Growing Readers Review: Children's Books that Teach Life Lessons

Teacher observing plants with two toddlers

Sorting out the world is the job of children. And there is so much to learn. When caring adults answer the needs of infants, these very young children learn that the world is a responsive place and that they can feel secure. Toddlers move from the realm of "mine" to actually being able to share a favorite toy. And preschoolers become more and more adept at solving problems large and small.

Children are curious learners and gain knowledge daily through all of their interactions and observations. And good children's literature offers a rich start to just about every topic of interest to a child.

Tap the Magic Tree is an almost magical, interactive introduction to the four seasons. Even the youngest readers will see and hear the rhythm of nature. In Sophie's Squash, a pet veggie delightfully explores the ideas of love and patience. For older readers, Nasreddine presents the difference between criticism and wisdom. And finally, Wonder gives us an extraordinary lesson from the words of a 10-year-old.

All of these books give children an engaging introduction to complex ideas and provide families with the basis for great conversations. And, of course, they open the door to the great gift of becoming a lifelong reader.

By Susan C. Brenner, EdD.


Nasreddine, written by Odile Weulersse and illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer, School Age: In this Middle Eastern folktale, a young boy named Nasreddine learns a life lesson during the weekly trips to the market with his father and their donkey. As the father and son complete their errands, villagers seem quick to criticize. If Nasreddine rides the donkey, he is chided for not respecting his elders. When Nasreddine walks behind his father, he's criticized for getting his boots muddy. Everything Nasreddine does seems wrong. His father, Mustafa, finally offers some advice, "It is up to you to decide if what you're hearing is wise, or if it's only a silly and hurtful remark." His father's wisdom complemented by vivid illustrations and a bright text bring a Middle Eastern village to life.

Tap the Magic Tree, written and illustrated by Christie Matheson, Infant & Toddler: "There's magic in this bare brown tree. Tap it once. Turn the page and see." Following these simple instructions will start children on an interactive adventure as they tap, rub, blow, and jiggle their way through this captivating book.

Sophie's Squash, written and illustrated by Pat Zeitlow and Anne Wilsdorf, School Age: While visiting a farmer's market, Sophie picks out a squash. Her mom plans to cook it for dinner, but Sophie has other ideas. She names the squash Bernice and it becomes a beloved friend. Sophie's parents try to prepare her for what may happen to her new friend as winter approaches.

Wonder, written by R.J. Palacio, School Age: Children's literature can be a great introduction to life's hard questions. Wonder explores the world of a youngster who looks very different from his peers. August is a 10-year-old boy getting ready to start middle school. On top of the normal worries this transition entails, Auggie is nervous about being accepted. He was born with a mutant gene that causes severe facial anomalies. Wonder captures the dual nature of childhood. It's about the hurt we inflict and the wounds we carry, and all the experiences that teach us to do the right thing and learn from our mistakes. Ultimately, a sense of love and goodness prevails which leaves you filled with inspiration and gratitude for this well-told tale.


Daddies and their Babies and Mommies and their Babies, Written and Illustrated by Guido Van Genechten, Infant & Toddler: These simple black and white board books feature animal babies with their daddies and mommies. The playful illustrations highlight some familiar animals like dogs and cats, but also introduce more unusual animal parents and babies, such as hedgehogs and crocodiles.

Change the World Before Bedtime, Collaboration by Mark Moulton; Josh Chalmers; and Karen Good, Preschool: A rhyming story with engaging illustrations about the big and small ways children can be socially responsible. From composting to using kind words, the authors suggest many ideas for children to improve the world.

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives, Written by Lola M. Schaefer and Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, Preschool: Did you know that a caribou will grow and shed ten sets of antlers in a lifetime or that a giraffe has 200 spots? This book is full of engaging animal number facts for children and parents to marvel over together.

The Boy and His Airplane, Written and Illustrated by Mark Pett, Preschool: A little boy delights in flying his toy airplane until it lands on a roof. How will he get it down? After several attempts, he comes up with a remarkable solution. Beautifully illustrated in gray and sepia tones, this wordless book offers a quiet lesson in selflessness and generosity.

The Spelling Bee Before Recess, Written by Deborah Lee Rose and Illustrated by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis, School Age: Through humor, suspense, and a clever rhyming text, young readers will enjoy the thrill of spelling and reading aloud. The whimsical illustrations perfectly complement the emotions of winning - and losing - the spelling bee. Life Lessons: sportsmanship, hard work, and the value of reading.

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Teacher observing plants with two toddlers