Photo: Stratford School

Did you know that February was “National Kindness Month?” With a little research (we are librarians!), we discovered that February 17th is designated “Random Acts of Kindness Day” in several countries, including ours. We are librarians and also teachers, so naturally we embrace any opportunity to promote kindness—whether random or well-planned—and are delighted to promote a month of kindness!

It is in that spirit that we curated this month’s selection of books. All six of our selections promote kindness—and related qualities like thoughtfulness, generosity, and empathy but do so in a way that is subtle, not dogmatic. The character education lessons are wrapped in memorable stories about interesting characters, unusual partnerships (a snail and a whale!), and challenging situations—often overcome with help from friends and their acts of kindness. The heroes of our February stories—a Syrian ambulance driver, a track coach, an oak tree—are ordinary in most ways except in their capacity to promote kindness.

Our recommended stories also highlight the fact that qualities like empathy, courage, and self-knowledge are not fixed or finite in any of us—but rather learned (and renewable) resources. In life, as in these stories, even good people, challenged by circumstance or past action, are sometimes unkind and cowardly, are sometimes bystanders when they could have been upstanders. But with self-knowledge that comes from experience—and some productive struggle—we all have a nearly infinite capacity to build our empathy muscle and renew our reservoirs of courage.

The richly crafted stories we are recommending will provide your children with hours of reading enjoyment and positive role models. Among the many books that celebrate kindness, here are our favorites:

Grades Kindergarten to Second

Love, Z written & illustrated by Jessie Sima
While out looking for adventure, a young robot named Z finds a message in a bottle signed “Love, Beatrice”. What is love? And who is Beatrice? Those two words are enough to pique Z’s curiosity. Unable to get an answer from the other robots, Z leaves to embark on an adventure to find Beatrice and learn about love. It is on this journey that he learns the powerful meaning of those four simple letters and discovers that what he has been seeking was closer than he realized.

The Snail and the Whale written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
This is the tale of a tiny snail who dreams to see the world, so she hitches a ride on a humpback whale. Children will love the vibrant art of their journey together past icebergs, jungles, and caves. The story provides the suggestion that brilliant friendships do not necessarily have to be between two similar individuals. The two characters are brought together, and help each other with their differences, not similarities.

Grades 3-4

The Cat Man of Aleppo written by Irene Latham & Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
This is the story about a kindhearted ambulance driver from Syria named Alaa. Alaa lives in the city of Aleppo and he loves everything about his city from the vibrant bazaars to the kind, gentle people. One day, a terrible thing happened and many people had to flee Aleppo. Alaa decided to stay and look after the injured people, abandoned cats, and other animals. His love and kindness soon spread and today he is known worldwide as the Cat Man of Aleppo.

Smile written & illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
The first in a series of insightful graphic novels about the trials and tribulations of childhood relationships. When Raina trips and smashes her two front teeth, she embarks on a long, embarrassing journey of dental treatments. Fitting in at school is hard enough, but this sweet, funny book will encourage kids to believe they can get through troubled times with the help of their true friends and a little bit of kindness.

Grades 5-8

Wishtree written by Katherine Applegate
This is a beautiful and touching story about nature and friendship. Red, an old oak tree, watches over the neighborhood and the many animals that live in its branches. For decades, the tree has been known as the “wish tree,” where each year people tie their wishes written on strips of cloth, giving Red a special place in the community. One day a new family moves in and they aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Red does what any wise, kind old tree would do, and decides to intervene.

Ghost written by Jason Reynolds
Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw is on his way to becoming a track star, but can he run fast enough to put his past behind? This book is full of complicated characters, difficult decisions, and opportunities to ask, “What is the right thing to do when you’re being bullied?”  Ghost perfectly depicts the challenges kids face on and off the field. Ghost shows them how to face those challenges in an approachable way, and features diverse characters with whom kids can directly relate