If you’ve been following along on our Family Focus Traits adventure in 2020, you might have been able to guess that thankfulness and gratitude would be our chosen traits for November… While we assigned some traits to their months randomly (like honesty in May), and some because our girls needed them at that moment (teamwork and cooperation in March), others connected to themes we might already be talking about in a given month (such as growth mindset in January or compassion and empathy in February). While we want our girls to practice and develop attitudes of thankfulness and gratitude year-round (in fact, I wrote a post about this last November!), these traits fit perfectly in with conversations our family would already be having throughout Thanksgiving month. If you want to join us, check out the booklist below of more than 20 terrific picture books to help foster an attitude of gratitude!
But first, why thankfulness and gratitude? Well, first and foremost, we want our children to look around and be grateful for what they have. We want them to feel a sense of thankfulness for the good in their lives, for their families, and for their friends. We want them to understand the value of giving over receiving; of quality time, experiences, and attitudes over “stuff;” and of the good they already have in their lives over the rest of the junk out there. We want this for many, many reasons, but a big one is that research finds that giving thanks can, indeed, make you happier! As researchers at Harvard Medical School found,
“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences,“Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier,” Harvard Health Publishing Healthbeat
improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
And as it turns out, as with most traits we hope to foster in our children, intentional conversations and family activities around thankfulness and gratitude can have a big impact on our children’s attitudes! In fact, research shows that in families that have some sort of daily conversation or action around gratitude, children display more gratitude! We all know that simply telling our children to be thankful for what they have gets us, well, nowhere. But if we can demonstrate true gratitude and reflect on what we’re thankful for regularly, our children are more likely to do so, too!
We’ve got some great ideas in the works for how every member of our family will work to cultivate these thankful and gracious attitudes throughout November (right now, we’re thinking of regular practices in listing things we’re grateful for and writing thank you notes, as well as the traditional “thankful” tree that I’m sure many of you have seen before). And, of course, we’ll dig deep into children’s literature for inspiration! I searched long and hard for the best picture books to foster conversations about thankfulness and gratitude. The books we loved are listed below. As always, most age ranges listed are publishers’ recommendations. Always remember that you know your child best!
20+ Terrific Thankfulness and Gratitude Picture Books
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Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon — A long-time favorite of mine since my classroom days, Spoon is a delightful reminder to be grateful for who you are and what opportunities you have. Jealous of the adventures Spoon believes his friends fork, knife, and chopsticks all get to have, Spoon doesn’t realizes his friends feel the exact same way about him! A wise reminder from his mom sets him straight and grounds him in gratitude. Ages 2-6.
The Thank You Book by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin — Stephanie Graegin has shown up a lot in my recommendations (see Super Manny Stands Up and The Heartwood Hotel), and her illustrations here are just as delightful as Ray’s reminders of all we have to say “thank you” for. You’ll love snuggling with your little (or not so little) ones and thinking of all you can be thankful for, too! Ages 2-8.
My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett — Opening with “My heart fills with happiness when…”, readers are reminded that sometimes the most simple things in life are teh ones that fill our hearts with happiness. Beautifully illustrated and gently written, Smith and Flett have done an amazing job helping children find their commonalities with other children from different cultures, as their descriptions of what makes the child’s heart full with happiness are pretty universal. Ages 3-5.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña, illustrated Christian Robinson — When a book wins not one, not two, but three awards, you know it’s going to be something special… And Last Stop on Market Street is indeed incredibly special. Winner of a Newbery Medal (highly unusual for a picture book), a Caldecott Honor Medal, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, this story reminds us directly, but not didactically, to be “a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ and his Nana are making a trek across town, and all along he expresses his jealousy for what everyone else around him seems to have. And every single time, Nana reminds him that he’s already got perfect versions of these things of his own. So powerful and incredibly well done! Ages 3-5, but perfect older, too.
Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Genevieve Godbout — This super simple narrative comes to life through Godbout’s warm illustrations. The main character, we learn, is gathering ingredients to make cake, but along the way she stops to say “thank you” to everyone and everything that helps these ingredients to be. Yes, saying thank you to apple cake ingredients may not be a part of your gratitude practice, but maybe you can find a way to instill this practice into your family’s life, being sure to say thank you for all of the food you’re able to eat every day. And, Casey includes a recipe for apple cake at the end, so if you’re looking to diversify your Thanksgiving desserts, be sure to check that out! Ages 3-5.
It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach — A Yiddish folktake retold and illustrated by Zemach, this one will have you laughing through it, but pausing thoughtfully at the end as the Rabbi’s message sinks in. A “poor unfortunate man” lives in a one-room hut in a small village, with his mother, his wife, and his 6(!) children! Life is hard, and the hut is crowded, noisy, and full of fighting. When he can’t take it any more, the man runs to the local Rabbi for help… And to his bewilderment, the Rabbi has him bring his animals in the hut also, one by one… Until one day, the Rabbi’s advice changes, and the man is able to see the true pleasures in his life. Ages 3-6.
