88 Books That Teach Important Lessons

character building books for kids Books are my favorite teaching aid for any age. I love how books can open up children’s eyes to experiences they have never imagined, to discover places they have never been to ,and to feelings their heart has not yet felt. The very best part is that books are accessible. Books with tough lessons can be shared with a parent at home where answers can be given, feelings reassured ,and the story related to the experiences of the reader. Whether these books get shared at home at bedtime , at school at circle time ,or a child reads them alone at quiet reading time they are all filled with valuable lessons.

The books are listed alphabetically by author so it’s easy to print out and take to a library and find the books. I have included a short note next to each title to explain the lesson that the book focuses on. Books are subjective and there might be some lessons that I get from a book that you do not. I welcome your comments , your opinions ,and of course your suggestions . My 88 is just the start. All book titles in our lists include affiliate links.

  1. A Picture Book of Helen Keller (Picture Book Biography) by David  A. Adler tells readers that we are all different with different abilities but are all capable of great things.
  2. Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen is about more than ballet, it’s about overcoming being different, accepting your body and even standing up for yourself.
  3. Parts by Tedd Arnold is a funny book with a great lesson about figures of speech. Young kids are very literal and this book helps kids see that language is not always what it seems.
  4. The Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race by Stan and Jan Berenstain is about not giving up and playing by the rules.
  5. Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie by Jennifer Berne is a story about how being yourself is important but also about when to depend on others.
  6. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs is a story about living in the moment and the fleeting nature of life.
  7. The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau is a story that teaches children about giving as well as where happiness can really be found.
  8. The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle is great for teaching telling time but it’s also a wonderful lesson in not taking the bait when someone wants to fight.
  9. The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forestby Lynne Cherry is a beautiful book that teaches children about taking care of the environment.
  10. My Mouth Is a Volcano!by Julia Cook is all about interrupting. This book finds a fun way to teach kids when it’s appropriate to speak.
  11. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney  is a inspirational lesson about how we can all make the world more beautiful in our own way.
  12. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin teaches readers about the need for good working conditions, the role of negotiation,  as well as the basics of what a strike is.
  13. Duck for President by Doreen Cronin teaches readers that being a leader isn’t about being the bossy one but rather having the most responsibility .
  14. Is There Really a Human Race? by Jamie Lee Curtis has a wonderful lesson about what is really important ( hint : it’s not the rat race) and to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
  15. The Empty Pot by Demi is a lovely book about the importance of honesty.
  16. Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio doesn’t just teach us that girls should run for President it also explains the Electoral College pretty well.
  17. Pink Tiara Cookies For Three  by Maria Dismondy is all about friendship and how to make it work when your friends become friends with someone new.
  18. Spaghetti in A Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are  by Maria Dismondy is about bullying but it’s also about doing the right thing especially when it’s hard to.
  19. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is a fairytale like book about problem solving with a creative imagination and intelligence.
  20. Everybody Cooks Rice  by Norah Dooley is a great lesson in subtle similarities amidst more obvious differences.
  21. Her Mother’s Face by Roddy Doyle teaches readers that grief isn’t something we deal with one time and move on.
  22. The Sissy Ducklingby Harvey Fierstein teaches us that all people are unique and to respect everyone for that uniqueness not for their ability to fit some societal mold.
  23. Imogene’s Last Stand by Candace Fleming is well loved at my house for its love of history and for its lesson about standing up for something when you can see it’s value even when others do not.
  24. Whoever You Are  by Mem Fox. This book is all about finding the similarities in all people which is a grand lesson in empathy.
  25. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke teaches readers that sometimes the only person who can save you is you.
  26. Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman is a lesson in resourcefulness , something in today’s disposable culture should be taught to every child!
  27. Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is a book about Rosa Parks it’s written beautifully to teach another generation about how one person can make a huge difference.
  28. All the Colors of the Earth by Shelia Hamanaka does not have a subtle lesson you will have to dig for, its lesson is simple and upfront. Children come in all different colors.
  29. Most Loved in All the World by Tonya Cherie Hegamin is a touching story that introduces children to the underground railroad as well as to sacrifices that parents make for the sake of their children.
  30. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purseby Kevin Henkes teaches children about taking responsibility for our actions and forgiveness.
  31. Shelia Rae, The Brave  by Kevin Henkes teaches us that it’s OK to let someone help you when you need it.
  32. Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks is a really cute book about why trying new things is a good thing
  33. Brontorina by James Howe has a beautiful message about inclusive environments and respecting people for who they are not for who we think they should be.
  34. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston is a lesson in what makes Christmas special and more than any preachy book this story drives this lesson home.
  35. Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora is a wonderful book with a lesson in following your dreams even when you are the only one who can see that they are attainable.
  36. Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse is all about security and how children need to know that no matter what children do their parents will love them all the same.
  37. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis teaches kids that when other people express who they are it’s not up to us to decide if it’s OK or not just because it may not fit into our narrow expectations.
  38. The Paper Princess (Picture Puffins) by Elisa Klevin has a great lesson that imperfection is not a flaw and it shows us that in subtle ways page after page
