As you may have seen last week, our Family Focus trait for May is honesty. And up today, I’ve got a list of our favorite picture books about honesty! You’ve already read how we used The Empty Potand Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie for our Family Focus kick-off night for May. Today, I bring you the rest of our honesty list! You’ll find books on telling the truth versus telling a lie, for sure, but I’ve also included books on cheating and other forms of dishonesty, too. You can read my brief synposes for details about each book’s plot below.
I also partnered with my friend Lauren from Happily Ever Elephants (check out her beautiful website here and her Instagram account here) to bring you double the honesty booklists today. Be sure to pop over to her website and check out her list — you’ll see some overlap, but she’s also got a few new-to-me titles that I can’t wait to check out when the libraries open back up!
With a Family Focus on honesty, it’s worth noting that children lie. They just do. As parents, hearing that first lie can be extremely painful. But, research shows us that we’re not alone, and that a toddler’s lie doesn’t in fact mean she’s likely to be drastically antisocial down the road. In fact, researchers deem the ability to tell a lie an important developmental milestone. Of course, just because lying is something all children do doesn’t mean that as adults, we should condone it. In fact, we can do a lot to help children understand the importance of honesty, such as reading stories that celebrate honesty (and the courage it takes) over lying. The more we help children understand the positive effects of honesty when the stakes are small, then hopefully they’ll make honest choices later in life, when the stakes are big!
Will you join us in reading the books listed below and help children internalize the importance of telling the truth, no matter how hard it is?
Our Favorite Picture Books About Honesty
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What Should Darla Do? by Ganit and Adir Levy, illustrated by Doro Kaiser — Yes, this book (part of the Levy’s “Power to Choose” series) is about much more than just honesty. But, Darla and her readers face some terrific scenarios in which they might choose an honest response or a dishonest response (such as finding a toy on the sidewalk and trying to find its owner or taking it home). My love for this series is strong, especially in how it depicts possible consequences of both the positive and the negative choice. You can read my full review here. Ages 3-12.
Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin — One day at school, Ruthie finds a teeny tiny camera. When Martin tells Ruthie the camera belongs to him, she claims that it’s her camera that she received for her birthday. From here, Rankin beautifully portrays the various emotions we may feel after we tell a lie, from happiness to anxiety, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and remorse. Her parents are kind and gentle when the truth comes out, but they do encourage her to fix her mistake by telling the truth herself, as important lesson for all of us parents to remember, too! You can read my full review here. Ages 3-6.
The Berenstain Bears and the Truthby Stan and Jan Berenstain — Though they’re admittedly not my favorite books to read (they can be fairly preachy and didactic…), our younger daughter absolutely adores The Berenstain Bears books. When she brought this one home from school one day (of all things, she visits the nurse’s office in order to borrow Berenstain Bears books, not to get out of class!), I had to admit the message in this one is a good one. Mama Bear comes in strong with her message about how mistakes can easily be fixed, and broken items put back together, but “trust is not something you can put back together again.” Ages 3-7.
Little Croc’s Purse by Lizzie Finlay — One day, while playing hide-and-seek with his friends, Little Croc finds a purse full of money… and something secret hidden in the lining. Though his friends encourage him to keep the purse and share the money with them, Little Croc decides to find the owner. On his way to the police station, though, Little Croc realizes that doing the right, honest thing isn’t always easy, especially when new boots and ice-cold lemonades call your name. After being reunited with her purse, the owner decides to reward Little Croc for his honesty. Let’s also celebrate a book where a male main character (and a relatively fierce main character as a crocodile) is excited to own his very own pink purse, AND the fact that Little Croc divides his reward money into three envelopes: spend, share, and save! Ages 3-7.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf (multiple illustrated versions, but my favorite is B. G. Hennessy’s version, illustrated by Peter Scolari, ages 3-8), The Wolf Who Cried Boy (by Bob Hartman, illustrated by Tim Raglin, ages 5-8), and The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot (by Scott Magoon, ages 4-8) — Okay, you can’t have an honesty booklist without these important fables helping children understand that the more they lie, the less people will be inclined to believe them when they tell the truth. These are my three favorite versions of this story, but you can find dozens of other versions of both The Boy Who Cried Wolf and any fractured fairy tale renditions!
The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR! by Rob Biddulph — While The Empty Pot is my favorite book on this list, The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR! is definitely my girls’ top pick. Grizzly bear Fred, the best bear in the wood (as established by a contest in which bears catch fish, hula hoop, scare humans, and roar!), has competition for the first time in three years when Boris, a newcomer, gives him a run for his money. In a race too close to call going into the roaring contest, Fred’s roar is nowhere to be found… But Boris appears to be hiding something under his sweater. Could it be Fred’s missing “GRRRRR!”? What will happen when the animals of the forest realize that Boris cheated in order to best Fred? This one’s a fun read, for sure, but can lead to powerful discussions about honesty and cheating in games and competitions. Ages 4-8.
