Sometimes books and stories are able to convey what conversations with children simply cannot. Below are a few recommendations from Dr. Sorrels that she has found useful.
by Cynthia Rylant
This is a beautiful story about a little boy who lives in Appalachia. Every year the people in a small mountain town wait for the Christmas train to come through bringing gifts to the children waiting beside the track. A rich man from the city stands on the back and tosses packages to the waiting children. Frankie stands by the track hoping that he gets a doctor kit but year after year he gets practical gifts like mittens, and socks and scarves. He grows up and leaves the mountains but later returns to the small mountain community to help in an important way.
This is a great book to read at Christmas to talk about the spirit of giving.
STICK & STONE
by Beth Ferry
Most children have heard chanted on the playground, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” As we all know, this childhood rhyme is could not be further from the truth. Broken bones heal much faster than broken hearts. This book is an allegory about a stick and rock that become best friends. The stick rescues the rock from being bullied by a pinecone and they establish a friendship. Then, the stick gets himself in a pickle and the rock comes to his rescue.
This is a great book to begin a discussion about the power of words to either to encourage or to harm and what children can do when they see someone being bullied. Here are some discussion starters:
Have you ever had someone make fun of you? How did it make you feel?
Have you ever had felt like you didn’t have a friend? What does that feel like?
Have you ever heard someone make fun of or bully another person? What did you do?
What should you do when you see someone being bullied or made fun of?
Role play some common scenarios where one person makes fun of another. Help children brainstorm some “scripts” that they can use in those situations. For example, the person being bullied can say, “Stop. Your words are not true and they are not helpful.” A bystander can say, “Stop. You are not going to talk to my friend like that.” Children can brainstorm other responses that will be appropriate for their age.
Knowing how to respond in these situations takes a great deal of practice and repetition. This can be an on-going conversation during community circle.
I LOVE YOU STINKY FACE
by Lisa McCourt
The greatest gift we can give a child is the security of knowing that they are loved no matter what. Unconditional positive regard is the foundation of mental health. The little boy in this story needs to know that his mother will always love him, so he asks her a series of silly questions wanting her to affirm her love for him. He asks if she would still love him if he turned into a big hairy ape, a one-eyed monster or smelly skunk. His mother reaffirms her love each time and tells him how she would respond even if he turned into some kind of creepy creature.
The humor in this story is appealing to young children as it addresses this very serious issue.
by Tracey Corderoy
Waiting is an increasingly difficult challenge for children to do in a world that values and encourages instant gratification. The ability to delay gratification at age four is correlated with success in school, home ownership in adulthood, high college entrance scores and greater satisfaction in life. This book is written for preschoolers and helps them to understand the benefit of being patient and waiting. Otto is having a hard time waiting for the family vacation to begin. He wants it NOW! He eventually realizes this exciting adventure is worth the wait.
by Eileen Spinelli
This book not only addresses the topic of gratitude but also encourages children to look through the eyes of other people and identify they things that they might be thankful for. It is a great book to read with the family and have everyone identify the things for which they are thankful.
Gratitude has been identified as a protective factor and a character trait that fosters resilience. This is a great book for introducing the theme of gratitude to your family. You might want to create a tradition of having family members identify at least one thing for which they are thankful at the dinner table or at bedtime. It is a great tradition to begin in classrooms.
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET
by Matt De La Pena
This is a wonderful story about a grandmother who teaches her grandson how to find the beauty in disappointing and challenging circumstances. CJ and his grandmother take the bus after church to visit the soup kitchen where they will be serving food to the homeless. CJ is complaining about going and wishes they had a car like his friends. His grandmother points out all of the opportunities he is given by riding the bus. He is serenaded by a man with a guitar, the bus driver performs a magic trick and he meets a woman with a jar full of butterflies. By the time they reach the soup kitchen his perspective is changing, and he realizes he is surrounded by beauty everywhere, he just needs to look for it.
This is a great book for initiating a discussion about disappointment, challenging times and empathy.
by Kevin Henkes
Learning to patiently wait is an important life skill for children and adults alike. There are many opportunities throughout the course of a typical day that we all must “wait.” We wait in line at the grocery store, we wait for the mailman to bring us that important letter, we wait for dinner to be ready and we wait for one another to get in the car to go somewhere. Sometimes waiting can evoke feelings of frustration and anger.
Waiting is a great book to introduce the topic of waiting to children. In this book the animals are standing at the window patiently waiting for certain things. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting with his umbrella for the rain. The bear is waiting with his kite for the wind. The puppy is waiting with his boots for the snow and the rabbit is waiting for nothing particular—he just like to wait and watch at the window.
After reading the story together you and your child can talk about different things you can do while you wait. For example, as you wait in line at the grocery store you can play, “I Spy.” As you wait in the doctor’s office or other public place, children can draw with markers and a clipboard. As you ride in the car and wait to arrive at a destination, you can sing silly songs together. Helping your child learn strategies for waiting will reduce stress for the whole family.
MOUSE WAS MAD
by Linda Urban
Handling big emotions is challenging for children of all ages. In this story the little mouse tries hopping, stomping, screaming and rolling on the ground to show his anger. Finally, the animals help him realize that a better way to handle the anger is to stand still and breathe deeply.