  39. Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus is one of my favorite books to turn to when kids feel like they just can’t keep up with their peers
  40. The Biggest Snowman Ever by Steven Kroll teaches kids to embrace competition but to know when cooperation is a better choice.
  41. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is about being who you are no matter what environment you are in .
  42. Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester teaches children to tolerate differences in others and how sometimes what we feel most vulnerable about isn’t all bad.
  43. Fish Is Fish  by Leo Lionni is a cute book about change and the way true friendships can withstand change.
  44. It’s Mine!  by Leo Lionni  is one of my favorite books to pull out when I hear those words… a great lesson in sharing and working together.
  45. Swimmy by Leo Lionni is one of my favorite books about bravery and teamwork.
  46. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell teaches kids to be proud of who they are just as they are.
  47. The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon is an unexpectedly tender look at being different at school.
  48. Mr. Peabody’s Applesby Madonna is an important lesson about how rumors can spread and words can really hurt people.
  49. Hugo and Miles In I’ve Painted Everything by Scott Magoon is about creativity and how it never really runs out.
  50. Dinosaur Woods by George McClements is about about conservation and teamwork.
  51. Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud has such an important lesson about kindness to others and the importance of treating all people with respect.
  52. I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt isn’t just about unconditional love it’s also about meeting the needs of those you love.
  53. The Monster Princess by D.J. McHale is filled with lesson about doing what is right even when we are angry and hurt, discovering that what we dream about being may not be all it’s cracked up to be as well as my favorite message that there are ” All kinds of special.”
  54. Elmer by David McKee is all about self acceptance even when that means we must accept that we are very different.
  55. How the Ladies Stopped the Wind by Bruce McMillan is all about problem solving and that there is power in numbers.
  56. Mole Music by David McPhail tells us that the arts are vital and can nourish great things.
  57. The Mighty Street Sweeper by Patrick Moore teaches readers that you don’t have to be the best at everything to still be proud of your hard work.
  58. Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora is about how one person can make a profound impact on a child’s life and the power of books.
  59. Makeup Mess by Robert Munsch teaches kids that they are beautiful just the way they are.
  60. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch isn’t just about girl power it’s also about being resourceful and using your brain not brawn to win.
  61. Zoom! by Robert Munsch is not a preachy book. It’s lesson is that kids that use wheelchairs aren’t helpless and can save the day!
  62. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson teaches children that enemies might just be friends you haven’t made yet.
  63. The Only One Club  by Jane Naliboff has a great message that we should celebrate our diversity and tell our kids it’s not a bad thing to be unique.
  64. The Family Book by Todd Parr has a lesson I have been teaching my 3 year old lately, that all families may not look alike but all families are made with love.
  65. The I’M NOT SCARED Book by Todd Parr teaches kids it’s OK to have fears and that they can overcome them.
  66. The Kissing Hand by Audry Penn is an absolute favorite book that teaches children that it’s OK to separate from their parents because their love goes with you wherever you go.
  67. Zip, Zip…Homework by Nancy Poydar is a book about telling the truth at home and school.
  68. Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuriis a great book that can open up a dialog about getting lost or separated from a parent.
  69. Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven is a tough story to read because the lesson it teaches is that there is injustice in this world and kids aren’t immune.
  70. Ish by Peter H. Reynolds is a wonderful book about the beauty of imperfection and creativity. A must read for all perfectionists.
  71. A Very Big Bunny by Marisabina Russo teaches kids about being different and how it can feel to be singled out by adults as well as kids.
  72. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka is a great book to teach children about point of view and to always look at both sides of every story.
  73. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak to me is a lesson in unconditional love. You can always come home where you are loved best of all.
  74. A Bad Case Of Stripes  by David Shannon teaches children to not change themselves for others but to just be who they are.
  75. No, David! by David Shannon teaches young kids that there are consequences but that even when they mess up they are still loved.
  76. The Giving Tree  by Shel Silverstein is all about entitlement and can be a great tool for teaching children about what makes a bad friend.
  77. Tallulah’s Tutu by Marilyn Singer has a great lesson about effort and achievement and how sparkly beautiful things don’t usually come without it.
  78. Thanksgiving on Plymouth Plantation (Time-Traveling Twins) by Diane Stanley is included in this list because it’s a bang on book about the history behind Thanksgiving. I think it’s vital for kids to know this when it’s something celebrated year after year.
  79. Amos & Boris by William Steig is a lesson about the power of friendship and how when a friend needs help nothing including being small can stop you from helping them.
  80. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss teaches children about the importance of taking care of their environment.
  81. Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson teaches kids that it’s OK to go out and explore but not to forget where home is.
  82. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst is the ultimate lesson about how everything won’t always go your way.
  83. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell is about patience and separation anxiety. It is a good lesson for kids that those feelings are normal but that those who love them will come back.
  84. Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Melanie Watt is hilarious but has a great lesson about taking risks too.
  85. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!by Mo Willems teaches kids that even throwing a fit won’t change the fact that they just aren’t allowed to do some things.
  86. Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong is about living in two cultures at one time. A wonderful read for all children to better grasp what being part of an immigrant family is like.
  87. All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino is a good book to talk about how people came to the United States and why people move from country to country.
  88. Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen teaches kids that even princesses don’t fit into a simple mold.

