The benefits of reading are enormous and at the very top of the benefits list is keeping my kid’s brains thinking, engaged, and learning over the school break.
There are many book lists for kids, but this book list is different because it features books that teach kids kindness and encourage kids to be resilient and love racial diversity.
And this is why reading is so wonderful for our kids. When we select great books filled with inspiring characters and challenging stories we open our children up to a new world of possibilities. And this simply doesn’t happen with movies and television.
I chose these books specifically because they are so unique and feature characters and stories that teach our children about other cultures, lifestyles, and challenging life situations that they may never face themselves.
These books have the power to teach our children compassion and opens them up to understanding life in another person’s shoes that they might never have the opportunity to walk in.
I’ve done my best to curate a list that will add a richness to your family and avoid books that would otherwise introduce negative influences such as sex, violence, and drugs. Keep in mind, that these topics are talked about in some of the older aged books on this list but in a healthy way. Please use your own discretion when purchasing any of the books on this list for your own family.
In my searching for these amazing books, I came across many books (not on this list) that glorified violence, bullying, negative stereotypes, and many that glamorized teenage sexual relationships. As a parent, I recommend highly using sites like commonsensemedia.org and pluggedin.com to help avoid any media that exposes and encourages these behaviors in our children.
Books are very powerful teaching tools and can be extremely effective in allowing our kids to be positively introduced to topics and life issues in a profound way. However, if allowed to read books that glorify things like sex, this can work in a negative and damaging way. I encourage you as a parent to be mindful of this when choosing books for your tweens and teens to keep them safe.
Here’s to a summer filled with adventure and new possibilities for you and your whole family!
Books that Teach Kindness to Kids
Board Books (Babies & Preschool Age)
This is an adorable and best selling book for babies and toddlers to create a loving bedtime routine.
In this book, sleepy little ones are reminded of God’s blessings and how much they are loved. The delightful rhyming story takes readers through several scenes of snuggly animals who are getting ready for bed. These sweet, sometimes silly rhymes and adorable art are sure to make God Bless You and Good Night a favorite part of the bedtime ritual for parents and children.
This fun pop-up style board book has been delighting little ones for over 30 years! Young readers love lifting the flaps to discover the animals the zoo has sent a monkey, a lion, and even an elephant! But will they ever find the perfect pet?
With bright, bold artwork, a catchy refrain, and a whole host of favorite animals, Dear Zoo is a must for every child’s bookshelf.
This fun book is one of my son’s favorites to listen to and my favorite’s to read! The words are full of fun and melody and keep his busy attention until the end.
Giraffes Can’t Dance is a touching tale of Gerald the giraffe, who wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it’s harder for a giraffe than you would think. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.
This book is another one of my son’s favorites! He loves making monster noises at all the monster faces in the book. It’s a fun book to read together. In this book, a mother and child discuss how her love would remain constant even if her child were a smelly skunk, scary ape, or bug-eating green alien.
This cute little book was actually one of my daughter’s favorite board books. She loves making all the sounds as we read the book and pointed out all the animals. It’s a great book to work on animal sounds and recognition.
Early Readers (Ages 4 – 6)
This story is a wonderful tale of what really happened to Humpty Dumpty after the big fall. Kids of all ages will love to hear the inspiring story of how Humpty got up and refused to give up on his love of flying in spite of his overwhelming fear of falling again. This is a must read!
Sometimes mistakes can be a good thing! Zoom meets Beautiful Oops! in this memorable picture book debut about the creative process, and the way in which “mistakes” can blossom into inspiration.
This was the first book my son chose to read in his Bookroo subscription – Bookroo’s Junior Box. It’s a really adorable and fun book to read. The story starts when Max finds a pile of forgotten toys under the bed, his brothers Benjamin and Karl wonder what’s so special about some old blocks. So Max shows them. With some clever twists of both blocks and imagination, he constructs not only a castle but an entire adventure, complete with pirates and knights, a dark dungeon and a dragon.
Elementary Readers (Ages 7 – 10)
This book pulls young readers into the story told in the perspective of an old oak wishing tree. Red, the quiet wishing tree, is the recipient of neighborhood hopes and dreams. When an immigrant family is harassed in the community, Red is motivated to act.
This book is the inspiring true story of Malala Yousafzai as she defied the Taliban’s rules and spoke out for education for every girl. She was almost killed for her beliefs. This powerful true story of how one brave girl named Malala changed the world proves that one person really can make a difference.
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This book tells the true story of August Pullman who was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. This book reinforces the message of compassion for others who a different and love is always the best choice!
The book is inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan. Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.
This thrilling survival story features thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson as he is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present—and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self-pity, or despair—it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.
