As you all know, my husband and I decided to make 2020 be the year that we intentionally teach, model, and practice with our girls one character trait per month. We have chosen these traits thoughtfully, spending time discussing what traits are important to us and what kind of adults we hope to help our children grow up to be. While the first three months of this work in 2020 seemed important and impactful, we’ve all recently been given the gift of time with the people in our houses, the opportunity to focus on what’s really important. In our house, we’re embracing this as a chance to truly focus on what kind of people our children grow up to be.
Our plan for April had been to work with the girls on authentic apologies and heartfelt forgiveness. While I thought about changing our focus or abandoning altogether for a month while we get our “everyone at home all day every day” feet under us, we’re going to power through on that focus… After all, so much time together in a small space inevitably leads to situations were genuine, heartfelt apologies and forgiveness are needed!
Today, I’ve got a booklist full of wonderful children’s stories in which the characters model not only authentic forgiveness, but also exemplify what a genuine apology might sound and look like (we talk a lot in our house about Responsive Classroom’s “apology of action” if you want more to help your children go beyond simple “I’m sorries”).
Books that Model Authentic Apologies
and Genuine Forgiveness
All links for purchase are Amazon Affiliate links, and most age ranges listed are publishers’ recommendations. Always remember that you know your child best, and thank you for considering making a purchase through my links!
You Poked My Heart by Brandy Cooke, illustrated by Laura Logan — For your youngest readers, try this adorable board book about two siblings and two heart-shaped balloons, one of which gets popped. I love the metaphor of the burst balloon and how one’s heart might feel when someone hurts you. Cooke also includes a lovely model of an apology of action– an “I’m sorry” followed by an action that helps the brother feel better, and I love that the youngest audiences are getting this modeled for them! Ages 3-6, but definitely appropriate younger, too.
Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora — I don’t know about you all, but some people in our house are quick to anger when accidents happen that adversely affect them or their possessions… Just like the curly-haired girl in this book does when Bear accidentally rolls over and breaks her kite. Which then makes Bear ridiculously angry, too! I’m sure we’re not the only house to have seen that cycle before, right? What I love the most about how Dyckman has handled the situation is that the girl not only apologizes to Bear, but she follows her apology with action to make sure he’s truly feeling better. And Bear uses heartfelt actions to show that he truly forgives her. Ages 3-5, but could be useful for a specific lesson on forgiveness and apology of action with older children, too.
Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! by Mem Fox, illustrated by Marla Frazee — Okay, this one has the potential to resonate more with parents who need to admit their own wrongdoings than it might with the intended audience, but the reality that Fox depicts in this story is just spot-on. Harriet’s mother stays patient as can be through one blunder and the next, but eventually that patience wears out and she yells. Hands up if that’s happened to you! Harriet and her mother both beautifully and thoughtfully apologize, though, and are able to resume their loving relationship. What wisdom for children to see adults making mistakes and also needing to fix their mistakes! Ages 3-7.
The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty — What would you do if books kept mysteriously disappearing from bedtimes all around your neighborhood? If you’re like Eliza Brown, you might want to get to the bottom of things. But, what would you do if you indeed found the culprit? I wonder if you’d be angry, or if you’d be like Eliza Brown and try to understand the “why” behind the behavior so that you can offer forgiveness and teach better behavior. May we all (maybe especially parents!) learn something from Eliza! Ages 3 and up.
The Power to Choose series by Ganit and Adir Levy, illustrated by Mat Sadler — Okay, so these Danny and Darla books aren’t exactly about apologies and forgiveness. Rather, they’re about choices children make throughout their days, every day, and that includes times when they’ve made mistakes and need to rectify them, as well as times when others around them make mistakes and they need to offer forgiveness. I wrote a whole ode to these books a few weeks ago if you want more information, but just trust me on this one– get these for your home libraries! Ages 3 and up.
Molly & Mae: A Friendship Journey by Danny Parker, illustrated by Freya Blackwood — Molly & Mae also earned itself a place on our teamwork and cooperation booklist, but it definitely deserves to be here, too! Neatly paralleling the journey of friendship to a journey on a train, Parker gives children not only models of how to apologize and offer forgiveness, but also provides families with neat language that can be used to remind children of this, such as “Molly took the words she shouldn’t have said and hid them. Then she took the words she should have said and started to build a bridge.” We loved this book so much in March that I wrote a full review of it, which you can read here. Ages 4-7.
Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by Kimberly and James Dean — It’s hard to find children who don’t just love Pete the Cat, and a Pete the Cat book about forgiving friends for their wrong-doing that also incorporates some counting? Yes, please! Mistakes, apologies, frustration, forgiveness, and second chances. The Deans cover so much of childhood relationships here, and in such a light and fun way. This would be a hit whether your child is a huge Pete the Cat fan or not! Ages 4-8.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes — While the conflict in most of the books on this list is between peers, Lilly’s trouble arises when her teacher, whom she adores, makes her mad. After she retaliates, Lilly has a wonderful opportunity to show him her true remorse, which she does not only through an apology, but also a heartfelt action showing how sorry she is and helping him to feel better. Ages 4-8.
