10 picture books that teach important life lessons

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About Jamie

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents.

She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Check out her newly released book: Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood.

Often as parents we get consumed by the details of our days–life speeds past while we try to catch up and just keep everyone fed, clothed, and healthy. Sometimes the rush of our busy routines leaves little time leftover to contemplate and discuss life’s important issues with our children.

When, exactly, are we supposed to find the time or the words to talk about meaningful topics like injustice, simplicity, death, or faithfulness?

Thankfully we can walk into any library and have abundant assistance to tackle life lessons with our little ones. All we have to do is open a book, enjoy it together, and let a natural discussion unfold.

Check out these ten titles to get you started.

1. Henry Builds a Cabin by D.B. Johnson


Photo from Amazon.com

This sweet story takes its inspiration from the life of Thoreau and his home at Walden Pond. The main character, a bear called Henry, proceeds to build his dream house–a one-room cabin.

The life lesson:

Simple living is good living. Bigger is not necessarily better.

2. Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus


Photo from Amazon.com

Leo can’t do the things his friends can. He can’t read, write, or even eat neatly. His father is worried, but his mother believes he’ll get there when he’s ready.

He does.

The life lesson:

You will shine in your own time and that is more than okay.

3. William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow


Photo from Amazon.com

He has a basketball and a train set, but what William really wants is a doll. The boys and men in his life discourage him, but his grandmother shows a little more insight. She sees the doll as training for when William will have a family of his own.

The life lesson:

Don’t be limited by gender stereotypes. Nurturing children is a job for everyone in the family.

4. The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban


Photo from Amazon.com

This delightful story, from the authors of the Frances books, is a must read.

The Little Brutes spend their days feeling miserable about life, and everything seems to go wrong. Then one day Baby Brute discovers a little wandering good feeling, which spreads and transforms the entire family.

The life lesson:

By focusing on the good in our world we see more of it. The most important aspect of life is your attitude.

5. Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola


Photo from Amazon.com

Four-year-old Tommy loves visiting his two grandmothers every Sunday. But one day he rushes upstairs to find that his Nana Upstairs is not in her bed as usual. This was one of the first children’s picture books written to deal with the topic of death.

The life lesson:

Special family memories remain with us, even when our loved ones are no longer there.

6. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss


Photo from Amazon.com

Horton the elephant gets coaxed into sitting on the egg of a lazy bird, who fails in keeping her promise to return. But the animal has given his word and will not break it. “I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.”

The life lesson:

It’s important to keep your promises. Faithfulness has its own rewards.

7. Whoever You Are by Mem Fox


Photo from Amazon.com

Whoever You Are reminds us that children may have different looks, live in different countries, and eat different foods, but they all smile, laugh, and cry.

The life lesson:

I live in a big, fascinating world–full of children just like me.

8. Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin


Photo from Amazon.com

This Caldecott Winner tells the true story of a boy whose passion for studying snowflakes turned into his life’s work. His parents invest their life savings in the needed equipment to take his interest to the next level.

The life lesson:

Exploring your interests and following your dreams is important.

9. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton


Photo from Amazon.com

The lovely little house lives in the country, surrounded by children who play in her peaceful orchard. She feels happy and beautiful.

But over time, roads and lights get closer and closer, until the house finds herself in the middle of the crowded city. She is dilapidated and alone. Eventually the home gets moved to the country where she finds joy again.

The life lesson:

Advancement isn’t always progress. The natural world is our inheritance.

10. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf


Photo from Amazon.com

While the other bulls fight with each other, Ferdinand loves to sit under a tree and smell flowers. One day, just as a group of men arrive to observe the bulls, Ferdinand happens to sit on a bee. The actions that result lead the men to assume they’ve found the fiercest bull in the pasture.

Imagine their surprise when they get him in the ring!

The life lesson:

Being who you are is more important than being who others think you are.

As you read with your little people, rest assured that the time you’re spending is an investment–in relationships, in character, in their future. And the only tool you need to start gaining compound interest on this investment is a library card.

