Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Children’s Books That Show Kids the Goodness in the World

by Denise Schipani

You can be forgiven if, in recent times, it’s gotten harder for you to show and tell your kids stories that reflect goodness and a spirit of community. My boys, now teens, are old enough to absorb not just negative news stories, but my reactions to them. So I find myself casting about for the good stories to counterbalance the bad. We got lucky last winter when, while walking through a local park, we saw a bird in a pond, struggling helplessly, its wing tethered to a tree by a length of fishing line. My husband — a more intrepid person than I (this was winter, remember) — waded chest-deep into the mucky pond to free the bird. My husband’s a good guy, but he’s hardly alone. Just a few weeks ago at a beach in Florida, scores of beach goers formed a human chain in the surf, saving a family that was in danger of being swept out to sea in a rough riptide.

But you don’t have to wait for heroic avian saves or heartwarming news tidbits, especially if you have little ones. Tons of books provide opportunities to bring to life inspiring stories of the innate goodness of our fellow humans. Start with these eight simple tales.

Come with Me
by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre

Sometimes what it takes to see the goodness in your surroundings is deceptively simple: Get out there, and really open your eyes. In this story, a young girl is feeling overwhelmed by stories of fear and hatred, and asks her dad what she should do. “Come with me,” he says, and the two of them go for a walk and greet passersby. Later, the girl takes her father’s cue and goes out walking with her dog and the boy across the hall. Turns out you don’t have to stray too far to find examples of basic human kindness.

Most People
by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris

Longtime elementary-school teacher Michael Leannah wrote Most People specifically as a counterpunch against the stereotype that “most people” are different. Or, worse, that strangers are inherently scary. In the book, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris, a pair of siblings wander the city streets and see on page after page that “most people,” no matter how they look or what our assumptions might be, are just like us.

The One Day House
by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz

How many times have we looked into a hazy future and promised ourselves that “one day” we will do something to pay our good fortune forward or build something lasting or make a measurable difference in someone’s life? For young Wilson, that “one day” comes when he looks at his friend Gigi’s house, which is in obvious need of repair, and realizes there is something he can do. On that “one day,” a community comes together to rebuild the house — and restore everyone’s faith in themselves and each other. The book also includes information about nonprofits Labor of Love, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity, in case it’ll soon be your “one day.”

Good People Everywhere
by Lynea Gillen, illustrated by Kristina Swarner

A great example of the power of “show, don’t tell,” each page of this straightforward book shows children concrete examples of people doing what comes naturally — which is doing right by doing good — from heroic deeds to volunteerism to helping a child get down a slide that feels too high and scary.

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey
by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illustrated by Sue Cornelison

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of heartbreaking stories in the news about refugee families desperately searching for new homes in a world turned upside down by conflict. But sometimes harrowing tales have happy endings and many involve simple but indelible acts of kindness and grace. This book tells the true story of an Iraqi refugee family whose beloved cat, Kunkush, travels with them as far as Greece, hidden away for safety. But he’s lost at some point in the journey, and the heartbroken family must go on. Amazingly, Kunkush resurfaces, a worldwide community of kindhearted folks scour the scattered refugee world via the Internet, and … well. No spoilers!

How to Heal a Broken Wing
by Bob Graham

My husband isn’t the only bird whisperer out there. Young Will, on a city street streaming with oblivious people, notices a pigeon struggling on the sidewalk. With the help of his parents, Will carefully takes the injured bird home and nurses it back to health. It’s a simply told tale, but one that reflects the expression of kindness children are drawn to — noticing the suffering of something even smaller than they are, and having a desire to help.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

5 Books That Teach Kids What It Means to Be a Kind Person

There are days when being a parent feels really hard. Not because of the day-in-day-out of it, but because bad news floods our screens and we feel a little like we’re leaving our kids an emotionally cumbersome world to inherit.

As is my way, I look to books to provide guidance and insight. And I think the best way to help my kids along is to teach them what it means to be a good person, which starts, I think, with how we treat and appreciate other people. These five books (and one bonus pick) are great places to start raising children who are kind caretakers of the people around them.

by Peter Spier

This ambitious picture book by Caldecott Medalist Spier might be the best starter-guide to thinking like a global citizen and in fact, I’ve now made it my go-to gift to friends welcoming new babies. In detailed pictures, Spier shows the diversity of the human race from the colors of our skin to what we eat to how we play to where we live setting up children for a lifetime of curiosity and respect for our differences. So few of us can travel and explore the entire globe; Spier’s book is a reminder that in reading, we might have the next best thing.

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

A wordless retelling of Aesop’s fable, there might be no better tale about kindness, and how no act of it is ever wasted. If you’re not familiar with the story, in it, the sleeping lion catches a mama mouse and lets her return to her children, and later is rewarded when he’s saved from a poacher’s trap. It’s such a simple story of how we remember those who are good to us.

by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričić

Attention is a commodity, and one that’s constantly being diluted as we have more and more things to look at and consider. So many of us miss beautiful things or just walk by everyday miracles, because we don’t notice them, or believe they could be real. This story recounts the true tale of when renowned American violinist Joshua Bell took his instrument into the D.C. subway and played a free concert. Only seven people stopped to listen, while more than a thousand passed right on by. In this telling, a boy named Dylan hears the music, and shows the reader how important it is to be awestruck, wonder-filled, and attentive to the world around us.

by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Peace starts from within. We all know this, deep down, but sometimes we need a reminder. (Parents, we might need that reminder more than most our mini-angers, at everything from being cut off at school drop-off to feeling overwhelmed by the clutter and chaos of our domestic lives, sometimes color our days.) Based on the Tao Te Ching, this poetic, soothing, and beautiful illustrated read, is a nice meditation on how to do right no matter what feels wrong.

by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Comparison is the enemy of inner peace and when envy rears its head, it sometimes stops us from connecting to others. In this book, CJ and his grandma are riding the bus across town, causing CJ to ask, why don’t they have a car like his friends, or what about an iPod, for that matter? But his grandmother, being wise in the way grandparents are, brings him back to the bus, and to the simple joys of their routine and the busy city around them. It’s a great way of remembering that beauty is everywhere, even when it seems improbable, and it also reminds us to be grateful which may be the key to living the richest lives we can.