Ah, the holiday season. It’s definitely my favorite time of year! I love the lights and the music, the family time and special events, the Christmas movies by the fire, the birth of Jesus, the baked goods… I could go on and on. But, even though we’re pretty strict on the “No Christmas until after Thanksgiving” rule in our house, our girls have been talking for months about what they hope to get for Christmas this year. They’ve even each already written a few version of letters to Santa! While I love the giving and receiving of gifts that happens this time of year, we do try hard to help our girls focus *almost* as much on what gifts they want to and can give to others as they do on what gifts they want to receive. To that end, when we made our list of Family Focus Traits for 2020 last December (it’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since we mapped out this project!), we knew we wanted generosity to be the focus during the holidays.
Up today, I’ve got a fantastic list of picture books with a focus on generosity. None of these are holiday-specific, so they’re perfect to read year-round if your bookshelves are already stuffed with holiday books. And, if your bookshelves are already stuffed with holiday books, be sure to check out my Christmas picture booklists (you can find them here, here, and here), as many of those are wonderful holiday-specific titles that also have a focus on giving).
Picture Books that Focus on Generosity and Giving
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Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems — Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books are works of genius. Fun, silly, and light-hearted, they also often pack a wallop of a lesson into this small package. In this one, Elephant has an ice cream cone, and he’s extremely excited to eat it. Until he remembers that Piggie loves ice cream, too. Most of the book depicts Gerald’s internal conflict as he works through whether he should eat the ice cream himself or share with Piggie. This one will make your children laugh, for sure, but can also lead to wonderful conversations about making hard decisions around sharing and giving. Ages 3-5.
Harold Loves his Woolly Hat by Vern Kousky — As you can guess from the title, Harold has a beloved woolly hat. He wears it everywhere, winter or summer, awake or asleep. But one day, a crow steals his hat! Harold tries desperately to get his hat back, offering all sorts of trades, but… It turns out that the crow used the hat to create a soft nest for her 3 baby crows. Suddenly, Harold doesn’t quite need his woolly hat as much as he thought — and finds other ways to give generously to the crow family! Ages 3-7.
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka — Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed introduces us to Mary, a perfectly ordinary girl having a perfectly ordinary day. Perfectly ordinary, that is, until she decides to pick blueberries and anonymously gift them to a neighbor. This pleasantly surprises the neighbor so much that she makes blueberry muffins for five friends, who then do something kind for five other people, and so on and so on… As a teacher, I talked a lot with my students about expected and unexpected behaviors, and how expected behaviors (kind acts) usually result in more expected behaviors (more kindness going out into the world). You can read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora — A 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 that she just can’t wait to eat for dinner, but instead she shares it 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, but delightful for all ages.
The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell — Meet Mooch, who wants desperately to give his best friend a gift. But, what do you give someone who has everything? I love Mooch’s generous heart, but more than that, I love what he learns about giving gifts — sometimes, the gift of friendship is all that you need to give to someone special! 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 generosity from extended family and neighbors, this family learns all about resilience and begins to rebuild the life they lost. Ages 4-8.
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas — Let’s start with the obvious — winter. This is a delightful book about winter and cold! But it is so, so much more than just that. It’s a book about generosity and selflessness. It hits on themes of gratitude, creativity, and perseverance. We get a small cultural introduction to Jewish tradition and Yiddish and Hebrew words. We’re inspired to know our neighbors and grow our communities. And, if you feel so compelled after reading this book, you can follow Edwards’s directions to knit and decorate your own hat! Ages 4-8. You can read my full review here.
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu — Sam receives his “lucky money” on Chinese New Year’s Day and can’t wait to go to Chinatown to spend it! What will he buy? His favorite buns? A new toy? Sam does something even better… He generously shares his money with someone much more in need than he. Ages 4-8.
The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett — The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett is a gem that somehow conveys lessons about perseverance, hard work, selflessness, and generosity in almost-solely sepia-toned illustrations, sparse splashes of color, and no words! Pett tells the story of a girl who really, really wants to buy a new bike. She takes initiative to search for odd jobs around her neighborhood so that she can earn and save money (yet another fabulous lesson from this book!), but meets great disappointment when she finally has enough money to buy it. I won’t spoil the ending, but the generosity that she both gives and receives is truly heart-warming and has inspired my girls’ relationships with each other. You can read my full review here.
What is Given from the Heart by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison — What can you give someone in need when you hardly have more yourself? How do you find generosity in your heart when you feel you have nothing to give? You stop to think about how you would feel if you lost the little you did have in a fire, and that empathy allows you to dig deep within yourself to come up with a perfect gift. Criers beware– you might want tissues nearby for this one! Ages 4-8, but great older as well.
