Life is complicated, and one of the most complicated things about it is explaining to others how complicated it is.

As a parent, how do you strike a balance between teaching your child that they’re important, yet not any more important than anyone else?

Or explain that we need to celebrate, respect, and learn about each other’s differences, yet at our core we’re all the same?

How do you communicate to them that we’re stronger- better- when we’re united, but offer the reassurance that even one voice speaking out against all others can make a difference?

Neither the physical development of young children’s brains, nor their limited life experiences, makes it easy for them to understand these paradoxes that, let’s face it, we as adults still struggle with. But that doesn’t mean that we should avoid these types of conversations altogether, or mollify their tough questions with easy-breezy, black-and-white answers that don’t respect the shades of gray involved.

The good news is, there’s one, nearly limitless resource (or- as I like to think of it- a superpower) that all kids possess that parents can leverage when navigating these rough waters: their child’s emotions. And one of the best ways to unlock kids’ emotions also happens to be one of the easiest: by reading together.

If the right story is chosen, parents can use the emotions that the characters and storylines evoke to help their children develop empathy, appreciate diversity, and foster peace.

If your toddler is like mine, she can’t help but squeal, pat, or even nuzzle the book when a sweet kitten appears on the page. Her dad and I have always encouraged this because, in addition to it being adorable, we think it’s a healthy way for her to demonstrate love and empathy, even if only to a two-dimensional, fictional character. We like to think of it as practice.

Now before you begin thinking that this is a rather underhanded way to manipulate your child’s feelings, let’s take a step back and think about the number of times we use books for the sole purpose of preparing our children for major life events. We read to our kids when they’re:

-Learning how to use the “big potty”

-Heading off to kindergarten

-Caring for a pet

-Bringing home a new baby

-Moving to a new house

-Starting a new school

-Visiting the doctor’s office

-Grieving the loss of a pet

-Trying to understand a family member’s divorce

 

Why is that trip to the library (or that Amazon Prime button) our go-to parenting move when life gets tough? Because, frankly, it’s one of the most effective instruments we have in our parenting tool-box.

We know that reading can:

-Become a springboard for heartfelt conversations

-Provide a safe exploration into deep emotions by creating a situation that is relatable, yet distanced from our personal lives

-Encourage children to try emotions “on for size” by momentarily stepping into someone else’s shoes (Talk about a superpower!)

-Provide space to consider all possible actions and reactions, instead of relying on the first impulse an emotion can evoke (aka: look into the future!)

-Give you, as a parent, the opportunity to educate your child about your own family’s history, religion, or values.

-Develop a common vocabulary to reference when you and your child find yourselves in a real-life situation that mimics ones you’ve read (We’re talking about using secret codes!)

In celebration of World Kindness Day, I’ve gathered what I think are the best examples of peace-promoting, thought-provoking books that can enhance your child’s superpower, and listed them below based upon the age of the reader.

What I love about this collection is that none of the books sacrifice the story for the moral. They’re all beautifully illustrated, many of them have whimsical rhymes that I want to paint from ceiling to floor in my home, and they’ve all fully engaged- or even prompted a pat or a cuddle from- my own daughter.

(OK, maybe not the last one. But someday I hope to share that with her too.)

Can You Say Peace?

By: Karen Katz

Age group: 1-4 years old

Value: We May Be Different, But We All Want Peace

Excerpt: “All around the world, children want to go to school, to walk in their towns and cities, to play outside, and to share food with their families. They want to do all these things and feel safe.”

The Colors of Us

By: Karen Katz

Age group: 1-4 years old

Value: Diversity Is Beautiful

Excerpt: “Mom’s teaching me how to mix colors. She says that if I mix red, yellow, black, and white paints in the right combination, I will have the right brown for a picture of me. ‘The right brown? But Mom, brown is brown,’ I say. ‘That’s not so,’ Mom says.”

Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

By: Justin Roberts

Age group: 2-6 years old

Value: One Small Person Can Make a Big Difference, Speak Up About What You See

Excerpt: “Hardly anyone noticed young Sally Mccabe. And they certainly didn’t know, or at least didn’t mention, that Sally was paying super extra special attention. To the abandoned kite with the tangled string. To the twenty-seven keys on the janitor’s ring. To the leaves as they turned green to gold in the fall. To the time Tommy Torino was tripped in the hall…She saw Kevin McKuen get pushed off a slide- and the oncoming tears that he wanted to hide.”

The Whale and the Snail

By: Julia Donaldson

Age Group: 2-6 years old

Value: One Small Person Can Make a Big Difference

Excerpt: “And she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land, the waves and the caves, and the golden sand. She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all, and she said to the whale, ‘I feel so small.’”

The Lion Inside

By: Rachel Bright

Age Group: 2-6 years old

Value: You Don’t Have to Change to Fit In, Don’t Fear Those Different Than You-They’re Your Future Friends

Excerpt: “In a dry dusty place where the sand sparkled gold, stood a mighty flat rock, all craggy and old. And under that rock, in a tinyful house, lived the littlest, quietest, meekest brown mouse….Meanwhile, far above, on top of the rock, times were quite different. It was lion o’clock.”

The Sneetches

By: Dr. Seuss

Age Group: 2-6 years old

Value: We’re All Equal, Diversity Is Beautiful

Excerpt: “And he laughed as he drove in his car up the beach, ‘They never learn. No, you can’t teach a Sneetch.’ But McBean was quite wrong. I’m quite happy to say, that the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day- the day that they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches. And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

Little Humans (By the author of Humans of New York)

By: Brandon Stanton

Age Group: 2-6 years old

Value: One Small Person Can Make a Big Difference, Diversity Is Beautiful

Excerpt: “Little humans can do big things, if they stand up tall and hold on tight. Sure, sometimes they fall, but they get back up. They’ll be alright!”

Priscilla McDoodlenut Doodle McMae Asks Why?

By: Janet Mary Sinke

Age group: 4-8 years old

Value: We’re All Equal, Diversity Is Beautiful

Excerpt: “Then, both kings in their anger drew lines in the sand. Two lines that divided not only the land, but also the hearts and the minds of those there, whose heads were all covered with red or blue hair. And just when it seemed things could not get much worse, both kings called a meeting. King Norman spoke first. ‘Beginning today,’ the old king cleared his throat, ‘I’m here to enforce a new law that I wrote. A law that forbids any person,’ he said, ‘To speak their own mind if their hair isn’t red.’”

The Harry Potter Series

By: J.K. Rowling

Age group: 11 years old and up

Values: We’re All Equal, One Small Person Can Make a Big Difference, When the World Gets Dark, It’s Up To Us To Be The Light

Select Quotes:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic we have, capable both of inflicting injury and remedying it.”

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”