With the recent release of the movie adaptation of this classic novel, your child will love diving into the wonderful and mysterious world that Meg Murry and her small brother Charles Wallace are suddenly plunged into. This is a book that won’t be put down until it’s finished!
Older Elementary Readers (Ages 11 – 13)
Eleven-year-old Annabelle lives in a rural Pennsylvania community in 1943. The continued fighting of World War II haunts everyone, but life is mostly peaceful—until Betty Glengarry’s arrival. Betty is cruel and threatening and thrives on inflicting pain. This is a story of a young girl’s kindness, compassion, and honesty overcome bullying.
For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it.
Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach.
Have you ever felt lost in the universe? This book brings 4 unlikely tweens together on an adventure. In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. She grows in ways she could never imagine!
If your child was every struggled to fit in, they’ll love this book! When Malu has to move away from her dad and everything she knows, she takes her love of punk music with her. Following the rules of punk, she embarks on a new school journey, full of misadventures and hilarious life lessons. Malu is happy not to fit in with the crowd yet cannot bring herself to tell her mom that her passion for punk is not a rebellious phase—it’s who she is. When classmates label Malu a coconut (brown on the outside and white on the inside), she is determined to prove to her school and herself that she is proud of her Mexican roots. With tenderness and humor, Pérez explores the joys and challenges of being biracial.
Middle School Readers (Ages 14 – 16)
This book is hugely popular and tells an amazing story of a disabled girl’s inner struggles and triumphs. Born with cerebral palsy, Melody, 10, has never spoken a word. She is a brilliant fifth grader trapped in an uncontrollable body. Her world is enhanced by insight and intellect but gypped by physical limitations and misunderstandings. She will never sing or dance, talk on the phone, or whisper secrets to her friends. She’s not complaining, though; she’s planning and fighting the odds. In her court are family, good neighbors, and an attentive student teacher. Pitted against her is the “normal” world: schools with limited resources, cliquish girls, superficial assumptions, and her own disability.
This book is a beautiful story of triumph over tragedy. Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing girl manages to push through her grief.
The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It’s usually more like Don’t try this at home. So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students. It wasn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn’t be a more perfect hideout. That is if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level.
If your child has ever struggled in school or has a learning disability, this is an inspiring and encouraging book with Ally. She’s has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the troublemaker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of.
Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America. This moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing received four starred reviews, including one from Kirkus which proclaimed it “enlightening, poignant, and unexpectedly funny.”
This book is a President Obama “O” Book Club pick! Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child.
High School Readers (Ages 17-19)
The Bell twins are stars on the basketball court and comrades in life. While there are some differences—Josh shaves his head and Jordan loves his locks—both twins adhere to the Bell basketball rules: In this game of life, your family is the court, and the ball is your heart. With a former professional basketball player dad and an assistant principal mom, there is an intensely strong home front supporting sports and education in equal measures. When life intervenes in the form of a hot new girl, the balance shifts and growing apart proves painful.
In our world filled with violence and glorified acts of hate, this book takes teens on a riveting perspective of a teen tempted to enact his own violent revenge and the choice he must make. Fifteen-year-old Will’s big brother has been shot and killed. According to the rules that Will has been taught, it is now his job to kill the person responsible. He easily finds his brother’s gun and gets on the elevator to head down from his eighth-floor apartment. But it’s a long way down to the ground floor. At each floor, a different person gets on to tell a story. Each of these people is already dead. As they relate their tales, readers learn about the cycle of violence in which Will is caught up. Readers will go on a journey to decide what action he should take.
My oldest daughter is reading this book right now and can’t put it down! This was made into a movie and is hugely popular. This book centers around Hazel, a terminally ill girl. Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
This very popular suspense novel has also been made into a movie. The story opens when Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q.
If your teen hasn’t jumped into the Divergent series, they’ll want to this summer. This entire series was made into a movie but the books are so much more thrilling! Divergent and its sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant, are the gripping story of a dystopian world transformed by courage, self-sacrifice, and love. Fans of the Divergent movie will find the book packed with just as much emotional depth and exhilarating action as the film, all told in beautiful, rich language.
This sweeping multi-generational love story introduces readers to mother-and-daughter pair Marilyn and Angie. To seventeen-year-old Angie, who is mixed-race, Marilyn is her hardworking, devoted white single mother. But Marilyn was once young, too. When Marilyn was seventeen, she fell in love with Angie’s father, James, who was African-American. But Angie’s never met him, and Marilyn has always told her he died before she was born. When Angie discovers evidence of an uncle she’s never met she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she sets off on a journey to find him.
This entire book list is dedicated to learning new ideas, embracing creativity, and growing into our best selves. Let me know your favorite book recommendations and leave them in the comments below!