I know you have more to add ! Add the titles that help you teach your children or students important lessons in comments.



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  1. Sonya says

    Ellington was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange—is a book about how some men changed the world. The lyrical style of the book represents the times when these men helped change the world. Kadir Nelson’s portraits are amazing.

  2. Christina564 says

    I teach fifth grade, and begin each year by reading aloud, “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes. It’s an older title, but the theme of bullying and being a bystander when bullying occurs is a timeless lesson. The kids kind of groan when they see the cover, and groan again when I tell that the book won the Newbery in 1945! However, they quickly get drawn into the story. The students and I always have rich conversations, and we return to the book concepts throughout the year when bullying rears its ugly head. It’s also a fun study on phraseology and words.

  3. Kat says

    “Dogger” by Shirley Hughes. Good for teaching children that some things are special to people (and to respect that.) I have tears every time I read how big sister steps in and saves the day through her generosity. All Shirley Hughes books are delightful – of an era, yes, but real!

  4. says

    I would add Stone Soup to this list. It is a great lesson in sharing and what people can do when they come together for a good cause. My children used to make stone soup in preschool every year and the teacher would read the book while the soup cooked. Every child would bring a vegetable to add to the soup. They all then ate soup.

    • Allison McDonald says

      It is a great book – sometimes I skip the most obvious books. Great lesson and I have done exactly that same activity when I was teaching so there is no excuse for me missing it. #89 for sure!

  5. meg says

    I Said No – a book about body parts and safety
    Was it the chocolate pudding – a story about divorce and kids blaming themselves for their parents divorce
    When Sophie gets angry really really angry

    Gentle willow- a story about long term
    illness and death

  6. Evie says

    Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, it teaches about bullying and that everyone is special.

    Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin, there are several and they all teach something. They are my current favorite books. “It’s all good.”