Do you have any of these titles in your home library? Which other books have been meaningful to your family?

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Comments

  1. What wonderful suggestions! My daughter has just started really interacting with her picture books and I can’t wait to share these with her. Thank you!

  2. Believe it or not, we don’t have ANY of these books! We are a book loving family though, so I’m excited to go through this list. Thanks! :)
    .-= Samantha @ Mama Notes´s last blog ..How to Make Rain Gutter Bookshelves =-.

  3. Thank you for this! I will definitely be on the lookout for these on our next weekly trip to the library. :)

  4. I haven’t read any of these books to my kids yet..will try to look for them the next time we visit the library.

  5. avatar
    Kristen says:

    Great list-Thank You! I’ll save it for various life experiences. My grandmother is in the process of dying right now and will probably pass in the next few weeks. Does anyone know any other good books about death to read to my preschoolers to help them process this?

    • I realize this post is almost a year old, but I wanted to share a list of more children’s books that deal with loss, aging, and death.

      “Everett Anderson’s Goodbye” by Lucille Clifton
      “Goodbye House” by Frank Asch
      “Mrs. Katz and Tush” by Patricia Polacco
      “The Dead Bird” by Margaret Wise Brown
      “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst
      “Miss Tizzy” by Libba Moore Gray

  6. Wow.. What an awesome list and while we have so many of the Dr. Seuss titles, I don’t have the one on your list. These days, my toddler loves reading a locally published book series that has a little monkey, called Bubbles as the main character and each book covers important yet simple lessons, such as, being honest, owning up, being responsible, and so on.
    As someone who loves books that are entertaining yet value-based, I will be checking these out really soon.
    Thank you for sharing them!

  7. I love Snowflake Bentley and am a huge Ferdinand fan (we have copies in English and Spanish). In fact, my Caleb often reminded me of Ferdinand when he’d pick flowers in the middle of a soccer game.

    I’d add the first Little Bear book to your list. It paints a lovely picture not always getting what you want but still finding satisfaction (“You can’t have that wish, my Little Bear” has been a part of our family’s dialogue for years) and beautifully reflects a mother’s love.
    .-= caroline starr rose´s last blog ..Historical Fiction Nitty Gritty =-.

  8. Jamie, one of my absolute favorite picture books is . I cried as I read this story to the children.

    This is my short review from FIMBY.

  9. Wonderful list, Jamie! Many of those are our favorites, but you’ve introduced me to some titles I hadn’t heard of before, too like The Little House.

    The book Blow Me Kiss, Miss Lilly has been a book that has offered comfort in our house after the death of a loved one. It is a about a little girl and an elderly woman who are neighbors. The girl loves to play in Miss Lilly’s garden and pet her cat. When Miss Lilly passes away, the girls remembers her by taking care of her cat and visiting her garden as it grows and blooms. It is a tear-jerker, for sure but it handles death in a gentle way without being overly detailed …
    .-= Kara Fleck´s last blog ..The Second Time Around- Simple Yard Sale Treasures for Kids =-.

  10. What a great list! I have many of those books in my classroom!
    .-= Amy Lynne´s last blog ..Yard Sale Treasures =-.

  11. avatar
    Rebecca says:

    Fantastic list! I was happy to find that my daughter and I have already shared many of these. I’ll have to add the others to our library list – we love reading books like these during our family meeting. I would also have to suggest One, by Kathryn Otoshi – it’s a very creative approach to the topic of bullying.

  12. Great list – I’ve been meaning to add Ferdinand to our collection so I appreciate the reminder.

    I have a couple of new books that I love, one called The Little Oink and the other called The Little Hoot. They try reverse technology to get kids to clean their rooms and go to bed early and the illustrations are great!
    .-= Tabitha (From Single to Married)´s last blog ..It’s All About Image =-.

  13. We don’t have any of these either! In fact, I’ve never heard of any of these books. Guess that’s why I like this blog for it’s helpful suggestions. Upon quick review of my 2 yo’s books I noted that most of his books aren’t really story based, more photo identification. As his attention for stories develops we’ll check out some of these books suggested.
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Garbage Rescue – Adirondack chairs =-.

