Others—why and how caring for others (humans and nonhumans) matters; Kindness in Practice—books that serve as tools to model the acts of kindness; and Kindness for Self—because we deserve the same care we extend to others. We’ve grouped the books according to these themes, with plenty of overlap for creative story hours.

Kindness for Others

BAILEY, Jenn. A Friend for Henry. illus. by Mika Song. Chronicle. 2019. ISBN 9781452167916.
PreS-Gr 1–Making friends takes many acts of kindness, both for the self and for others. Inspired by the author’s own experience as a mom of a child on the autism spectrum, this book invites readers to consider the world from Henry’s point of view—which may seem rude or insensitive based on exclusionary social principles and practices. Just by being himself, Henry teaches readers understanding and empathy.

BARTOLJ, Marta. Every Little Kindness. illus. by author. Chronicle. 2021. ISBN 9781797207926.
PreS-Gr 3–This wordless picture book follows a series of seemingly small acts of kindness as they domino through a town. The warm illustrations are kept in muted grays and beige, with pops of red to draw attention to the cause-and-effect nature of being kind. Of course, it’s a wonderful way to think about kindness as cyclical, but this book teaches readers to look for it without expecting anything in return. It’s a beautiful guidebook for how to be kind in small, everyday ways.

FONTENAILLE, Élise. At the Drop of a Cat. tr. from French by Karin Snelson & Emilie Robert Wong. illus. by Violeta Lópiz. Enchanted Lion. 2023. ISBN 9781592703821.
PreS-Gr 2–This book provides readers with an intergenerational story of kindness between a boy and his grandpa Luis. Grandpa Luis doesn’t read or write (he never learned how to); he plays music, has a green thumb, and teaches his grandson about Earth and its creatures and about being alive. Because Luis is speaking in a second language to him (he is from Spain and has moved to France), sometimes phrases get mixed up—like “at the drop of a cat.” But Luis’s grandson doesn’t laugh or correct him; the boy welcomes these mistakes with kindness, as moments that make Grandpa Luis special.

HARRINGTON, Janice N. Rooting for Plants: The Unstoppable Charles S. Parker, Black Botanist and Collector. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Astra/Calkins Creek. 2023. ISBN 9781662680199.
K-Gr 3–Kindness feels like a passion for Charles S. Parker, a Black botanist and mycologist. Caring for others—plants and humans—can be a lifelong vocation. Parker’s story shows young readers what kindness in a profession might look like. For him, it meant advocating for fair treatment of other Black soldiers, documenting the botanical species of localities, and extending kindness to his students as they learned from and with him.

JACOBY, Sarah. Can I Sit with You? illus. by author. Chronicle. 2021. ISBN 9781452164649.
K-Gr 2–This long, elegant poem stretches across pages of colorful artwork. Following a young girl through her world, with her pet dog, the book shows her posing the titular question: “Can I sit with you?” With this repeated refrain, this work invites readers to practice asking consent from another person (or animal) to be a part of their world—even for just a few moments. Young readers can carry the practice of this book out into the world.

MYERS, Maya. Not Little. illus. by Hyewon Yum. Holiday House/Neal Porter. 2021. ISBN 9780823446193.
K-Gr 1–Kindness comes in all sizes. And Myers shows just how BIG kindness can be. The story is told through the eyes of Dot, the smallest girl in her class, who redirects her empathy and anger to protect the new, smaller kid at school. Dot shows that kindness isn’t always calm or quiet; sometimes it’s loud and effective. Readers see how frustration—and even anger—can forge kindness to help others.

O’MEARA, Kitty. The Rare, Tiny Flower. illus. by Quim Torres. Tra. ISBN 9781734761825.
PreS-Gr 2–This is what hope through kindness might look like. Written around the idea of a many-colored flower, the story opens as observers begin fighting over the color of the flower, culminating in a cry for war. It takes one child to point out that the flower is actually all of those colors and that a shift in perspective—by spinning the flower around to change the facet viewed—is all that is needed to settle the argument. Readers are guided toward inclusive, perspective-altering work in empathy and kindness.

ZHANG, Gracey. Lala’s Words: A Story of Planting Kindness. illus. by author. Scholastic/Orchard. 2021. ISBN 9781338648232.
K-Gr 2–Lala talks to her plants every day. So even when her mom forbids her from visiting her plants, Lala whispers words of kindness and encouragement to them, maintaining her connection to her leafy friends. And Lala’s plants are listening—they keep growing and growing until they can finally reach her. It’s a story about kindness for plants and our ecosystem, of course, but maybe it’s also a story about kindness for children—providing kind words for kids to help them grow.


Kindness in Practice

BILSTON, Brian. Refugees. illus. by José Sanabria. Palazzo Eds. 2023. ISBN 9781786751294.
K-Gr 3–Global conflict affects children. Refugees is an opportunity to explore how words about difference matter when we’re working on kindness. Bilston’s poem is written to read forward, then backward, flipping the story to illustrate the power of words and reading. Because the language is harsh and critical, coupled with Sanabria’s complex artwork, this book is meant to be read with thoughtful, analytical reading practices.

FOGLIANO, Julie. I Don’t Care. illus. by Molly Idle & Juana Martinez-Neal. Holiday House/Neal Porter. 2022. ISBN 9780823443451.
K-Gr 1–Caring is a kindness. Readers are asked to care about playing fair, holding hands, wishes, smiles, feelings, and friendship. It’s easy not to care, and it’s easy to care about the wrong stuff. With the limited, soft palette, the illustrations mirror the disconnection of the earlier “I don’t cares” to the final “I really do care a lot,” subtly shifting the narrative away from the things we can’t control—like eyes and noses and toes—and learning to care about the right stuff—like playing fair.