Zero Local: Next Stop: Kindness by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow — Sometimes generosity looks like a big gift or lots of money, but sometimes, it’s much simpler than that. Sometimes it’s merely using what you have to bring joy to and show appreciation for others, and that’s what Ethan and Vita highlight in wordless Zero Local. The whole story takes place on a commuter line, where most of the passengers are tired and grouchy, especially when delays happen. But, one artistic passenger spreads joy by showing gratitude for the driver, inspiring a young girl to spread joy in her own, unique way later in the week. Ages 4-8.
Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen — Based on true experiences of Fleming’s mother, Boxes for Katje is a true story of how generosity connects two children and two communities across the ocean, after World War II. What starts with a simple letter and care package sent through the Children’s Aid Society grows to massive shipments of goods and gifts for Katje’s whole community. But, the end shows the purest generosity, when Katje manages to put together a delightful gift for the Americans. You’re going to want to be sure to read the back matter here! Ages 4-8.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen — Extra Yarn is a simple story of generosity triumphing over greed, a story of setting your heart on a goal to give to and help others and knowing you can achieve generosity even when it seems impossible. The story starts with Annabelle and her dog stumbling upon “a box filled with yarn of every color.” And what happens next is truly magical! When used for good, the box of yarn becomes ever-full, always producing more yarn for good. But when the magic box falls into the wrong hands… You’ll have to read and see for yourself! You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.
The Gift Inside the Box by Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant, illustrated by Diana Schoenbrun — In The Gift Inside the Box, husband-and-wife team the Grants bring us the story of a cardboard box who lands on earth focused solely on finding the right person to open him. Many a child find the box and assume it’s for them, but the box always manages to get away, still looking for that just right person. It’s not until the end that the box is satisfied the right child has finally found him — spoiler alert, it’s the child who wants to give the box to someone else! You can read my full review here. Ages 5-8.
Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth — Possibly the quintessential example of books teaching children the values of community, cooperation, and generosity, the story of Stone Soup has been around for ages. In fact, you can find many versions of this classic tale, but I love Muth’s illustrations. If you don’t know the story, three monks are traveling through the mountains, on a quest to understand what makes one happy. They reach a village and decide to ask around, but they find the village closed to strangers… And to each other, it turns out. With a little trickery, the monks are able to get the villagers to come together once again, give to the community, and make soup from stones. This one’s a timeless tale for your bookshelf! Ages 6 and up.
Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine, illustrated by René King Moreno — 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 both forgiveness and generosity in her heart. As an added bonus, Fine intersperses Spanish vocabulary throughout the story! Ages 6-9.
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez — Wow, this story is oh so powerful. Based on the true story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (be sure to read his note at the back of the book… But beware, it may bring you to tears!), 14 Cows for America helps young readers understand how the events of 9/11 touched lives around the world, as well as how people around the world, even those who had little to give, sacrificed to help our country heal. The story will touch your heart and inspire you to think through how you can give, even when giving seems impossible. This is a book to get your hands on and spend time with! Recommended for ages 6-10.
The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin — Your older readers may enjoy this lovely story of a gift that keeps giving to different communities around the world. Leo has worked hard and saved money for two years to buy Big Red, a new, shiny, fancy red bike. When he outgrows it, he learns that he can donate it to someone who really needs it… And it continues on from there, bringing both joy and purpose to its recipients. Isabella includes extensive backmatter about how to donate and reuse old bikes for good. Ages 8-12.
Unselfish Kids by Paul D. Parkinson and Sammie Parkinson — I had to include some true stories of generosity on this list, and this anthology of 40 true stories of inspiring children who have gone above and beyond to make a difference in their neighborhoods, communities, and world is sure to inspire. Starting with a six-year-old girl who collected more than 41,000 boxes of crayons for children’s hospitals around America AND set up a nonprofit organization to spread her work farther, and culminating with the legacy of kindness that can be left by simple, small, and random acts of kindness done for truly unselfish reasons, you and your children will be inspired. You’ll reflect on your life, choices made, and choices still left to make; and hopefully, your children will be inspired to give from their hearts, too. Beautifully bound in a hard cover, each story of an Unselfish Kid is also accompanied by a full-color photo, bringing even more life to these real heroes. Paul and Pamela close the book with two full pages where readers can record their ideas and plans to help make the world a better place. With so much space to brainstorm, you’re bound to have a feasible, actionable idea to start with now! Perfect for children of all ages to share with their families. You can read my full review here.