BOOK CLUB: 10 Children's Books That Teach Gratitude

September 24, 2021

As our Canadian counterparts celebrate Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks, we thought gratitude was the perfect theme for our 3rd instalment of Book Club. 


Gratitude is all about being thankful. Thankful for the simple things in life, – not just the great ones – acknowledging everything that you’ve received.


It’s been noted that when we alter our perspective to take the time to thank others, something special happens. It lifts our spirits and improves our outlook by shifting the focus from what our lives lack to the abundance of good that is already present. Behavioural and psychological research has found that practicing gratitude reduces stress, improves sleep, strengthens relationships, and makes people feel happier, hopeful, and more resilient.


With that said, feelings of gratitude don’t come naturally to everyone. Nonetheless, it is an attitude we can nurture through practice and intention, so what better than teaching our children the power of gratefulness?


The 10 books we’ve recommended in this month's Book Club will not only teach our children the importance of kindness but remind us to focus on the positives in our own lives and reap the benefits of thankfulness.


1.     Thank You,Omu!, Oge Mora


Omu is a grandmother who spends her whole day cooking a delicious red stew. A stew that smells so great, everyone in the neighbourhood follows their noses, arriving on her doorstep wanting to know where the delicious aroma is coming from. Omu offers each visitor a bowl, serving so many that the pot becomes empty before she’s helped herself. The neighbours all return to share their food with Omu, teaching the reader about gratitude, generosity, selflessness, and sharing.


The storytelling of this book follows a simple and repetitive pattern that is reminiscent of folktale. The story itself restores confidence in humankind while inspiring children that giving can often be better, more satisfying, and plenty more rewarding than receiving – a valuable lesson for our future generations.


Mora not only authored this book but illustrated it too, with brightly coloured and delightfully patterned collages that give much depth to the sweet characters within.


2.     Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Pena

The Last Stop on Market Street tells the story of a little boy named CJ and his Nana living in the city. As they ride the bus to a soup kitchen, CJ asks and wonders about all the different, wonderfully complex aspects of the gritty city and the people within it, to which his Nana always has an answer filled with grace and compassion. The simple pleasures are captured in colourful pictures and lively words that bring the bus ride to life, as though the reader is watching the world right next to CJ through the bus window.


Throughout these pages, we meet a diverse range of characters with illustrations to compliment – young, old, tattooed, disabled. of all different heritages with all different body types. This book is a gentle but realistic portrayal of the world we live in. One that will encourage conversations with children about diversity and celebrating the differences of those around us. It will inspire not only them, but you too, to look, listen and find beauty and wonder in the people and places around you.


3.     We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, Traci Sorell

Otsaliheliga pronounced oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah, is a word used by the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. It is used throughout the seasons as a way of giving thanks for their blessings, while not ignoring the many struggles they have faced as a Nation.


This illustrative book does not exactly follow a cohesive narrative but educates the reader on modern Native Americans and their traditions - who perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from when it comes to gratitude. The repetition in this book would be enjoyable for younger children, teaching them about Cherokee women, men, girls, and boys and how they participate in their community in a variety of different ways.


Sorell, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, has created an inspiring, insightful, deeply profound, and truly beautiful book that is suitable for all ages. She pays homage to her culture by sharing various Cherokee words in both English lettering and Cherokee syllabary. Frané Lessac’s colourful illustrations throughout are stunning with tons of detail to dissect.


4.     What Is Given From The Heart, Patricia C. McKissack

Be warned: this illustrated book starts off on a teary note, but stick with it as the message is tender, poignant, and most inspiring.


In this touching story, James Otis and his mother are experiencing a difficult time following the death of his father and the loss of their farm. Still, when they hear about the troubles of the Temple family who have lost everything they own in a fire, they make their best effort to contribute to their church’s ‘love box’ for the family. James’ gift for the daughter of the needy family is generous, creative, and extremely heartfelt, despite him previously wondering what he could possibly give that would make a difference as they so have little themselves.


The characters in this book demonstrate humility and grace as they do not allow their situation to affect their attitudes. They remain positive and upbeat about the things they do have, even if to others it doesn’t seem like much at all.  


