Best picture books to teach children gratitude

Father reading to his daughter at home

Saying “thank you” is one of the first steps in teaching children to appreciate things. But to be truly grateful for what they have, children need to understand what it’s like not to have something — either by experiencing it themselves or witnessing it in others.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, why not take a moment to curl up with a good book that can help your little ones experience gratitude through the eyes of empathetic characters. Here are a few suggestions, for ages 4 and up, that will make a lasting impression on anyone’s heart, no matter their age.

Those Shoes

Books that teach gratitude to children include Those Shoes

By: Maribeth Boelts

From Jeremy’s first words, “I have dreams about those shoes,” we know what he wants. The trouble is, “There’s no room for ‘want’ around here — just need,” his grandma tells him. But that doesn’t mean Jeremy wants those shoes any less. When his sneakers fall apart at school and he has to wear sneakers from the lost and found with Velcro and an “animal on them from a cartoon [he] doesn’t think he ever watched” he’s more determined than ever to get “those shoes,” even if it means forcing his feet into a thrift shop pair that are too small.

But when Jeremy sees an opportunity to help a friend, he recognizes that the things he has — a loving grandma and a pair of warm new snow boots — are worth more than the thing he wants most. A wonderful story about gratitude, Jeremy’s story will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Last Stop on Market Street

By: Matt de la Peña

As CJ and his Nana board the bus that takes them across town, all CJ can see is what he doesn’t have — a car to drive them, a device to listen to music, a home in a part of town that is not covered in graffiti — and he wants to know why. But Nana counters his questions by pointing out the wonders around them — a man playing guitar, a rainbow shining across the sky, thankful folks who depend on them at a soup kitchen — helping CJ realize that even though he doesn’t have what others do, he has what really matters.

This tender picture book was honored with many accolades including the 2016 Newbery Award, a Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Book Award.

Thanks a Million

Books that teach gratitude to children include Thanks a Million

By: Nikki Grimes

Poetry can be appreciated by even the youngest children with its creative language and rhythmic patterns. This unique collection of 16 poems tells stories of gratitude from different children’s perspectives, many of whom have endured great loss — the death of a parent, the loss of hearing or a home.

From thanking a neighbor for cooking for her when her mother gets home late, to a boy thanking a shelter for its walls and beds, this heart-warming book captures what it means to be grateful in different poetic voices with distinctive illustrations.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Books that teach gratitude to children include Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

By: William Steig

This classic story, written almost 50 years ago, feels just as relevant today as it did when it was written, maybe even more so. Sylvester has big aspirations when he finds a magic pebble that can grant any wish. But when he ends up accidentally turning himself into a rock that can’t move or speak, he realizes that the only thing that matters to him is his family.

Steig writes, “Some day they [Sylvester’s family] might want to use it [the magic pebble], but really, for now, what more could they wish for? They had all that they wanted.” A recipient of the 1970 Caldecott Medal, this timeless book will tug gently at your heartstrings.

Thanksgiving at the Tappletons

Books that teach gratitude to children include Thanksgiving at the Tappletons

By: Eileen Spinelli

It’s another Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’. But when the frozen turkey slips down an icy walkway, the traditional pies are sold out at the local bakery and other culinary calamities ensue, the Tappletons are forced to improvise and recognize that Thanksgiving is not about the turkey and the trimmings. Spinelli writes, “Everyone had plenty to eat. But most of all, they had each other.”

Told with humor that underscores the message of gratitude, this book will not only help parents and children reflect on their own unique and often quirky family dynamics, but will also serve as a gentle reminder about just how important family is.

Monster’s Monster

Books that teach gratitude to children include Monster's Monster

By: Patrick McDonnell

Three grouchy little monsters can’t agree on who’s the “biggest, baddest monster,” so together they create a “MONSTER monster” — only their creation doesn’t turn out quite like they expect him to. Gentle and thoughtful, their un-monster-like monster is grateful for being created, “Dank you!” he tells the other monsters.

By showing them kindness, the three little monsters ultimately learn to be grateful too. Humorous and lighthearted, this story conveys how small acts of kindness can make all the difference.

Grateful, A Song of Giving Thanks

By: John Bucchino

While words and art can bring a book to life, music weaves its way into our souls like nothing else. This vibrant picture book with an accompanying CD reminds us how much we should be grateful for, including those things we often take for granted — the wonders of nature, the blessings of faith and the roof over our heads. Bucchino writes, “It’s not that I don’t want a lot, or hope for more or dream of more, but giving thanks for what I’ve got makes me so much happier than keeping score.”

Told in lilting language with soothing music, this book serves as a reminder of life’s special gifts.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

Books that teach gratitude to children

By: Dr. Seuss

With his signature, playful rhymes and vibrant, outlandish illustrations, Dr. Seuss helps children realize that no matter what they complain about, someone’s always got it worse — like Ali Sard who has to mow quick-growing grass in his uncle’s back yard. Seuss writes, “You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not!”

As silly as the language can be, this story has an underlying message that will help kids realize just how lucky they are.


Read our patients’ stories of finding gratitude.

About the blogger: Patty Lenz Bovie is a freelance writer and an aspiring children’s book author. She’s also an avid reader of children’s books, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a frequent visitor to The Writers’ Loft and a mom to two teen daughters. She lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with her family.