It’s almost September, which for most of the Northern Hemisphere means we’re deep in back-to-school mode. For many of us, that also means we’re deep in the throes of reading with and talking to our children about what kind of person they want to be in school this year. So, when we mapped out our tentative plan of our Family Focus Character Traits for 2020, we knew that we wanted September to be about noticing and including others. In the beginning of a new school year, we hope that our girls can reach out to new students in their classes and make them feel welcome. But, throughout the year, we want them to notice the other students around them, to see which ones are sad, to observe who might be feeling left out, to note who needs an invitation to play.
In short, we want our girls to grow into inclusive members of a community, the kinds of friends and classmates that make others feel welcome, comfortable, and confident. We want them to be includers!
And fortunately, there are (no surprise!) many great picture books out there that can help foster conversations around seeing and including others. I’ve put together a pretty phenomenal list of books with characters who model including and inviting others. To be clear, these aren’t books that promote inclusion through diversity and understanding others (though, of course, some of them do just that). Instead, these books have specific moments where a character feels sad, left out, lonely, frustrated, etc. and a friend/classmate/peer notices and acts on it to help that character feel he or she is a positive member of the community. These books will help children understand why and how to actively include others!
*** All links for purchase are 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!***
*** In the interest of focusing on my girls as they prepare for an unknown school year, this post is coming together slowly. Stay tuned for complete “blurbs” about each book over the next few weeks!***
Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka — You’d never know that so few words could be so powerful. But, Chris Raschka shows through simple dialogue the impact that inviting and including others can have. Though this is terrific for all ages, Yo! Yes? is especially accessible to young audiences, and easy to read independently for new readers. Even Raschka’s illustrations are simple, including only images of the 2 boys in nearly bare backgrounds, but this simplicity allows us to focus on their feelings and desires. Adept observers may even notice how Raschka subtly changes the mood of his background as the mood of the 2nd boy shifts. Yo! Yes? is a simple yet incredibly powerful story of noticing those who may need attention and welcoming them into play. Ages 2-4, but terrific for all ages.
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems — Okay, we’re HUGE Elephant & Piggie fans, but this is probably our favorite… We love this story about a snake who wants to play catch and two friends who yearn to include him but can’t quite figure out how. Ages 3-5, but terrific slightly younger and older, too.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill — Be Kind has shown up on many of my lists this year… It’s just that good. What do you do when someone feels embarassed and does whatever she can to leave the group and not be noticed by anyone? How do you let her know what you’ll kindly welcome her back in and be her friend? Be Kind addresses this dilemma and more (I especially love the lesson that one of the easiest ways to be kind is to use people’s names!). You can read my full Instagram review here. Ages 3-6, but terrific older, too.
Everybody’s Welcome by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Greg Abbott — “In a forest clearing / there is a little mouse / dreaming of the future / in a great big happy house.” But alas, it seems that all of the other forest creatures are in need of shelter, too! No worries, though, because “Everybody’s welcome / no matter who they are / wherever they may come from / whether near or far.” This one’s incredibly sweet, and the rhythm and rhyme make it a delight to read aloud. Ages 3-7.
I’ll Walk With You by Carol Lynn Pearson, illustrations by Jane Sanders — With a repeated refrain of inclusivity, inclusivity of all sorts, types, and shapes of people, this one’s definitely a delightful addition to a young kiddo’s bookshelf. “I’ll walk with you and talk with you. That’s how I’ll show my love for you.” Ages 3-8.
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates, cowritten with Juniper Bates — Meet the Big Umbrella. “It is a big, friendly umbrella” that “likes to spread its arms wide.” But just how many people can fit under one umbrella? Will anyone get left out? Of course not! (I mean, what kind of inclusivity book would that be???). No matter what size, shape, or color you are, you’re welcome under this umbrella! Ages 4-8.
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith — We all know that there are some kids in classes who tend to go through school unnoticed. They may be the quiet ones who follow all the rules, and academically they don’t need lots of extra support but aren’t leading the pack, either. They don’t stand out in sports or tell the funniest jokes, but they have so much else to offer. Often, they’re intentionally overlooked, but sometimes they’re snubbed by their peers. But, they have so much to contribute, if only someone would notice. Trudy Ludwig eloquently tells the tale of one of these children, Brian, a child that is invisible to those around him, until his kindness gets the attention of a classmate. And Barton’s illustrations highlight both Brian’s invisibility as well as his tranformation. Ludwig also includes a set of discussion questions for read-aloud and recommended reading for both children and adults.You might think this one to be an unconventional pick for a booklist about including others, but this is one of my favorites. I love the concept here, that the “mean” kids may be those who feel excluded and are looking for acceptance. A small act of kindness can go a long way to turning their attitudes around! Ages 4-8.
Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat — Most of the books I found for this list have children who model including their friends, classmates, or peers. But, my favorite thing about Lift is the way the main character goes out of her way to include her little brother in her adventures. May all of the older siblings be as empathetic to their younger brothers and sisters as this one is!You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo — My love for Strictly No Elephants knows no bounds. This story is both delightful and powerful, and it includes lovely sayings such as, “That’s what friends do: never leave anyone behind” and “All Are Welcome.” It doesn’t get much better than that! You can read my full Instagram review here. Ages 4-8.
