The new school year is upon us and I’m here with my recommendations for teaching character education. I’m kind of obsessed with picture books, and I’m convinced there’s at least one picture book for every situation. These books are great for teaching character so your students can grow up to be respectful and responsible human beings.
Before I get into my recommendations, I want to really emphasize the importance of the discussion after the read aloud. Student to student talk is so critical, and really helps bring home the message from the stories. Even though I plan for comprehension and/or reading response questions for every day of the read aloud, my main focus is on student discussion. Check out the linked plans for the discussion questions and comprehension activities.
Oliver Button is a Sissy
Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola is one of my favorite read alouds when teaching character education. It’s about a boy who just enjoys being himself even though the other boys make fun of him. Sissy is a word that has kind of gone out of the mainstream, so you may need to teach your kids what it means.
I start out by asking kids about some of their favorite hobbies and write them down on sticky notes. Then I reveal an anchor chart that says “Boy vs. Girl.” I then ask students which hobbies are for girls and which ones are for boys. Regardless of age, the kids usually say that the sports are for the boys. Dance, drawing, reading and playing with dolls is for girls. The discussion between the students is really interesting because there’s always the girl who likes playing sports or the boy who really likes to draw or read. The discussion usually leads to students agreeing that there is no such thing as activities that are for boys or for girls.
It’s a great story about being yourself and ignoring the bullies.
This book is also in Spanish as Oliver Button es una nena
Ruby the Copycat
Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathmann is usually one of my first read alouds of the year. The book is about Ruby who is new in school and thinks that she needs to copy other people for them to like her. The girl she copies gets really frustrated with all of Ruby’s copying and stops being friends with her. The teacher finally finds something that Ruby likes to do – hopping and has the other kids copy Ruby. Ruby learns that the others like her better when she’s herself.
An activity that I like to do after I read this story is play some music and have students hop around the classroom like Ruby. Then I stop the music and have students talk about their interests with another student. I repeat this a few times so students can talk with a different partners. Then I ask students why it’s important for us all to be different. Bombshell. The conversations that can happen all thanks to a picture book.
This book is also in Spanish called Ruby, mono ve, mono hace
Last Stop on Market Street
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena is an awesome multicultural book to read aloud. Like Oliver Button is a Sissy it’s about a boy who is different. In this story, though, the boy CJ does not like being different. His grandma shows him, though, that different doesn’t have to mean worse. CJ notices that he does not have some of the things that his friends do. CJ sees that having less can actually mean having more.
At the last stop on Market Street, he helps volunteer at a soup kitchen. This book is a great read aloud about seeing things in a positive light and being positive.
This book is also in Spanish as Ultima parada en la Calle Market
A Bike Like Sergio’s
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts is a story about honesty. Ruben’s family is poor and often doesn’t have enough money to buy things. Sergio’s family is better off and he gets a new bike for his birthday. Even if your kids can’t relate to being poor, they can all relate to wanting something that another kid has. Ruben sees a woman drop some money on the ground and picks it up. When he gets home he sees that it’s a $100 bill.
It’s a story about doing the right thing even if it’s hard. As I get started, I start by asking the students if they think it’s ever okay to tell a lie. What if no one would ever find out? You obviously get a lot of “No!” answers. Eventually one kid will give you something. If not then I ask “When is it okay to tell a lie?”
As the students discuss, I try to stay out of the conversation as much as possible. As you read the story have the students think about whether or not it’s okay for Ruben to lie.
Those Shoes is another book by Maribeth Boelts that I often teach together with A Bike Like Sergio’s. Both books are great multicultural books that can help teach empathy and wants vs. needs. It’s about a boy named Jeremy who really wants to have shoes like the other boys in class. Talk about relatable! So often kids get preoccupied with the things that other kids have. The boy goes as far as to get shoes that are WAY too small for him just because they’re the shoe that he wants. He sees later that another boy needs new shoes and he gives him his new shoes that are too small.
So many kids can’t even understand the idea of not having enough money and others experience it at home everyday. This book is an eye-opener for both kinds of kids.
Bilingual teachers rejoice to find this book in Spanish as Esos zapatos
How to Heal a Broken Wing
How To Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham is a book that I use to teach about hope and perseverance. In the story, a boy named Will sees a pigeon who broke its wing on a window. No one else sees the bird but Will. Will takes it home and he helps nurse the bird back to health. The illustrations are what really bring the message home showing the kids how much time it took for Will to help heal the pigeon. So often kids think that problems get fixed immediately or not at all. But it’s so important for them to see that problems can get fixed. They just take time and a little bit of hope.
I almost tear up every time I read the ending of the story.
You can find this book in Spanish as Como puede curarse una ala rota?
Conclusion: Best Character Education Children’s Books
These books are the ones that I read and students go and find them in the classroom library or the school library to read themselves. Now that I’m in fourth grade, I have students that I had back when I was in first grade. They STILL remember these stories.
There are SO many amazing picture books to teach kids about character. These are just some of MY favorites.
Tell me some of your MUST READ stories for teaching kids about character in the comments below!