April Harrison, a fine artist who illustrated this book, uses collage and expressive drawings to capture the emotional register of each scene. The illustrations along with the beautifully powerful tale teach the reader an extremely valuable lesson about community, generosity, and love.


5.     Apple Cake: A Gratitude, Dawn Casey 

This charming illustration book is wonderful for small children. It’s a simple, sweet story with a beautiful message written in a gentle rhyme. The narrative follows a little girl gathering ingredients and expressing gratitude for all of the people and things that go into making a tasty dessert at the end.


It’s a lovely ode to all things, teaching children not only to be thankful for their cake but for all of nature and the work that goes into each ingredient too. As a bonus, an Apple Cake recipe is included on the back pages.  


The gentle illustrations in this book have a 'vintage' feel to them, creating a softness and comfort that complement the poetry. Each illustration will hold a child’s imagination, which is sure to spark many conversations between you and the little ones you share this cute book with.


6.     The Thank You Letter, Jane Cabrera

This story follows a young girl named Grace who sits down after her birthday party to write thankyou notes for her gifts. Once she starts, her note writing proves to be infectious as she continues to write letters for her family, community, and even inanimate objects. Once Grace returns home from delivering her thank you notes, she finds a heart-warming surprise waiting for her.


This book is full of sweetness and warmth with a message about kindness and gratitude. It demonstrates that thinking of others is often its own reward and one that can come back to you in abundance. This charming story, along with Cabrera’s fun, bright and engaging illustrations will encourage young readers to write their own thank you letters and share their joy with loved ones too.  


7.     Bear Says Thanks, Karma Wilson

In this rhyming picture book, Bear is lonely and bored. He is eager to have friends over for a party, but he has nothing in his cupboards to offer. His friends show up with different platters of food to share, for which Bear is grateful. Once the dinner party is in full swing, Bear learns that his gift for telling stories is much more valuable than any food he could offer, as he sees how thankful his friends are for what he brings to their gatherings.


This fun book is a touching reminder to celebrate who we are by reminding us that we all have something special to bring to the table. It focuses on kindness, community, and the true meaning of friendship, teaching readers the value of sharing and thankfulness, which can only help foster better relationships.


8.     Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts

This book depicts a story that is so very real in today’s consumerist society. The narrator, Jeremy, is struggling with a dilemma – he wants the shoes that ‘everyone’ else at school has. Grandma tells him they cannot afford the expensive trainers, but they can get the warm winter boots that he needs instead.


When Jeremy’s old shoes break, he is forced to wear Velcro cartoon character shoes provided by his guidance counsellor. He's left feeling embarrassed and teased by his classmates. Jeremy goes on to learn who his real friends are and what he truly needs rather than what he wants.


This tale is a must-read for elementary-aged children, providing insight into a plethora of topics such as socioeconomic diversity, ideas of family, and character feelings. It is relatable to those who have ever felt the need to fit in and did not have the means to do so. As the story is told from Jeremy’s perspective, the reader is able to sympathise with Jeremy and his situation with a subtle reminder of what is truly important.


9.     Gracias/Thanks, Pat Mora

This bilingual picture book is straightforward but with proper meaning behind it – to always be thankful for the little things in life. It is simply written but supremely interesting in both English and Spanish.


The story follows a young boy throughout his entire day as he says thanks to everything that makes him happy, starting with the sun that wakes him and ending with crickets he hears as he drifts off to sleep at night. The main character is fun and excitable with both white and Hispanic parents. Although his mixed heritage is not the main focus of the story, his culture is represented throughout, from discussing the music his uncle would play to the way that they would dance.


The simplicity of this story can be helpful when teaching children Spanish as a second language, and the complimentary illustrations bring this book to life with enormous amounts of colour.


10.  The Thankful Book, Todd Parr

This vibrant illustrative book has a diverse cast of characters who express their appreciation for the things they’re thankful for. They express their gratitude for a range of important things we often take for granted such as clean water, family, and home, to examples that are sure to make your little one’s chuckle like ‘underwear because I like to wear it on my head’.


This approach to gratitude takes on the worthy subject and strips it back to the simplicity, wisdom, and brilliant observations of a child. Each page spreads positivity, joy, and thoughtfulness, which will inspire discussions with your own children about what they’re thankful for.

Emily Davies
Book Club

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