  14. Love this list!! Thanks so much. I would add “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” by William Steig, because of its lesson: Oftentimes, what we have is all we really need. :)

  15. Great list! Thanks so much for sharing! We’ve read some of them but haven’t heard of the others – off to the library this afternoon!

    Cheers,
    Jenny
    .-= LobotoME´s last blog .. on my mind menu =-.

  16. Great list, Jamie! We have loved the Little House, Snowflake Bently, and Horton Hatches the egg, but have not read the others! Making a list to tuck into my library bag right now! :)

    We have also loved a few picture books we read while doing the Five in a Row series, but especially A Pair of Red Clogs.
    http://www.amazon.com/Pair-Red-Clogs-Masako-Matsuno/dp/1930900201
    While being a nice introduction to an Asian culture, it is also a wonderful story about caring for what you have, “can we fix this up instead of buying a new one?”, also touches on lying, as the little girl lies to her mother, and the importance of telling the truth.

  17. I can’t believe you have “Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs” on here! I loved this book as a child and besides my sister have never heard of anyone else ever reading it. Love!

  18. Great list. I’m going to go and order what I can from this list from my library right now!
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..We Interrupt This Breastfeeding Post… =-.

  19. We also love Mem Fox’s “Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge” which gently touches memory loss in older folks. And a family favorite, “Pierre” by Maurice Sendak because we should all “care.” Thanks for the book list…love ‘em.

    • Hi there, I so enjoyed this post, and the titles (some new great ideas to look for!) I was skimming thru the comments preparing to comment myself, and suggest this very book as one that stands out for me as well–Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, SUCH a tender look at generations old and young, and the gift of memory; that even among the sadness of loss, there are joys that can be found. Thanks!

  20. We have read a few of these, but not all. In regards to death, I appreciate the book Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie. http://www.amazon.com/Lifetimes-Bryan-Mellonie/dp/0553344021/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277740324&sr=1-1 It’s not very warm and fuzzy but I use it as a springboard for discussing the memories we have of that person. I also like a Kane_Miller called “And What Comes After a Thousand?” about a little girl and her grandfather; unfortunately, you can only buy from an Usborne Book representative.

  21. This one is a favorite, about being who you are. Back when I had a daycare, I made up a melody to sing it instead of read it (I also changed one stanza). Apologies for the low production values: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfcSRxDiz0c
    .-= inaverse´s last blog ..Catching Up – Phase One =-.

  22. I love the story of Tomie dePaola’s Nanas! The Little House and Ferdinand are favorites at our house, too.

    My favorite story picture books are Miss Rumphius, Ox Cart Man, and Roxaboxen (all written and/or illustrated by Barbara Cooney) and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I think they all have something really wonderful to say to children about life.
    .-= Heidi @ Mt Hope´s last blog ..Signs of Summer =-.

  23. The Little House was one of my top ten books as a child and I delight in reading it multiple times per week to our children. I love looking at the copyright date and imagining all the children over the years that have fallen in love with The Little House and dreamed of living on a hill with a brook…
    Thanks for the list.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Happy Fathers Day RJ =-.

  24. Great list, Jamie! So many of the books on your list build a tremendously rich family culture as well as teaching those life lessons that you have highlighted. My young adult children still refer to inside jokes and funny sayings from childhood classics. When I speak about Leadership Education, I am always reminding people not to be book snobs! Children’s literature gives a succinct capsule regarding nearly any topic from which to pique interest into delving deeper.
    There are a couple on your list I haven’t yet read, but definitely plan to get!
    Off the top of my head, I would recommend “The Dead Bird” by Margaret Wise Brown on dealing with the topic of death as well.
    Thanks for putting these out there; giving us all the opportunity to continue to learn! ;0)

  25. p.s. Gertrude McFuzz by Dr. Seuss is one of the lesser known works, but is definitely a lesson in extreme vanity and on how an optimistic outlook benefits you in life!
    .-= Teri´s last blog ..Planned Neglect- SS part 4 =-.