This story will invite a conversation about using deep breathing to manage big feelings like anger. Here are some breathing strategies that your child can practice:
Snake breathing: Take a deep breath, put your front teeth together and let the air “sizzle” through your teeth like a snake—s-s-s-s-s-s-s.
Mountain top breathing: Start with arms to your side. As you inhale, slowly raise your arms until they meet above your head, palms together and fingers pointing to the sky. As you exhale, slowly move your arms back to your side.
Puppy breathing: Sniff the air three times and then slowly exhale.
THE COLOR MONSTER
by Anna Llenas
Learning to identify an internal feeling and assigning a word to it is not as simple as it may seem, yet it is a crucial skill for children to learn. Sometimes it feels like we are just a big jumble of emotions. The “monsters” in the book are each a different color and represent a different emotion. It is a great way to invite a conversation about the different emotions that your child feels and talk about what causes these emotions to surface. It is important for children to learn to identify the different causes for different emotions. What makes your child happy? What makes your child angry? What makes your child sad?
After reading the story, you and your child can make “monster” puppets with paper plates or lunch bags.
THE SKIN YOU LIVE IN
by Michael Tyler
As young children observe and make sense of the world, they are very aware of the physical differences among people. They notice skin color, hair texture, freckles or no freckles, wrinkles or no wrinkles, height and weight. Our brains are wired to detect novelty and often children are puzzled and sometimes even frightened by people who look different than they do. Adults often make comments that they are “color blind” when it comes to people and they don’t notice color. The fact is that our children do notice, and it is important for us to be open and honest about skin color.
This book is a beautifully written story that celebrates differences among people. It is a great way to talk about different ethnic groups and the wide range of skin tones among people of the earth. Crayola Crayons makes a set of multicultural crayons in various skin tones. After reading the story, invite your child to draw a family portrait with the multicultural crayons.
by Deborah Underwood
Turn on your television and it is easy to assume that our world is currently in a crisis of character. Kindness seems to have become lost amid a culture of competition and disregard or ordinary human kindness. This book is a delightful rhyming story about the many ways that we can demonstrate kindness to one another on a daily basis. It illustrates the fact that acts of kindness aren’t big, complicated difficult moments to pull off. It can be as simple as a cup of water, a cookie or raking someone’s yard. Start a family ritual of asking everyone to share around the dinner table an act of kindness that they did for someone that day.
I AM ENOUGH
by Grace Byers
In the competitive and performance-based culture in which we live, children begin to compare themselves with others at very early ages and inevitably when such comparisons happen, they come up short. Children begin to believe that they aren’t smart enough, fast enough, pretty enough or good enough.
Adults often tell children that they can be anything they want to be if they will only try hard enough. This is not true. But we can tell them this one fundamental truth-- they are uniquely made for purpose that no one else can fulfill. Helping our children find their purpose is one of the most important things teachers and parents can help children learn. This book invites children to consider the truth that they are enough for whatever their purpose in life may be.
THE ROUGH PATCH
by Brian Lies
If a child has experienced loss, The Rough Patch is a good way to provide an opportunity for them to talk about it. Loss may be losing a dog, having a best friend move away, a divorce or undergoing medical trauma. This book helps children understand that “rough patches” are common to everyone. The story explores the emotions that may be experienced during a rough time and helps children realize that they can be proactive and do something to help themselves move to a happier more contented place.
SEEDS AND TREES
by Brandon Walden
We have all heard the old adage, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This is a beautifully illustrated book that helps children learn the power of words to inflict harm or to bring joy and happiness. Helping children learn to speak encouraging and positive words to one another is a key life skill that we much teach them through modeling and encouragement.
THE HUGE BAG OF WORRIES
by Virginia Ironside
Children come to school every day with many things on their mind that create worry and anxiety. For the child who lives in a domestic violence situation, he may worry about his mom’s safety. For the child who has a critically ill parent at home, she may worry that her dad may die while she is gone. The child who lives in poverty may wonder if there will be dinner tonight and the child who lives with drug addicted parents may wonder if anyone is even going to be home.
The worries that children carry can high jack their thinking and emotional energies needed for success in school. One of the things that teachers can do is help children identify and verbalize their worries. We know that the simple act of speaking that which is troubling to us can reduce the levels of anxiety in our body. This also give children the opportunity to develop empathy and understand what it means to “bear one another’s burdens.” This book is a way to begin that conversation and start a ritual in your classroom that gives children a strategy for releasing their anxiety.
THE IMPORTANT BOOK
by Margaret Wise Brown
In the heart of every child is a desire and need for significance. Children need to know that they matter to those with whom they live and go to school. An important truth that we can share with children is the fact that they are uniquely made, and each has gifts and talents to contribute to the life of school and community. Each and every one is important. This book is a way to begin helping children think about what is important about themselves.
THE THANKFUL BOOK
by Todd Parr
In recent years there has been a great deal of research and interest in the power of gratitude to change the brain and enhance mental health. It is clear that fostering an attitude of gratitude leads to a greater degree of happiness and optimism. Childhood is the perfect time to begin fostering a thankfulness approach to life. This book highlights the importance of a grateful spirit.