While these are truly just my personal favorites, I realized as I was compiling this list that these books could be used as a character study of sorts. Each one teaches a valuable lesson or models a character trait worth emulating.
I believe there's something here for every family! I hope you discover a new gem on this list.
- Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming (ages 5-9) What it's about: Based on a true story, there is little left in Katje's town of Olst in Holland from the ravages of World War II. One spring morning, a mysterious box from America arrives bearing gifts. This begins a powerful exchange between two young girls that impacts lives on both sides of the ocean. What I love: This story shows even young children that they can make a difference in the lives of others.
- Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick (ages 5-9) What it's about: This is the true story of the Winnie, the real bear that inspired the story of Winnie-the-Pooh. You'll follow Winnie from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to a World War I army base in England... and finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie meets a new friend: a boy named Christopher Robin. What I love: This is a remarkable, heartwarming story that will endear you even more to Winnie-the-Pooh.
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead (ages 2-5) What it's about: Amos, the zookeeper, is sick. So his animal friends board the city bus to visit their friend and cheer him up. What I love: This is such a simple but well told (and beautifully illustrated) story of kindness, empathy, and friendship. The sequel, Amos McGee Misses the Bus, is just as delightful.
- The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross by Carl Laferton (ages 3-7) What it's about: This is the story of creation, the fall, the redemption purchased for us by Jesus' death on the cross, and the glorious future for all who believe in Him. What I love: This is the clearest, most compelling, gospel-centered picture book I've encountered for children. It also explains on the meaning of the temple curtain being torn in two in a way that children can understand.
- Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler (ages 5-9) What it's about: A widowed mother and her eight children must start over after her husband passes away. They move into a tiny cabin in the woods and work hard to make it a home. What I love: This true story of resourcefulness and the power of a positive perspective–always finding ways to have fun and experience joy together—is heartwarming.
- Lost in the Library by Josh Funk (ages 4-7) What it's about: This story is about Patience and Fortitude, the two lion statues that faithfully guard the New York Public Library. When Patience goes missing, Fortitude realizes the secret to Patience's disappearance may be within the Library itself. What I love: This rhyming adventure through the New York Public Library ends in the children section with the sweetest display of friendship.
- Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli (ages 4-7) What it's about: Mr. Hatch is a lovable but lonely man who receives a mysterious heart-shaped package for Valentine's Day that astonishes him with the realization, "Somebody loves me!" The belief that he is loved transforms him... and in turn, his entire community. What I love: Though this is technically a Valentine's Day book, we keep it on our shelf year-round because it's such a poignant example of the power of being seen and loved.
- The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard (ages 5-9) What it's about: This is an absolutely fascinating true story of a woman who learns to read at age 116. It also follows her life from slavery and all the way through the Civil Rights movement. What I love: This story proves that it's never too late to learn something new! It also highlights the value of reading and education.
- The Empty Pot by Demi (ages 4-7) What I love: This fable-like story about honesty and how it is rewarded will make your children consider the value of being honest.
- The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman (ages 4-7) What I love: This is a masterful story, told in rhyme, about how a family creatively solves its extreme picky-eater problem. It's inventive, hilarious, and we never tire of reading it!