Brontorina by James Howe, illustrated by Randy Cecil — Oh Brontorina, the dinosaur who is a ballerina at heart. All she wants is to dance with the other dancers, but alas, she doesn’t have the right shoes and she’s way too big. Fortunately, the ballet teacher and two of her classmates work hard to include her, coming up with a very creative solution for a ballet studio big enough for Brontorina! Ages 4-8.
I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët — An important book for kids, especially at the beginning of the school year, as Vanessa is a new student at school. She makes her way through a lonely first day, only to encounter a really mean schoolmate on the way home from school. Fortunately, a kind peer saw what happened and determinedly ponders how to help and make sure she is safe and included the following day. You can read my full Instagram review here. Ages 4-8.
Night Out by Daniel Miyares — A lonely boy in an orphanage receives a mysterious invitation one night, and invitation that changes his life. It turns out that sometimes, helping someone to feel like they belong is as simple as extending them an invitation. I love the challenge this can lead to of brainstorming who we can invite to something to make them feel included. Ages 4-8.
Big Friends by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies — Sometimes, one of the hardest ways to include others come in threesomes. Especially when the threesome is formed after two people are close friends and a third comes along to join. Often, that third friend is left out, but sometimes one of the originals feel displaced. This is such a tough situation and so common for kids! Big Friends addresses this, and shows a terrific way for two friends to welcome the outlier back into the group. Ages 4-8.
Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex — If you need a little humor to help you start conversations around including others, then Nothing Rhymes with Orange is the book for you! By far the funniest book on this list, Rex has created a cast of fruit characters making up a story full of rhymes about their names. But, poor Orange feels left out, because nothing rhymes with orange. “But the fruit are feeling rotten, ’cause there’s someone they’ve forgotten.” So don’t worry, poor Orange does indeed get included, rather than be overlooked! Ages 5 and up.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis — Okay, so technically no one in this book actually does include the outsider. But the tough lesson learned about excluding others makes Each Kindess worth its spot on this list! The story of the two girls’ interactions (or lack thereof) is just a small part of Each Kindness, however. The powerful lesson comes when one of the girls leaves the school and the teacher leads a class discussion on the ripple effects of even the smallest acts of kindness. As with The Hundred Dresses, Woodson does not wrap this story up in a pretty bow at the end, allowing readers to contemplate the message and their own lives. Lewis’s beautifully illustrated paintings evoke perspective and emotion, tugging even deeper at the heart of the audience. Ages 5-8, but definitely appropriate for older audiences.
Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien — Someone New is a three-storyline book, depicting experiences of three immigrants as they start in new schools. We are given insight into how difficult it is for some of the returning students to know how to bridge the gap and welcome them. They want to be kind, but language barriers exist, and these returning students say, “I feel uncomfortable,” “I don’t know what do to,” and “I can’t figure out how to help.” As with Be Kind, I love that the difficulty inherent in being kind is shown, because sometimes, it is indeed really, really hard to know what to do. The gaps are bridged by the new students themselves! In so many children’s stories, we read about the returning students being the ones to learn to welcome new students, but new students can take steps to make connections as well. Ages 5-8.
Come With Me by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître — Sometimes, even though we’re surrounded by people who love us, we feel alone. Hopefully, in those moments, the people who love us can take us with them to see the beauty and kindness in the world. It’s as easy as saying, “Come with me.” And if we say it to our children enough, maybe they’ll start to say it to their friends and peers, encouraging them to come along when they feel alone, small, and scared. Ages 5-8.
The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo, illustrated by Mike Deas — Inspired by the true story of a first grader from Pennsylvania who came up with the idea for his school to create a “buddy bench” for recess, a place for kids who feel left out or have trouble joining play at recess. Did you know that on any given school day, 80% of children ages 8-10 years old report feeling lonely at some point during the day? I would love for this book to make its way to every school, so that every school can use this for inspiration for their version of a “buddy bench,” however their children envision it to work for their community. Ages 6-8.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton — We all know that there are some kids in classes who tend to go through school unnoticed. They may be the quiet ones who follow all the rules, and academically they don’t need lots of extra support but aren’t leading the pack, either. They don’t stand out in sports or tell the funniest jokes, but they have so much else to offer. Often, they’re intentionally overlooked, but sometimes they’re snubbed by their peers. But, they have so much to contribute, if only someone would notice. Trudy Ludwig eloquently tells the tale of one of these children, Brian, a child that is invisible to those around him, until his kindness gets the attention of a classmate. And Barton’s illustrations highlight both Brian’s invisibility as well as his tranformation. Ludwig also includes a set of discussion questions for read-aloud and recommended reading for both children and adults. Ages 6-9.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald, illustrated by Freya Blackwell — Cartwheel and her aunt moved to a new country to be safe, but everything in this new country is different, strange. But, Cartwheel does have a blanket that brings her comfort. For a while, it’s the only thing that brings her comfort, but then, one day, a girl in the park smiles and waves at her. Even though they don’t speak the same language, a friendship is born, and Cartwheel “felt warm inside.” Ages 6-9.
If you liked this, be sure to check out our other Family Focus Trait 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
- Our Favorite Picture Books About Honesty
- Picture Books to Inspire Wild Creativity
- Books Featuring Courageous Role Models
- Picture Books to Promote Resilience