Cultivating Compassionate Kids: 10 Children’s Picture Books

by Marsha Rakestraw

One of the deepest wishes of many parents is that their children will grow up as thoughtful citizens, showing compassion for people, animals and the earth throughout their lives.

Reading and discussing children’s picture books is a great tool for helping children embrace compassion for others.

Here are 10 suggested titles:

1. The Birdman by Veronika Martenova Charles. 2006. Gr. K-5.
When Noor Nobi’s family is lost in an accident, he is overwhelmed with despair, until he discovers wild birds crammed in cages and longs to set them free.

2. The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen. 2009. Gr. K-3.
Seeing a young boy without mittens inspires Sarah to start knitting mittens & leave them anonymously for children who need them.

3. When Horses Run Free: A Dream for the American Mustang by Joy Cowley. 2003. Gr. 1-4.
Based on the true tale of a cowboy who vows to free the captured Mustangs whom others see as “useless animals” and give them their own home.

4. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. 1944. Gr. 3-6.
Polish immigrant Wanda wears the same blue dress to school every day. When she tells her classmates that she has 100 dresses at home, the subsequent harassment forces Wanda from school and teaches her classmates a lesson.

5. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. 1989. Gr. 1-3.
Wilfrid isn’t sure what “memory” is, but he’s eager to help 96-year-old Miss Nancy find some new ones.

6. Hey, Little Ant by Phillip M. and Hannah Hoose. 2004. Gr. Pre-K-2.
A rhyming story in which a boy about to step on an ant listens as the ant pleads his case for why he (and all creatures) should be allowed to live.

7. The Banyan Deer by Rafe Martin. 2010. Gr. 3-7.
The deer king lays his life on the line not only for his own people, but for all creatures.

8. Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng. 2011. Gr. 1-5.
Suhaila’s dead grandmother takes her on a magical journey to the moon where they both bring help and healing to those on earth.

9. The Deliverance of Dancing Bears by Elizabeth Stanley. 2003. Gr. 1-6.
A poor man spends all his money to free two mistreated dancing bears, and in doing so reminds the onlookers that the dignity of all living creatures must be respected.

10. Hunter and His Dog by Brian Wildsmith. 2008 (reissue). Gr. K-2.
A hunting dog can’t bear to retrieve the wounded ducks his guardian shoots, so he brings the hunter sticks and takes the ducks to an island to heal.

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