GLYNN, Dylan. Rain Boy. illus. by author. Chronicle. 2020. ISBN 9781452172804.
K-Gr 1–Rain Boy brings rain wherever he goes. Because he’s a rain cloud—he can’t change that. While Sun Kidd understands and is kind to Rain Boy, not everyone is willing to accept him. And that’s at the heart of Glynn’s tale; there are things beyond our control that deserve kindness. Rain Boy and Sun Kidd process big emotions in response to the unkindness they find in their world; the lesson is that practicing kindness when meeting differences matters for ourselves and for our communities.

MUCHA, Laura & Ed Smith. Welcome to Our Table: A Celebration of What Children Eat All Around the World. illus. by Harriet Lynas. Nosy Crow. 2023. ISBN 9798887770185.
K-Gr 1–In its opening pages, this book welcomes children from around the world to the table. The authors and illustrator explain how the how food ends up on roti or on plates. Facts about the manufacturing process, agriculture, and more, as well as mini language lessons, are spread throughout, giving readers the chance to learn about their local foods, as well as what their global neighbors are eating. Welcoming friends, families, and strangers to break bread and share food is a yummy way to practice kindness.

NAYLOR-BALLESTEROS, Chris. Frank and Bert. illus. by author. Nosy Crow. 2023. ISBN 9798887770000.
PreS-Gr 1–Being a friend is an experiment in kindness. Friends Frank and Bert model for young readers what kindness in friendship looks like. Frank carefully reflects—in text on the page—on how easily he could win their game of hide-and-seek and how hurt Bert would be losing so quickly. Frank chooses his friendship over winning, modeling how readers can think through their actions and make a decision to treat others with respect and dignity. In a moment of reflection, readers learn how intentional and thoughtful kindness can be.

QUE, Joanna & Charina Marquez. Dancing Hands: A Story of Friendship in Filipino Sign Language. tr. from Filipino by Karen Llagas. illus. by Fran Alvarez. Chronicle. 2023. ISBN 9781797213323.
PreS-Gr 2–Mai teaches Sam’s hands how to dance with Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Both girls practice kindness as they build their friendship through learning how to communicate across their language differences. Some of the pages in this immersive book are without text but not wordless, as the girls are illustrated using FSL instead of speech. Que and Marquez give readers another opportunity to communicate with neighbors and friends, to practice being kind with hearts and hands.

WYNTER, Anne. Everybody in the Red Brick Building. illus. by Oge Mora. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2021. ISBN 9780062865762.
PreS-Gr 1–The world is noisy. And while we all process noise differently, it can be a challenge when living close to neighbors. In a buildup of prose and onomatopoeia, the tale shares how an apartment building grows loud at night: a baby cries, a parrot rraaks, and sleepover friends pitter-patter and stomp. After the noise reaches a crescendo, everything—and everyone—starts to settle. Kindness is sometimes about practicing patience for our neighbors and situations beyond our control.


Kindness for Self

NAINY, Mamta. Rainbow Hands. illus. by Jo Loring-Fisher. Lantana. 2022. ISBN 9781913747749.
PreS-Gr 2–A boy shows readers how the colors he paints his nails are an outward reflection of what’s going on inside his body and mind. The boy shares the meaning of the colors he chooses and explains not everyone likes his rainbow nails. While Mom and Dadaji (his grandpa) practice kindness toward the boy and his rainbow nails, his father is critical, making the boy feel “hot in my head,” painting his nails “a flaming red.” The boy’s nails are a beautiful model of self-kindness, even as the world chooses to be otherwise.

POWERS, Andie. I Am Quiet: A Story for the Introvert in All of Us. illus. by Betsy Petersen. Bala Kids. 2022. ISBN 9781611809848.
K-Gr 2–Being quiet on the outside doesn’t mean Emile is shy: Emile is quiet on the outside so he can be loud on the inside. I Am Quiet shows readers how to practice self-kindness, by listening to our inside—that part of us that tells us who we are—even when the outside world tries to put their words on us. This sort of self-inquiry can also help us understand how the outsides of others may not meet our expectations or understanding and that maybe we should show kindness by honoring even what we cannot know about them.

RUDOLPH, Shaina & Mary Vukadinovich. Bril­liant Bea. illus. by Fiona Lee. APA/Magin­ation. 2021. ISBN 9781433837418.
K-Gr 2–Readers learn, along with Bea, what it means to practice self-kindness while learning with dyslexia. Some of Bea’s struggles are school-related, so many pages focus on how she experiences the classroom. Bea’s teacher, Ms. Bloom, notices her difficulties and engages directly with Bea to identify tools that will help her shine. In this way, Brilliant Bea shows readers how kindness from others can help us be kind to ourselves.

WRIGHT-RUIZ, Kiera. I Want to Be Spaghetti! illus. by Claudia Lam. Penguin/Kokila. 2023. ISBN 9780593529874.
PreS-Gr 1–Spaghetti is delicious—and Ramen is having trouble figuring out where they belong in the noodle world. Eventually purchased by a home that knows how to prepare it, Ramen learns what makes them so delicious. I Want to Be Spaghetti! shows readers how to find self-kindness through learning about the history, heritage, and culture of their community. It also reminds adults to actively support kids’ self-kindness with inclusive stories of difference, modeling how to embrace the unfamiliar and become a better kind of kind.

Jessica Schriver, PhD, is an independent scholar of childhood studies.

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