Eli’s Lie-O-Meter: A Story About Telling the Truth by Sandra Levins, illustrated by Jeff Ebbeler — The best thing about this book is that Eli is just like every single other child out there. Eli knows the difference between make-believe and real, between pretend and fact. But, sometimes, he lies. Sometimes his lies are small, and sometimes they’re real whoppers. But when one of his lies results in someone (er, something…) innocent receiving an unfair punishment, Eli really begins to learn about the consequences of truth verses lies. Parents will definitely want to spend time with the Note to Parents at the end, written by a clinical psychologist and professor who focuses on helping families and children, as the note is all about why children lie (because the reality is they do…) and various ways parents can encourage honesty. Ages 4-8.
The Golden Plate by Bernadette Watts — Isobel loves to play with her best friend Elisabeth and her dollhouse, which is fully furnished and absolutely beautiful. One day, Isobel takes one of the tiny golden plates from Elisabeth’s dollhouse, hiding it in her pocket and quickly leaving before Elisabeth realizes what has happened. Isobel lives with her guilt for a bit, but eventually remorse takes over and she confesses her wrong to her mother. I really appreciate stories like The Golden Plate and Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie, stories in which the characters tell the truth without being approached or asked about their lie. Be sure to spend time wtih Watts’s illustrations here, as much of the message about how we feel after we lie is conveyed through Watts’s background (I especially love the spread where Isobel’s dolls appear to watch her in shock as she places the golden plate in her own dollhouse). Ages 4-8.
The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Giselle Potter — Though Libby’s mama has always told her “Speak the truth and shame the devil,” Libby doesn’t fully understand those words until her mother catches her in a lie one day and Libby has to live with the consequences. Vowing to tell only the truth from that point on, Libby only finds herself making others upset and getting into further trouble. When all of her friends are mad at her and her “stomach felt as fluttery as it did when she’d told the lie,” Libby sets out to discover if the truth can ever be wrong. Libby has to learn an important lesson between hurtful truth and honest-to-goodness truth, as well as kind ways to deliver hard truths… And her community learns a bit about hearing the truth, even when it’s not what they want to hear. Ages 4-8.
The Empty Pot by Demi — The Empty Pot is the story of Ping, a young Chinese boy who loves flowers. In fact, everyone in the kingdom loves flowers, but no one more than the Emperor himself. In fact, the Emperor loves flowers so much that when it comes time to choose his successor to the throne, he decides “to let the flowers choose” and have a flower-growing contest! The child who can “show their best in a year’s time” will be the successor! Of course, this is right up Ping’s alley — he knows he can win! But, try as he might, he just cannot get his flower to grow. After a year, Ping has only an empty pot to show for his efforts, which his father reassures him is good enough since he did his best. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that courage and honesty win out!Also featured on our honesty booklist. You can also read my full review here. Ages 4-8.
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones — At first glance, this is a story of honesty and doing the right thing, even when you really, really want to do something else. But when you dig deeper, empathy is what leads the main character to do the right thing, the ability to understand how it must have felt to someone else to lose something valuable, because he experienced those feelings himself. And in that moment, his realization of how devastated this woman must be changes his heart to be honest and do the right thing. As such, this book also made our list of 50+ books to help build compassion and empathy! Ages 5-8.
A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler — Eve Bunting writes magically powerful books for children, and A Day’s Work is no exception. In A Day’s Work, Francisco is helping his grandfather find work for a day, as his grandfather has just immigrated to America and speaks no English. As Francisco’s hope for finding a day’s work starts to dwindle, he lies about his Abuelo’s gardening skills in order to get him chosen for the work. His grandfather, though, doesn’t know anything about gardening and makes a terrible mistake during the job, resulting in a furious overseer. A powerful story about consequences of lying to better ourselves (as opposed to lying to get out of trouble), we also learn an important message from Abuelo the importance of making right our wrongs, even when that may be hard. Ages 5-8.
For more information on children and lying, check out:
- Evans, A. D., & Lee, K. (2013, January 7). Emergence of Lying in Very Young Children. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031409
- Hart, Christian L. (2019, June 14). “Why is My Child Lying?” Psychology Today online.
- the Note to Parents page in Eli’s Lie-O-Meter: A Story About Telling the Truth
If you liked this list, check out these other Family Focus booklists:
- Books to Foster Growth Mindsets in Children
- 50+ Books to Help Build Compassion and Empathy
- Fantastic Reads to Build Teamwork and Cooperation Skills
- Books that Model Authentic Apologies and Genuine Forgiveness
And be sure to pop over to Happily Ever Elephants to check out Lauren’s honesty list!