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel — This book stands out from the others on this list in that “thank you” or “thankful” or “thanks” aren’t mentioned anywhere in the story. However, I think this is a powerful reminder of being grateful for all that our loved ones, whether friends or family, do for us. Ages 3-7.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac — A wonderful own voices book that teaches readers how the members of the Cherokee Nation express and celebrate gratitude year-round. Focusing on the Cherokee word used to express gratitude, ostaliheliga, we walk with the Cherokee people through the year, as they express their gratitude each season, celebrating their blessings but also reflecting on their struggles. Sorell also provides readers with Cherokee vocabulary, meanings, and pronunciation, as well as an Author’s Note and information about the Cherokee syllabary, created by Sequoyah in the early 1800s. Ages 3-7.
The THANKFUL Book by Todd Parr — Using his traditional brightly-colored illustrations, Parr depicts a diverse group of children each thankful for something different. This book gives children wonderful reminders for different things people can be thankful for! (Be aware– my girls’ favorite pages is the one that talks about being thankful for underwear because you can wear it on your head…!). Ages 4-6.
Thankful by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston — Spinelli walks children through a day of creativity and play, reminding the reader what many real people (doctors, artists, clowns, queens…) can be thankful for… And ends with a very sweet parent-child moment! Ages 4-7, but a perfect board book for the youngest listeners to share with their parents.
Give Thank You a Try by James Patterson and friends — We love the first in this series, Give Please a Chance, and felt like it really did remind our children of the power and positive impact of the word “please.” So, I was thrilled to check out Give Thank You a Try for this list, and we loved it just as much! Designed as a series of tiny vignettes depicting children saying “thank you” for gifts, quality time, acts of kindness, love, and more, each tiny story has the ability to start deep conversations around the experiences we have and the gratitude we can show for them. Ages 4-7.
Look and Be Grateful by Tomie dePaola— Short, sweet, and directly to the point, dePaola writes, “For today is today. Be grateful for everything you see… Today is today, and it is a gift.” This one is perfect for the youngest readers, serving as a poignant reminder to be grateful for each and every day. Ages 4-8, but short and simple enough that it’s terrific for the youngest listeners in your family.
Gracias * Thanks by Pat Mora, illustrated by John Parra — Written fully in both Spanish and English, Gracias Thanks shows a young book giving thanks, in an appropriately child-like manner, to so much around him that it’s hard not to catch his attitude of gratitude. I mean, when it comes down to it, we should ALL thank the bees that don’t sting us! Ages 4-8.
A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams — The main character’s family recently lost their house and all their belongings in a fire. Rather than focus on the toys and books she lost, the main character cares only about saving money to buy her mother a comfortable chair. With support from extended family and neighbors, this family learns all about resilience and begins to rebuild the life they lost. This book is a perfect conversation starter to reflect on what your family really needs to be as family. Ages 4-8.
Where Happiness Lives by Barry Timms, illustrated by Greg Abbott — Timms and Abbott give us a beautiful reminder to look inside our homes to see exactly what makes them so amazing, a reminder many of us might need over these next few weeks. “Whatever your home, it is happy indeed… If you love what you have… and you have what you need.” Written in easy rhythm and rhyme and including engaging cutouts to peek through and flaps to lift, Where Happiness Lives just begs to be read snuggled up with your little ones. And, while it’s definitely a book they’ll enjoy, Where Happiness Lives is a book that will touch your heart and remind you of what’s truly important — being surrounded by those that you love and having just what you need. You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora — Another multiple-medal winner, this is a wonderful story of sharing and community (and the collage illustrations are stunning!). Omu (pronounced AH-moo) makes a delicious-smelling stew and shares little by little with grateful neighbors until it’s all gone. You’ll have to read and see how the gratitude her friends and neighbors felt from her generosity comes back to her! Ages 4-8.
The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Greg Shed — One thing I think many of us have realized during this crazy COVID year is how grateful we are for the natural world around us. During a long stretch of time when we couldn’t come together in community with others, if we left our houses, we went to nature. Wood offers a beautiful homage to the natural world, giving thanks for many of the wonders that, prior to COVID, many of us may have taken advantage of. From sunrises to the flight of a bird to sharing a meal with the people we love, I’m not sure Wood and Shed had any idea how powerful these reminders would be when they created this beauty in 2005. Ages 4-8.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig — Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is an endearing story of learning (the very hard way, I might add) that you’ve already got everything you might want or need. First published in 1969, Steig (you may recognize his name from some of his other works, such as Amos and Boris, Doctor De Soto, Brave Irene, and even Shrek!), introduces us to Sylvester, a happy donkey who lives with his mother and father and loves to collect rocks (that’s my almost-four-year-old’s rock collection surrounding my childhood copy of this)… That is, until one fateful date when he finds a magic pebble and has a close encounter with a lion, all in the same day! I won’t give the whole story away, but you’ll encounter laughter, tears, changing seasons, and alfalfa sandwiches on the way to the resolution. Steig leaves his readers with a very direct and sincere message about realizing that maybe all you really need is what you already have. You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman — We absolutely love Karma Wilson’s Bear series. In Bear Says Thanks, the friends do gather together for a feast and express their gratitude for each other and the gifts they’ve received. My parents gave it to the girls for Thanksgiving in 2016, and it’ll remain a favorite for years to come. Ages 4-8, but terrific younger, too.