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah and Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa — This is one of those books that needs a permanent spot in every home and classroom, as it has so many lessons in it… Lessons of preconceived notions, inclusivity, open-mindedness, diversity, and, yes, both using an action to show remorse AND offering a friend genuine forgiveness. On top of all of that, The Sandwich Swap is incredibly relatable for children, as we’ve all experienced times when people thought our choices were “yucky” or “gross,” or when we’ve thought the same about others. Ages 4-8.
Rising Above the Storm Clouds: What It’s Like to Forgive by Robert D. Enright, illustrated by Kathryn Kunz Finney — Published by Magination Press and the American Psychological Association, Rising Above the Storm Clouds gives children concrete examples of what forgiveness is and what it feels like to forgive. While I love having examples of these feelings for children (such as the change from caterpillar inside a cocoon to a butterfly, or flying in an airplane through a storm to emerge above the clouds to peace and tranquility), I think my favorite part of this book is that the father doesn’t make the children apologize and forgive each other, but rather simply asks them, “What is it like to forgive each other?” Through the conversation, the children come to offer forgiveness on their own, without adult requirements. Ages 4-8.
Red, Blue, and Yellow Yarn: A Tale of Forgiveness by Mirian R. Kosman, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev — When Donny’s Bubby (Yiddish for Grandma) comes to stay with them, he thinks she doesn’t like him very much. She takes over his bedroom and is constantly correcting him, making him feel as if he’s always getting into trouble. But when he makes a huge mess of her knitting yarn, rather than being upset with him, she draws him near to tell him a story… A story that goes back generations, of grandmothers and grandchildren and forgiveness for mistakes. This sweet story is sure to be a hit. Ages 4-8.
The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Christy Hale — Thompson brings us a story of two neighboring villages that have hated each other for years. One day, that hatred results in a stone thrown across a river, a stone that hits a girl from one of the villages in the head. For years after her injury, Sama nurses bitter hatred and yearns for revenge. But, when the time comes to exact revenge to the person who threw the stone, Sama realizes the burden of hatred and hurt that villagers on both sides are carrying. Rather than revenge, Sama plants a forgiveness garden instead, giving the villagers both a place to unburden their emotions as well as talk with each other abour solutions. Thompson leaves the ending open, showing Sama and her stone-thrower as the first to sit in the garden and talk, but rather than giving us the conversation, Thompson asks, “What do you think they said?” Ages 4-6, though I’d go older here given the vocabulary, anger, and violence.
Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine, illustrated by René King Moreno — Under the Lemon Moon is a terrific book to pair with The Snatchabook for your older audience, as once again, the main character is faced with what to do when she realizes someone is stealing from her. Upon realizing that someone is stealing from her lemon tree, Rosalinda sets out to figure out what to do about it, and then, her tree falls sick. La Anciana, who has the power to bring rain and make crops grow, encourages Rosalinda to think about why someone stole her lemons, and it is this why that helps Rosalinda find forgiveness in her heart. As an added bonus, Fine intersperses Spanish vocabulary throughout the story! Ages 6-9.
Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, illustrated by A. G. Ford — Based on a true experience from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa, the power of this book lies in how it illustrates giving true forgiveness to others, even if they haven’t taken the first step to apologize for their actions or words. I especially appreciate how Desmond’s mentor directly teaches the cycle of “getting back” at someone, and how when we choose that over forgiveness, “Our whole world will be filled with nothing but ‘getting back.'” Given the wordiness of this book, it’s best for older readers, but will be incredibly powerful for those that do read it. Ages 6-9.
Sorry! by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Maurie J. Manning — If you’re looking for a book to use that will directly address the importance of truly heartfelt apologies rather than simply rote “I’m sorry,” then Sorry! is the book for you. Warning– Ludwig’s antagonist is pretty unlikeable and will model some very mean behavior for your children. But, the lesson learned by the protagonist is powerful and important for children to understand. Make sure you allow for discussion time and be sure to read this one the first time with your children. Ages 6-9, but great for older elementary students as well.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin — My love for this short chapter book runs deep. I believe The Hundred Dresses is a story all children should read, potentially multiple times. I usually draw people’s attention to the important lessons that can be learned about bystanding and upstanding, but today, it’s the behavior of the victim that is important. Wanda is picked on relentlessly because she’s poor. She doesn’t talk the same and she doesn’t have the right clothes. Eventually, her family even moves because their live is so hard in their small town. Wanda, however, shows incredible forgiveness to the girls in her class, girls who never had a chance to apologize for their behavior and that she’d never see again. She forgives them anyway… Sometimes, we need to offer forgiveness before any sort of apology has been received. You can read my full review of The Hundred Dresses here. Ages 6-10.
Grandad Mandela by Zazi, Ziwelene, and Zindzi Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls — Admittedly Grandad Mandela is more of a biography than a story focusing on forgiveness, but forgiveness played a large role in who Nelson Mandela was and what he stood for. Written by Mandela’s daughter and great-grandchildren, readers will learn a bit about Mandela’s jail time, race relations and apartheid in South Africa, and Mandela’s successful work after his prison release, but most importantly, they learn about “a man who was able to forgive all the people who made him and his family suffer.” Ages 6-12.
If you liked this booklist, be sure to check out these other booklists for our 12 Traits in 2020 initiative!
- Books to Foster Growth Mindsets in Children
- 50+ Books to Help Build Compassion and Empathy
- Fantastic Reads to Build Teamwork and Cooperation Skills