Teaching Character Through Literature: Gratitude

November 1, 2020 | Sharon Cumberland

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
— G.K. Chesterton

GRATITUDE: Being thankful and showing appreciation for those in our lives and for what we have and receive.

Catch Phrase: Say thank you as much as possible.

We have so much to be grateful for these days. Here at Wisdom Wonder Project, we are especially grateful for our fabulous librarians and the time they spend finding applicable books that inspire and encourage our monthly character traits. Today we have an abundance of book recommendations for you with the theme of gratitude. The upcoming holiday breaks are perfect times to snuggle up with your kids and a good book. Let us know your favorite in the comments below!

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Jake Swamp, illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr.
A salute to Mother Earth and all her beauty, the “good morning message” is traditionally delivered at the beginning of each day and at special ceremonies. Its simple, timeless language bears witness to the Native American reverence for the natural world and sense of unity with all living things (“We give thanks to green grasses that feel so good against our bare feet, for the cool beauty you bring to Mother Earth’s floor”). Drawing on Six Nation (Iroquois) ceremonial tradition, this version is presented by a chief of the Mohawk nation. The text speaks concise thanks to Mother Earth, to water, grass fruits, animals, to the wind and rain, sun, moon, and stars, to the Spirit Protectors of our past and present, “for showing us ways to live in peace and harmony,” and to the Great Spirit, giver of all. The entire text is reproduced in Mohawk on the last page. (For all ages)

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
The Thankful Book celebrates all the little things children can give thanks for. From everyday activities like reading and bathtime to big family meals together and special alone time between parent and child, the author inspires readers to remember all of life’s special moments. (For ages 2+)

Otis Gives Thanks by Loren Long
Otis is an adorable tractor who is thankful for everything in life. This board book is perfect for toddlers, who might enjoy the other books in the Otis series too. (For all ages)

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Frane Lessac
An extended family takes part in traditions that express gratitude and carry on Cherokee history and culture, such as stomp dancing at the Great New Moon Ceremony, basket weaving, making corn-husk dolls, and playing stickball. The book opens, “Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude.” The book underscores the importance of traditions and carrying on a Cherokee way of life while simultaneously incorporating modernity. The text includes several Cherokee words; a line of text in a smaller font along the bottom of the page provides each word as written in the English alphabet, its phonetic pronunciation, the word as written in the Cherokee alphabet, and its definition. A glossary, an author’s note on Cherokee culture, and a complete Cherokee syllabary are included. Lessac’s cheerful, richly detailed gouache illustrations in bright, saturated colors bring the scenes to life. (For ages 3+)

Wolf in the Snow by James Cordell
Caught in a blizzard on her way home from school, a girl in a red parka discovers a wolf pup left behind by its pack. Cordell’s story is wordless, but there’s a soundtrack: the cub whines and distant howls reveal the pack’s presence over the next hill. The girl’s story is a hero’s journey, and Cordell tells it with skill and heart. (For ages 3+)

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
A rhyming tale about a bear who wants to show his gratitude to his friends, but finds he has nothing to give. His friends help him realize that he does have a special gift to share after all. (For ages 3+)

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
This rhyming picture book takes a look at people around us and what they might be thankful for. It’s a simple, gentle message about gratitude and appreciation. (For ages 3+)

Penguin Problems by Jory John
Sometimes highlighting the opposite of what you want to instill can be effective – take for example, the grumpy penguin in this story. He complains about everything! A wise walrus encourages him to appreciate the good things in life, but will he truly change? Kids and adults will enjoy and relate to this funny story. (For ages 3+)

Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty
This beloved adaptation of the classic folktale “Androcles and the Lion” is about friendship, gratitude, and helping others. (For ages 3+)
We have a Book A Week unit for Junior K on this book to really make it come alive!

It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale by Margot Zemach
Here’s a hilarious tale about a poor man with a large family living in a crowded hut, who goes to his Rabbi for advice. Things go from bad to worse in surprising and silly ways. This humorous story reminds us to be thankful no matter our circumstances. (For ages 3+)

Three Cheers for Kid McGear by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Illustrated by AG Ford
Kid McGear is the newest truck to join the crew and she’s eager to help with even the roughest and toughest construction work. But when a steep cliff puts the other trucks in danger, can the new Kid on the site prove she’s big enough for even this big, big job? (For ages 3+)

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
A talented quiltmaker has many willing buyers, but she decides she will instead give her quilts to the poor. The greedy king, however, insists on getting one of her special quilts. The quiltmaker finally tells him she will make him a quilt if he gives away everything he owns. With each gift he gives, the quilt maker would sew in another piece of his quilt. Finally, the king agrees to give away his things so he can get a quilt, and he has a change of heart in the process. Each page highlights a different quilt block pattern whose name relates to the unfolding story. (For ages 4+)

Ten Thank -You Letters by Daniel Kirk
A cute and simple story of friendship and the importance of thanking the people in your life for the gifts they give you. This story shows how meaningful thank-you notes can be. (For ages 4+)

Giving Thanks: More than 100 ways to say thank you by Ellen Surrey
In this cute and playful book, a boy thinks about the people in his life he’d like to thank, imagining all the different ways he could show his gratitude. (For ages 6+)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Inspired by Chinese folklore, here’s a timeless adventure story about a poor girl who sets off in search of the Old Man on the Moon to find out how she can change her family’s fortune. This fun fantasy tale for middle school students reveals the evil of greed and the joy found in gratitude. On the 4th grade Battle of the Books list. (For ages 8+)

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, the Young Readers Edition by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormich
The remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. This book will make you grateful for our free access to education and will affirm your belief in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world. (This young readers’ edition is for ages 11+)

Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights by Malala Yousafzai and Sarah J. Robbins
An abridged chapter book version of Malala’s story. (For ages 7-10)

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet
As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true. (For ages 4-8)

Want more resources? Read Character Counts: Gratitude.

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