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera — This collection of poetry in a variety of forms reminds the reader how good it can feel to say thanks, to be told thank you, and to feel thankful for something. Cabrera’s bright, bold illustrations tug at our hears while we read heartfelt words and acts of appreciation and gratitude for a wide variety of things, from the math tutor who helps a child not hate math quite as much, to the dad who makes time to shoot baskets with his son, to the trees that remind us to put our arms up in praise, and everything in between. Ages 4-8.
The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera — This one was new to me when I made this list, and I think it quickly became one of my favorites here. In the beginning of the story, we meet Grace, a young girl vigorously making her birthday wishlist. After her (delightfully diverse) birthday party, she eagerly gets to work writing her thank you notes to express her appreciation for all she received. But she doesn’t stop there! Writing thank you notes to her pets, her neighbors, her community members, and even a tree, soon people (and pets and plants) all over town are brimming with Grace’s appreciation. I won’t give away the ending, but all of that thankfulness, appreciation, and love comes back about a hundred-fold! Ages 4-8.
Ten Thank-You Letters by Daniel Kirk — I’m a big believer in hand-written thank-you notes. No, I don’t personally expect to receive them from people, but I do believe that a hand-written note of appreciation makes that thank-you extra special, much more special thank a verbal thanks or a text of gratitude. So, I had to make sure to include a book about writing thank-you letters on my list! Kirk’s Ten Thank-You Letters is a perfect addition, as his characters’ thank-yous remind readers that thank-you letters can be written for anything and everything, and that they can often garner more connection than simply saying “thank you.” Ages 5-8.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones — Those Shoes offers children a lot of learning opportunities, but when Jeremy has an opportunities to almost literally put himself in someone else’s shoes and understand the world through his point of view, your heart will soar. You’ll cheer him along as he makes an incredibly difficult decision. And you’ll rejoice at the new friendship he finds as a result. And most importantly, you’ll remember to be grateful for the gifts that you do have, rather than coveting those that others have. Ages 5-8.
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr. — A beautiful message of thanks to Mother Earth traditionally said by Iroquois children each morning, wonderful reminders of all that we have to be thankful for in nature every day. According to the Author’s Note, this book is based on the Thanksgiving Address, “an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.” The children of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, tribes are taught to begin their days by saying than you to all living things, embracing all of nature around them like they are one big family. Ages 5-11.
The Thank You Book by Mo Willems — The last book in Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie series, The Thank You Book is a perfect reminder to always remember all of the good, positive people in our lives. Really, you can’t go wrong with Elephant and Piggie any time, but this one is an especially touching tale, while Piggie tries hard to thank “everyone who is important” to her! Ages 6-8, but absolutely perfect for younger audiences! (In fact, I’m not really sure why that’s the suggested age range here, because I think I’d maybe aim for ages 2-6…).
Giving Thanks: More Than 100 Ways to Say Thank You by Ellen Surrey — Ooh, I adore this one! I think this one is going to inspire many of our family activities around gratitude and thankfulness throughout November, and hopefully for years to come. Surrey opens by introducing us to a boy named Andy, who has been challenged to think of people he wants to thank. As he works his way through the process of thinking of these people and creating a plan to thank them, he includes his readers on his journey. Surrey wraps the book up with instructions on how to create a gratitude jar and how to create thoughtful, unique thank-you cards for all of your friends and family! Ages 6-9.
So, what books or actions you love that inspire your whole family to have “an attitude of gratitude”?
If you liked this list, be sure to check out our other Family Focus Trait booklists:
January: Books to Foster Growth Mindsets in Children
February: 50+ Books to Help Build Compassion and Empathy
March: Fantastic Reads to Build Teamwork and Cooperation Skills
April: Books that Model Authentic Apologies and Genuine Forgiveness
May: Our Favorite Picture Books About Honesty
June: Picture Books to Inspire Wild Creativity
July: Books Featuring Courageous Role Models
August: Picture Books to Promote Resilience
September: Picture Books that Model Including Others
October: Picture Books with Characters Who Stand Up to Others