Education | Parenting & Motherhood

My Top Children’s Books for Cultivating Virtuous Behavior

February 5, 2017
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“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” – C. S. Lewis

As a Literature major and a former English Language Arts teacher, I am a big believer in the importance of reading to our children from an early age. With each new book, a whole new world of imagination is opened up for them. It helps our children broaden their horizons and to see the world from new perspectives, hopefully making them more compassionate and loving individuals. Reading also plays a big role in forming our children’s moral conscience, helping them better understand the difference between right and wrong and providing an excellent springboard for family discussion. Below, are some of my favorite children’s stories, each modeling a particular virtue or teaching a religious concept.

The Squire and the Scroll

This beautifully illustrated book by Jennie Bishop tells the tale of a brave squire who goes on a dangerous quest to retrieve the “Lantern of Purest Light” which has been stolen by a dragon. Guided by the scroll given to him by his parents, the squire is able to guard his ears, eyes, and mouth form the temptations which beset him along the way. This book is a great way to introduce to children the importance of guarding themselves from temptation. In fact, I even read this book to my 4th grad Religion class back when I was a teacher and they loved it.

The Princess and the Kiss: A Story of God’s Gift of Purity

Also written by Jennie Bishop, this book is meant to teach young girls about the beautiful gift of their purity. In it, a loving queen and king give their daughter a precious gift from God–her first kiss–which is hers to keep or give away. Though I don’t love this book quite as much as The Squire and the Scroll, I do think that it is a great way to begin introducing the concept of purity to young girls, paving the way for more in depth conversations as they mature.


The Rainbow Fish

For those of you not familiar with Marcus Pfister’s classic The Rainbow Fish, this remains one of my daughter’s favorite books. Covered with brilliant scales of all different colors, the Rainbow Fish is selfish, refusing to share his beauty with others. The result is that he ends up isolating himself entirely. Thanks to a wise octopus’ advice, he eventually learns the great joy that comes from sharing causing the Rainbow Fish to give all but one of his colorful scales away. Yet even though he is no longer the most beautiful fish in the sea, the Rainbow Fish finds that he is much happier. Sharing is such a difficult concept for little ones, and this book provides the perfect platform for a discussion on why it is good for us to share what we have with others.

The Giving Tree

Shel Silverstein’s beloved children’s book tells the story of a generous tree who lovingly gives a boy all that he has. Yet even though the tree is eventually reduced to nothing more than a stump, each time he is able to give of himself in some way to the boy the tree is happy. In contrast, no matter how much the boy receives he always comes back wanting more. In this way, Silverstein demonstrates the iconic saying “it is better to give than receive.” Besides teaching the beauty of generosity, this book also provides an excellent way to teach children about the importance of caring for nature and not being too greedy in life.


Tops & Bottoms (Caldecott Honor Book)

In this fable by Janet Stevens, Hare (having lost his bet with the Tortoise) is in dire straits. So he and his wife come up with a clever plan to con their lazy neighbor Bear. Hare agrees to do all the planting, tending, and harvesting of Bear’s crops provided they split the produce. What ensues is a hilarious narrative where Hare walks away with all the best parts of the produce three different times, leaving behind the non-edible parts for Bear. Finally, Bear learns to do the work himself while Hare and his family are able to buy back their land and open a produce stand.

My children delight in the humorous tone of this story and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something new to read before bedtime.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids (Bucketfilling Books)

This book was actually first read to me at a teacher’s in-service. Put simply, this award winning book is all about the importance of filling others’ invisible buckets with kindness and love, rather than emptying them out. It became a kind of motto for our school year for teachers and students alike. Much like The Giving Tree, this books shows children (and adults) that being kind and helpful to others brings joy not only to them but to ourselves as well.


The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith

In a town where religious devotion has fallen by the wayside, a poor widow enters a bakery begging for a scrap of bread. Not having any money, the widow offers the baker one Mass in payment for her bread. Scoffing at such a poor payment, the baker writes “One Mass” on a scrap of paper and then places it on the scale to see what it is worth. Yet much to his surprise (and soon the entire town) nothing in the store equals the weight of the Mass, not even the King’s ginormous wedding cake.

This is a beautiful way to explain to children why the Mass is both so beautiful and important.


An Alphabet of Saints Sorry, no image for this one but for a homeschooling mom of either a preschooler or kindergartner, this is a great way to have a short introduction of a new saint each week as your child works on various letters. I bought this for my daughter (age 3) at the beginning of the school year. I’ll be honest and say that I found it to be a bit mature for her. So, we’ve put it aside to take out next year for preK4.

I hope you find something useful here to help you in raising your own little person in faith. Also, I’m always looking for new books for my own children, so if you have any suggestions please send them my way through the comments below.

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