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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ten Picture Books for Cultivating Gratitude All Year Long

A Ten on Tuesday List - By Carol Baicker-McKee
Rather than the usual holiday-themed Thanksgiving titles, I decided to list some of my favorites that nurture a thankful heart any time of year. Please list any good ones I've missed in the comments!

1. Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Stacey Dresser-McQueen Based on a true story about the author's mother, this is the story of a young girl in Holland post-World War II, when there were shortages of everything. One day, Katje receives a mysterious box full of welcome surprises from a child in America. Her return letter of thanks sets off an exchange that brightens many lives. This won a Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year award.

2. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead  This Caldecott winner features a gentle zookeeper who always goes the extra mile for his animal buddies. When Amos is sick one day, the animals thank him for his thoughtfulness by paying him a visit and caring for him in turn. The illustrations are, as you'd expect, outstanding and the expressions on the animals' faces really take the story to the next level.

3. Amos and Boris by William Stieg Boris the Whale rescues the little mouse Amos when he falls out of his boat - and Amos is so grateful he vows to repay the kindness. William Stieg, of Shrek fame, was both a master storyteller and illustrator, making this a particularly satisfying story of tit for tat. This story is similar to many other award-winning folktales and retold tales, including Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney; and The Mouse and the Lion by Rand Burkert and illustrated by Nancy Eckholm Burkert

4. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco Good for a slightly older audience, this book looks at how we can be grateful for something that happens over a period of time, rather than as a one-off occurrence.  Fifth grader Trisha struggles with reading and suffers the taunts of classmates who call her dumb. The help and encouragement of her teacher enable her to overcome her difficulties and find joy in learning. Based on the author-illustrator's own battle with dyslexia and her rescue by a kind teacher, this one always makes me choke up.

5. Kate's Quilt by Kay Chorao This charming story about a little elephant who is NOT grateful for a handmade gift from her mother probably had a bigger impact on my kids' awareness of expressing gratitude nicely than any of the books we read about thankful kiddos. Sadly, the little books about Kate are out of print and often hard to find in their original small format. There is a combined anthology of the Kate stories, prepared for early readers called Here Comes Kate! -- and although it too is now out of print, it is generally easier to locate, though I think the larger, longer format loses some of the book's magic for the very young.

6. The Paper Crane by Molly Bang I love this book, and not just for the magical three-dimensional illustrations. The story of kindness toward a needy stranger who then expresses his gratitude in unexpected and powerful ways is found in many cultures, and serves to remind us all to be kind and generous to all we meet.

7. Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera This lovely book features 16 poems in a variety of formats (including a haiku, a riddle, a rebus, and more) that look at thankfulness for everyday experiences and objects. Good for a broad age span, from preschool through grade 5.

8. Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein  A pay-it-forward circular tale that looks how our actions can create a sense of thankfulness in others that will inspire them to perform their own generous acts - and how in time our good deeds may come back to us.

9. Dogger by Shirley Hughes This classic tale of young boy who loses his favorite toy and must rely on his sister's help to regain it, is one of my all time favorite picture books - and others must feel the same because it is still in print many years after it first appeared. It's a good lesson in feeling grateful to family members and how the bonds of gratitude strengthen all our most important relationships.

 10. Please Say Please: Penguin's Guide to Manners by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand  Prescriptive books are important too, for teaching the niceties of expressing gratitude and other manners. This one is funny and lighthearted - and makes the lessons go down easy. Other oldie but goodie favorites for these lessons include What Do You Say Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Manners by Aliki, and Manners Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf (of Ferdinand fame). One of my favorites from my childhood was Being Nice Is Lots of Fun by Jane K. Lansing, illustrated by Bernice Myers

11. Okay, I'm cheating and adding a plug for a book I illustrated, An Apple Pie for Dinner by Susan vanHecke. It's another retold folktale that shows how Granny's generosity is repaid in time because of the recipients' gratitude - and how she is generous yet again in turn and everyone benefits. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! As always, all of us at Route 19 will be giving thanks for our thoughtful readers - and for everyone who creates, enjoys, and shares good books.


  1. Great list, Carol! Thanks for sharing! If you still have a copy of Kate's Quilt, I would love to borrow it to read to the boys.

    1. Thanks, Marcy!
      I'm sorry to report that the only Kate book that survived my three kids is Kate's Car (also a good book!). I've been trying to find replacements for the others but they're always expensive. I checked and the Carnegie Library system has lots of copies of "Here Comes Kate" but no one has the little books anymore. So sad.

    2. Haha! Just checked my own amazon link for Kate's quilt and saw there was an affordable used one - and ordered it! I'll share when it comes!

    3. Awesome! I can't wait to read it!

  2. Amos McGee is one of my kids' faves. Thanks for the list!

    1. So glad, Dawn! It is a book best described as "gentle" - exactly the sort of picture book editors are always saying don't sell. So I was extra glad that it's been successful and found a broad audience.

  3. I just remembered another classic folktale I love for sparking conversations about gratitude - "It Could Always Be Worse" by Margot Zemach. A man goes to his rabbi for advice because his large family was always bickering and driving him bonkers. The rabbi advises him to bring in one of the farm animals - which only makes things worse! The story continues in this vein until it reaches a satisfying conclusion. Great for initiating an awareness of how fortunate your kid is compared to how it could be. This book also won many awards, including a Caldecott Honor.