15 Picture Books for Kids with Character – Picture books for brave, kind, smart kids. These books teach empathy, compassion, bravery, courage, and model intelligence and grit.
We’re celebrating Sophie’s 7th birthday this weekend (YAY!!!), and I thought I’d use today to share some of our favorite books about kids with character. Sophie teaches me something new every single day about grit, determination, kindness, thoughtfulness, and bravery.
I love a picture book that makes me laugh, or one with killer illustrations, and heaven knows we read enough books for people who love things that go, but I really, REALLY love getting to read books about people who are kind, brave, smart, strong, thoughtful, empathetic, etc.
Here are some of our favorites. This is by NO means a comprehensive list, but here are some of our favorites:
Jabari wants to jump off the high diving board at the pool, but when he gets up to the top, he realizes it was much higher than he wanted to. I love that he climbs back down, but tries again (successfully) later. It’s okay not to be ready for something the first time, and takes lots of courage to try again, even if you’re scared!
I LOVE this book. A girl at school spills juice on her new dress and everyone laughs except the main character. He remembers his mom telling him to be kind, but isn’t exactly sure what to do in this situation. As he thinks through it, he talks about all sorts of ways we can choose kindness, from using someone’s name as you greet them, to paying attention, to inviting them to work with/play with/sit with you, to bringing cookies, donating clothes, etc. It’s an AWESOME, AWESOME social story that illustrates some great ways to react in different situations.
Another great book about compassion, gratitude, and selflessness. CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town each Sunday. CJ has questions for his grandma, who answers in ways that teach him empathy and gratitude. Such a great way to introduce so many different conversations.
4. & 5. She Persisted & She Persisted: Around the World.
I LOVE these books. Each one profiles several different women who didn’t give up in the face of adversity. From Malala, to doctors, to politicians, poets, ballerinas, and more, these are both fantastic. If I had to choose one favorite (so hard!), I’d probably say the Around the World one, because I love the broader world view and the chance to discover people I might not otherwise have heard of.
So far, this is my favorite book of the year. It’s presented in much the same way as the She Persisted books, with profiles of all sorts of different leaders throughout history. This one focuses specifically on women of color and does so with GORGEOUS illustrations and inspiring stories. I love that we could read about Harriet Tubman in the same book as Katherine Johnson (NASA physicist & mathematician), Oprah, olympians, nursing pioneers, lawyers, dancers, singers, scientists, and more.
She has an “around the world” one coming out in November. I can’t wait!
7. Dear Girl,
I LOVE Amy Krause Rosenthal and this book was beautiful. It’s basically a love letter for her daughter and girls everywhere, with all the things she wants them to know. Sweet, easy, and full of messages I want both my kids to know.
8-10. The “What do You Do With…” books.
These are fantastic growth mindset books with great illustrations. From What Do You Do with an Idea? to What Do You Do with a Problem? (my favorite) to What Do You Do With a Chance?, I love how each one explores some way we can learn and grow.
11. Shark Lady
This true story of Eugenie Clark, a scientist who made groundbreaking discoveries about sharks and marine life was one of Sophie’s favorites last year.
Oh, how I love Malala. We’ve read several books about her and watched some videos of her speaking, and I just love her so much I cried through her podcast interview with Oprah. She’s incredible!
13. Those Shoes
This one broke my heart a bit. This story is about Jeremy, who wants the same shoes everyone else has at school. His grandma explains that right now they only have enough money for needs, not wants and that she’s going to get him a pair of good boots for winter. Jeremy finds a pair at a thrift store and buys them even though they are too small. Soon, he makes friend with a boy at school who needs them more than he does and he gives them to him. It’s a beautiful story of kindness, and opens up conversation about empathy, wanting to fit in, and how it’s not always easy to give things away.
This is such a sweet book with darling illustrations. Adele owns a cafe in town, where she brings sunshine and happiness to everyone who knows her. She takes such great care of everyone that one friend starts leaving gifts for her along the way. My kids loved figuring out who it was before Adele did, and Sophie’s been playing cafe over and over and over again for weeks. I love that it shares about being kind just to help others be happy, and how that spreads.
R.J. Palacio’s picture book story from her Wonder characters. I love how this shares a tiny view of the world through Auggie’s eyes and how we can all look at each other a little differently.
I’d love to find more books about kids with character that feature boys as the main character. So many “boy” books are silly, or mischievous, or competition-focused. I’d love to find more books about boys who are kind, brave, empathetic, fighting for what’s right, etc. Do you have any favorites?
PS – Love book recommendations? You can see lots of our book recommendations here, or subscribe to the weekly newsletter, where I often share books we’re loving, along with weekly favorites, recipes, tips, tricks, and more!