  7. Rose says

    Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne about growing up and enjoying the moments. The Empty Pot by Demi about telling the truth and doing your best. Joseph had an overcoat by Simms Taback about repurposing things that are thought to be useless and not good anymore. Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham about patience, waiting your turn, and feelings. Any of the books by Tomie DePaola , Barbara Derubertis, Dana Rau , Jan Brett they have good story lines and lessons in them. (Many others too!!) Thank you I also will be keeping this list and reading what others post 🙂 <3

  8. Elyse says

    Thank you all for the suggestions. Here are some of my favorites:
    Clyde Monster by Robert Crowe is about a young monster who is afraid of the dark because he believes that a person may be lurking under his bed or in a corner.
    Big Al by Andrew Clements is about not judging by appearance and about friendship.
    Stellaluna by Janelle Cannon is about adapting and the essence of friendship.
    Now One Foot, Now The Other by Tomie DiPaolo is about a young boy coping with his grandfather’s disability as a result of a stroke.
    Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister is about sharing and friendship.

  9. says

    Henry & the Kite Dragon by Bruce Hall Told through children’s eyes, cultural differences between Italians and Chinese living in side-by-side neighborhoods in NYC in the 1920’s. Beautiful “aha” moment at the end on acceptance and diversity.

  10. Deanna Rupert says

    Well, it looks like everyone that has commented feels strongly about books that should be added. I guess I’m not alone in my sentiment.
    Two of my favorite books that have withstood my children’s critiques, as well as my students are: The Curious Garden & Finklehopper Frog. They both have fantastic life lessons.

  11. says

    I would add a brand new gorgeously illustrated children’s book called MORE THAN MUD by Kate Butler. It teaches children to turn life’s toughest moments into magical moments by reframing things in a positive light. It even has some developmental questions in the back for Moms and kids to talk about.

  12. Joy says

    I read and old Enid Blyton story in the blue fairy tale book called “father time”. It talks about how your actions each day help build a pattern that father time shows the boy in thr story. Goodness amkes shining parts, cruelty rips your pattern, love creates glowing threads that make it strong, anger makes black marks, timidity makes the pattern dull. Then i get the kids to make a pattern and try to be honest about what it would include and how they could make it better.

  13. Amanda says

    Thanks for such a neat list. I am looking forward to reading some of them!

    We also like THE HONEST-TO-GOODNESS TRUTH. When a little girl lies, she is told to tell the truth. . . But there are ways to tell the truth that are harmful; and through this story, kids can see some of the finer nuances of kind, truthful speech.

  14. Jenny says

    A few that I love are Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco (overcoming difficulties, children who struggle or are different are capable of great things…true story based on her life). Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson about bullying and how small kindnesses have a ripple effect. Boxes for Katje…true WWII story about kindness, gratitude, sharing. Someone else mentioned it, but I love, love, love Martin’s Big Words. Also a chapter book that I have read and reread because it is so beautiful and teaches gratitude so powerfully is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.

    Great list! Love your site.

  15. Diane says

    The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting – all along in the story readers believe the grandmother is teaching her granddaughter to read. Only at the end do readers realize that the little girl was actually teaching her grandmother to read in time to surprise her son (the girl’s dad) on his birthday. Great for predicting and teaching everyone needs help and everyone can give help.

  16. says

    Dogger, by Shirley Hughes, demonstrates that when you are in dire straits, such as needing help to get your utterly indispensable comfort object back, your sibling will drop everything and come to your rescue. I use this book with younger siblings who are disheartened by the teasing and older sibs who only think of the difficult aspects of having a younger brother or sister.

  17. says

    Thank you for the list! It covers so many topics! Books are such fantastic teachers and great ways to ease into the difficult issues. I’m glad to see there are authors out there taking these issues on so creatively.

    I would add “This is A. Blob” by L.A. Kefalos. It is a picture book about bullying for younger children (4-8). The bully is a purple blob character (A. Blob), instead of being a boy or a girl or a certain race , so kids can project their own experiences into the story. The book also touches on why bullies bully and why they need help too, which is sometimes overlooked in bullying books.


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