  26. What a great list! The only one I’ve read is Horton Hatches The Egg. Can’t wait to try out the others!
    .-= Tina´s last blog ..The Big Driver Two Seat Golf Cart Provides A Comfy Ride To The Tee =-.

  27. Great list of books! I just gave Simple Mom a blog award over at Of Such is the Kingdom. (Come and see!) You have a great blog!
    suchakingdom.blogspot.com
    .-= Olivia´s last blog ..A Few Awards =-.

  28. Seconding the motion for Miss Rumphius and Ox-Cart Man! The lessons: doing one simple thing can make the world more beautiful for you and others; a simple life in harmony with the seasons can be quite rewarding … respectively.
    .-= Hannah´s last blog ..A Few Things =-.

  29. Thank you so much for this list. It’s hard to find good children’s books once I’ve exhausted the list of the ones I was familiar with as a child. I look forward to finding the ones we haven’t read yet.
    You are so right about reading time being an investment!
    .-= djinny´s last blog ..It’s getting harder and harder to buy beer =-.

  30. avatar
    michelle says:

    excellent post, thank you! I will be printing it out and making sure my library has all of these (I am children’s librarian at a small public library).

  31. Leo the Late Bloomer! Oh, so glad to see this on your list! This is a favorite of mine and I read it to my children’s classmates every year (pre-homeschool). It was a great tool to open up the conversation about my children’s autism.
    It still warms my heart every time we read it.
    .-= Sofia’s Ideas´s last blog ..Speechless =-.

  32. GREAT post. So many favorite books and authors and I love the spin on life lessons learned. I will share with my readers. THANK YOU!

    Pragmatic Mom
    Type A Parenting for the Modern World

    http://PragmaticMom.com
    I blog on children’s lit, parenting and education

  33. Excellent list! I remember the Little House from when I was a little girl, and Horton Hatches The Egg is a classic in the book!
    .-= Naomi´s last blog ..Daphney’s learning her alphabet too- =-.

  34. avatar
    Jennifer says:

    I’d also like to add The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch to the list. One of its lessons is that there is more to a person than outward appearance.

    In addition, two more books by Dr. Seuss have been favorites in our house through the years. The Lorax focuses upon environmentalism and that one person (you) can make a difference. The Sneetches is another that reminds us not to judge others by outward appearances.

  35. Oh, how exciting… So many of these are new to me, and I love finding good books for my kids! I have to add one to the list, Fill a Bucket by Carol McCloud. There are two other bucket filling books too for older kiddos they are all wonderful! I actually just posted about them: http://perfectsentiment.blogspot.com/2010/06/overheard-at-my-house-empty-buckets.html
    PS~Erin´s latest post: The not so Dreaded Potty and a giveaway-

  36. Some of my absolute favorites. Williams Doll has always been a staple in my classroom as well as Leo the Late Bloomer. The only one I don’t have is Henry Builds a Cabin. Have to look for that one.
    Bridget´s latest post: A Worthy Cause

  37. Horton hatches the egg is one of our favorites. Actually, all the Dr. Seuss books are favorites around here. It’s funny reading them as an adult, I really recognize the lessons being taught.

    I’m going to have to check out some of the other books on this list.
    Eric – Reiki Music´s latest post: The Very Best of Enya by Enya

  38. avatar
    Gabrielle says:

    Leo the Late Bloomer is my own childhood favorite–brought home one day by father, who was an educator at the time. I may have one of the first copies! Anyway, I had a new copy ready and waiting even before I was expecting my first child. Now, it is also one of my 3yo daughter’s favorites, as well.

  39. What a great list of books! So many favorites there. We discovered Mem Fox’s books after two of our kids went to Australia as Student Ambassadors and fell in love with the illustrations and the story lines. I’ve never heard of William’s Doll, but when my youngest was a baby, my mom gave him a little baby doll. He’s 12 now and still keeps it on his bed – it’s just Baby to everyone. So many fantastic books reviewed today! Great job.
    Lynnet Hardwick´s latest post: Feed Me Books Friday- Give Me A Little Character-

  40. Am SO thrilled to see The Little House on this list! I loved it as a child, but lost my copy and found one in a bookstore in my single twenties and saved it for my long-held dream of having children someday. Now that I’m in my thirties I read it to my kids…quite literally a dream come true!

