Exploring Character Education with Picture Books

Among the sessions I was able to attend at the recent AASL conference was one that focused on character education through picture books.  Most of the books that the presenter discussed in the session were oldies-but-goodies, so they were already on Mackin’s character education lists.  But I was inspired to think about some of the picture books I’ve come across recently with character traits in mind.  After all, as the presenter pointed out, picture books are a great way to focus a conversation with kids and help make intangible concepts more concrete.

Chris Rashka’s latest book, Ball for Daisy, is a gentle wordless story that begins with a dog playing with her favorite toy—a red ball.  She is delighted to have another dog join in her game, but when the other dog accidentally deflates the ball, it doesn’t take words to express Daisy’s sadness. Raschka’s watercolor and ink illustrations capture the action in panels that resemble a graphic novel, and he skillfully conveys Daisy’s feelings.  You can use this book with younger readers to talk about being courteous with other kids’ toys or to talk about the emotions Daisy is feeling and how they relate to them.

Dream Something Big tells how we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.  It begins with one little chip of tile that inspires Simon Rodia to create the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, which are now U.S. National Landmark.  In this book, he is called “Uncle Sam” and his story is told from the perspective of a fictional young girl who watches the towers go up in her neighborhood, when people thought the man was foolish and crazy.  She grows up and takes her children to see the towers, and she notes that people no longer think he was crazy. They think he was a genius. This is a wonderfully inspiring book that will be at home in an art class as well as a character education lesson.

The young girl in I Had a Favorite Dress finds dealing with change isn’t so bad  with a little creative thinking.  When she out-grows her favorite dress that she wears every Tuesday, her mother advises her not to make mountains out of molehills, instead make molehills out of mountains.  With this advice in mind, mother and daughter make something new out of that old favorite dress every time it becomes too small or out of season, until finally there’s nothing left to snip or sew. Even then, change can’t get the best of her.  She captures the memory of her favorite dress (and all its incarnations) with a picture she draws herself.  Share this picture book with your young fashionistas for a subtle lesson in adapting to life’s changes.

I Want My Hat Back is one of my personal favorites of the year.  Readers watch as a bear looks for his hat.  He asks animal after animal if they have seen his hat until a deer asks what his hat looked like.  As he describes his hat, he realizes that he has seen it, and that is when readers realize that one of the animals was lying (though observant readers may have already picked up on some suspicious behavior from the rabbit).  Bear gets mad, and he goes back to confront the rabbit. Then it is the bear’s turn to act suspicious when he is questioned about the whereabouts of the rabbit. A unique picture book that looks at honesty and guilty behavior that will have kids laughing and, hopefully, talking.

These are just a few that I thought of.  What are some of your favorite titles to use in character education lessons?


Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka. Scwartz & Wade. May 2011.

Dream Something Big by Diana Hutts Aston. Dial. August 2011.

I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn. Abrams Books for Young Readers. January 2011.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Candlewick. September 2011.

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