When I was a special education teacher and then school administrator, classroom and school building culture was EVERYTHING. Literally EVERYTHING. Ask anyone at my school, as I was the culture QUEEN. Creating a tolerant and compassionate community of young scholars was essential for yielding strong academic and parent relationship success. One of the things I did in my school was run a character building elective for all classrooms K-3 on a monthly basis. Every lesson involved character building stories for kids that made a huge impact.
This was a game changer for the building culture and parents and community members always complimented the positive culture emanating from our students. Whether for your classroom or your home library, these books are ESSENTIAL. Building character takes real work, so let the reading materials on your child’s bookshelf support all of that hard work! Here are some of the favorite books from my students and my own kiddos!
Stories For Toddler/Pre-School Age
1. Elmer by David McKee
Character focus: Respecting individual differences, and loving yourself for who you are
Snippet: Elmer the elephant is a bright colored patchwork elephant with endless laughs. This tale uses humor to discuss the value and acceptance of uniqueness in society and the choices we make regarding diversity.
2. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Character focus: Discussion of stereotypes and believing in yourself
Snippet: Despite the physical challenges, Gerald the giraffe wants to dance more than anything. This book is perfect for a discussion around the ethics of stereotypes and how those might surface in the classroom or at home. This book also highlights how confidence can change our experience in spite of others stereotypes.
3. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Character focus: Selfishness vs. giving and how that helps and hurts relationships
Snippet: The most beautiful fish in the sea is reluctant to share his scales with others until he sees how his friendships are affected. He changes his tune after some wise advice and see the wonderful beauty that comes from being selfless.
4. The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
Character focus: The nature of prejudice and discrimination, and what differences really mean
Snippet: In this Dr. Seuss tale, some Sneetches have green stars on their bellies while others did not. The stars are a constant source of discrimination until Sylvester McMonkey McBean came to town with a machine to add and remove stars, causing an uproar and presenting an opportunity for the Sneetches to rethink their differences.
5. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud
Character focus: Being kind to others brings even more happiness to yourself
Snippet: This is one of my favorites! It is the perfect placement for a school wide PBIS program or “bucket fillers” initiative and it worked wonders with all my schools! This story teaches about everyone’s invisible bucket, and how kindness and giving go a long way to filling other’s buckets along with your own.
Stories For Elementary Age
1. A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting
Character focus: Honesty and integrity important when solving any problem.
Snippet: This story surrounds a Mexican American boy trying to help his Mexican grandfather find work. The boy finds his grandfather work in an area that he is unskilled just to find work. The consequences of his actions teach important lessons about honesty and integrity even when facing a tough situation.
2. Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchi
Character focus: Hard work pays off
Snippet: Grace Campbell, decides to be the first woman president and runs against one of the popular students in her school. The book involves a mock election and Grace ends up winning by a single vote showcasing how her tireless work pays off, and that impact that voting can have on outcomes.
3. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Character focus: The importance of building your own identity outside of peer pressure and bullying
Snippet: Camilla Cream loves lima beans and is very worries about what other people think of her. This story follows her insecurity as her physical appearance changes throughout the story in trying to appease others.
4. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Character focus: Perseverance can lead to great outcomes, and it’s important to encourage each other in the face of differences
Snippet: This is an exceptionally heart-warming story about a girl who struggles with a learning disability. Her teacher is the one who ends up changing her life through his encouragement, support, and mentorship.
5. The Rough Face Girl by Rafe Martin and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
Character focus: Kindness and compassion matter more than physical beauty
Snippet: Both of these tales are based on the traditional Cinderella story with a cultural twist. The African version by Steptoe and the Algonquin version by Martin tell stories about sisters in the hunt for marriage and how compassion and kindness shine through.
What are some of your other favorites? I love adding to my library shelves!
All the best,
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