  41. Thanks so much for this list–I’ll be adding many of these to our collection as my son gets older. Does anyone have any recommendations for a book about big adjustments in life/ leaving one stage and moving on to the next? Specifically, the adjustment to first grade for my nephew who had a hard time adjusting to kindergarten? I’d appreciate any suggestions!

  42. great list – The Little House is one of my all time favorite books as are some of her others (Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Katie the Snowplow) I would add Kevin Hencke’s Wemberly Worried – that is such a good book to discuss feelings about being worried, especially if your child will be going to school outside the home.

  43. Had to revisit this post as I look for Christmas gift ideas … what a great list! Thanks everyone. I would highly recommend two more:

    Come and See: A Christmas Story by Monica Mayper
    http://www.betterworldbooks.com/come-and-see-id-0060235268.aspx
    Beautiful, culturally accurate portrayal of the first Christmas with poetic writing

    All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon
    http://www.betterworldbooks.com/all-the-world-id-1416985808.aspx
    Also beautiful pictures where you can follow various characters throughout the story; storyline of how we are all interconnected with each other and the world. We’ve given this as baby gifts too many times to count!

    SO grateful for public libraries that allow us to borrow books for free … If you’re ever wanting to buy a book though, check out http://betterworldbooks.com if you’re not already familiar with it.

    Happy reading everyone!!

  44. My favorites these days include;

    Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
    The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert Munsch
    The Blind Men and the Elephant by Karen Backstein and Annie Mitra
    Can I Keep Him? by Steven Kellogg

  45. Please check out, “A Lesson Learned: The Lake in the Middle of the Forest”. This book is packed with a bunch of lessons for children from the importance of adhering to your parents’ wishes and for making wise, thought-out decisions.

    Youtube book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PBag5x6CBI

  46. Hi everyone,

    My name is Laura Canetti. I just wrote , illustrated, and self-published my first children’s book. If anyone gets a chance to look at it I would love some mom feedback! I was trying to convey the important message of being yourself and you can do whatever you set your mind to. It’s called “If” by Laura Canetti and is available through amazon. You can write me at lauracanetti@hotmail.com. Thanks!

  47. avatar
    Theresa Giachetti says:

    I am in the process of creating a summer school course for my district. I want to use picture books as the main focus. I came across your list of the 10 picure books that teach life lessons. I was wondering if you would mind if I use these 10 books and the life lessons for my class. I was thinking about using these books with 3-5 graders and elaborating on the lessons.

    Thank you,

    Theresa

  48. avatar
    jaya deshmukh says:

    Dear Sir
    I am a library teacher I wish to purchase good books for my junior section nur. to class IV can get these books in India Let me the prodecure for the same

  49. Hello… My name is Cat Blount and I am the author and illustrator of 7 published available children’s books. All of my stories have elements of “a lesson to be learned”… with “A Lesson Learned: The Lake in the Middle of the Forest Storyteller’s Edition” being the title at the top of that list in terms of lesson learning.
    You can visit my website at http://www.catblountstories.com to find out more information regarding my books.
    Regards,
    Cat Blount

  50. Great article and set of responses. My favorites at the moment are Mandi and the Moonstones by Nicole Levin and The Places You’ll go by Dr Seuss. My kids have taken something out of both of these

  51. Great books! I know of another great picture book with the following life lesson: The grass is not always greener on the other side. It’s called BAXTER’S BACKYARD and it’s getting great reviews on Amazon. Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Baxters-Backyard-Ted-Simonin/dp/1492333190/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379980890&sr=8-1&keywords=baxter%27s+backyard

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  1. [...] maternity leave so this post was from Simple Homeschool editor, Jamie Martin of Steady Mom.  Click here for the link.Thank you for this lovely post Steady Mom and Simple Mom!!!Here are the Top 3 books out [...]

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