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“There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: ‘Always look for the helpers,’ she’d tell me. ‘There’s always someone who is trying to help.’ I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.” ~Fred Rogers
Our country is currently in the midst of a natural disaster– Houston, primarily, is being ravaged by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey this past weekend. Thousands have been displaced from their homes; many more are stuck inside their homes to wait it out. Doctors, nurses, rescue teams, and many more have not left their posts for days on end, caring for their patients when no additional staff can come in to relieve them. In the midst of it all, we see the helpers. Not just the trained professionals, but the regular people who band together to give aid, whether in the form of volunteering, donating, opening their homes, or a myriad of other ways.
There will always be something going on in the world that can be confusing and frightening to our children. A secure home is the best gift we can give them, and they will learn service best by following our examples. Beyond those things, what tools can we use to instill in them a desire to help others?
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The above quote speaks to the idea that “you are what you read,” backed up by many academic studies. Reading hardwires our brains. We already know how beneficial it is to read to our children for their language development. Taking that a step further, we can use books to impact their social and moral development as well.
Here are twelve books (among many) that have lessons of compassion, generosity, and helpfulness that you can use as tools to show your children the silver lining of troubling times.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood book
Because of the quote I used at the beginning of this article, I’ll start with one of my favorite neighborhoods. I grew up with the lessons of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. For my boys, I love the modern adaptation Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for exploring new feelings and experiences. I especially love the sense of community that is prominent throughout the series. Many songs speak to this, including “A Neighbor is Here to Help,” “Friends Help Each Other,” “Taking Care of You,” “Helpers in Your Neighborhood,” and “We Take Care of Each Other.” This book takes its title from the title song of the series, and it is a nice introduction to what a neighbor is and the role a neighbor should play. Helping others and working together are strong themes in this simple book.
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Oh, I love this book. I remember it from when I was a little girl, and it hasn’t lost its charm. The theme of helping others is multi-faceted in the story. It begins with a tragedy, a house fire, and highlights the neighborhood coming together to help the family. It continues with the little girl’s desire to buy a comfortable chair for her mother, who is so tired from her demanding job at the end of each day. The illustrations are interesting and the story is well-written. You’ll love this heart-warming book!
Blizzard by John Rocco
My neighborhood librarian recommended this book, and I’m so glad she did! It’s based on a true story about the Blizzard of ’78 in New England. The author, at ten years old, strapped tennis rackets onto his feet and braved the snowy roads to get supplies at the store for his family and the neighbors. The illustrations are so cute, and the plot is captivating. You’ll love this intrepid little boy who goes off an adventure, but takes the time to check on his neighbors and take care of them, too.
How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
In the bustling city, no one notices a poor bird who has crashed into a window and fallen to the ground with a broken wing. No one, that is, except for a little boy who implores his mother to help him take the bird home and nurse it back to health. I like this because the illustrations hint at the mixture of concern and frustration on the parents’ parts about this new houseguest, but not a word is said about it. They fully support their child’s budding concern for other creatures and help him take care of the bird until it is fully healed and released back to the sky. A lesson for parents here, too!
The Teddy Bear by David McPhail
I’m not a very sappy person, but I’ll tell you right now that this book brought tears to my eyes. It chronicles the adventures of a teddy bear, a security object lost by its small owner and found by a homeless man who latches on to it even more strongly than the boy had. When the three characters come together at the end of the book, the sweet resolution will warm your heart. This is a book I will go back to over and over for lessons on compassion and shared experiences in the midst of diversity.
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
This little classic is often used to teach the value of perseverance. (“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”) However, it’s also a great lesson on helpfulness, rather Good Samaritan in nature, as we see engine after engine pass by the little train in need, until the smallest engine of all freely offers her help, even though she’s not sure she’s able to give it. Seeing as I have little ones in my home, it brings another Daniel Tiger song to my head, “Everyone is big enough, big enough to do something.” It’s a good lesson for our children to learn, that although everyone has deficiencies in some area, there is always something we can do to help if we are looking for opportunities and making ourselves available.
Widget by Lyn Rossiter McFarland
Widget is a dog who has masqueraded himself as a cat to score a warm home and plenty of food. However, when his human owner is in need of help, he outs himself without a second thought to alert the neighbors, even though he knows it might endanger his sweet living setup. It’s a cute book about the occasional need for self-sacrifice when helping others with a greater need. It’s also full of humor and will get some giggles out of your little.
Patch by David Slonim
Another furry friend book, this story is the simplest of chapter books. It carries through it the theme of a young boy taking care of his dog and sticking by him “through thick and thin.” The boy doesn’t hesitate to put his own time and needs aside to help out his dog with stickers in his fur, fleas, and even stage fright.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
This is the only book on the list that I haven’t read yet, as it was already checked out at the library. I had to add it, though, because it comes with such high recommendations. Another recommendation by our librarian and a winner of the Caldecott Medal, this sweet story chronicles a patient zookeeper who has won the hearts of his charges. When he doesn’t show up one day because he is sick, the animals take it upon themselves to go to his home and take care of him instead. As animal and zoo books are always a hit with the littles, this story about taking care of each other should resonate well with your kiddos.
Duck Soup by by Jackie Urbanovic
Okay, this one might be a stretch. It’s one that my son chose from the library today, and after reading through it, I found a lesson and decided to include it 🙂 Kids love slapstick, and this story is rife with it. Max the Duck is trying to make a soup masterpiece. When his friends come to visit, Max is nowhere to be found, and they think that he has fallen into the pot. Even though it means that dinner is ruined, the friends don’t hesitate to decimate the soup to find their feathery friend. (No animals, illustrated or otherwise, were harmed in the creation of this book.)
Panda Cake by Rosalie Seidler
This is an old-ish book (I add the “ish” because it was published the year I was born, eek!) and out of print. I absolutely loved it when I was little, so I ordered a used copy for my son’s second birthday. I’m actually surprised that it holds a young child’s attention so well because the illustrations are all sketched in black and white. The rhyme and the animal characters are so bewitching, and the story captivating. My son always follows with great interest the two brother pandas who have been entrusted to buy the ingredients for a special panda cake. The older brother doesn’t make the wisest choices. He forages for the ingredients instead, inadvertently stealing them from other animals. Then he sends his obedient little brother home while he pockets the money and goes to the fair. When their mother is confronted by the hoard of wronged animals, she doesn’t judge. Instead, she immediately opens her home to them, sharing her special cake with them all. It’s a sweet story about open hospitality and generosity to those around us.
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
This much-loved, irrepressible elephant is the hero of the story. After spending his last story (Horton Hatches the Egg) guarding a motherless egg, Horton is back with more persistence and kindness. Hearing a tiny voice in a speck of dust, Horton is implored by the mayor of the Whos to save their tiny community. Horton accomplishes this mission at great cost to himself, as he is constantly derided and belittled by his “friends,” who cannot hear the tiny Whos. The theme and most quotable quote of the book is “A person’s a person no matter how small.” Truly a lesson well learned.
You know, it’s sometimes a really daunting thing to be a parent. Just getting our kids safely to adulthood seems a major feat some days. Then, we want them to be decent human beings to boot! I hadn’t a clue about the work it would entail. Thankfully, even the poorest of parents have a wealth of books at our disposal to help us in our quest. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a sense of empowerment in my parenting. I hope that this list helps you with one small segment of your parenting journey, too. Do you have any other books that teach children about the importance of helping others? Please add them to the comments below!
Featured photo credit to Side by Side Photography.