Sparking Thankfulness and Joy: Picture Books about Gratitude to Engage Your Students

Sparking Thankfulness and Joy: Picture Books about Gratitude to Engage Your Students

Autumn and Fall is the perfect time to introduce your students to picture books about gratitude and thankfulness! These beautiful, captivating stories will inspire conversations about being thankful while shining a light on the simple joys of life. These picture books about gratitude will help your students cultivate a sense of appreciation and understanding of the world around them.

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Expressing a Sense of Gratitude and Thankfulness

Expressing gratitude and thankfulness makes us happier and healthier, playing a role in our overall well-being. It helps us look at our lives in terms of what is around us and not just material things.

Gratitude is more than saying thank you. It is about being thankful for what we care about – family members, friends, nature and acts of kindness. Showing gratitude shows that you value and understand the recipient of your appreciation and thanks. 

Picture books about gratitude are powerful tools for you to use to help children understand and develop gratitude and thankfulness.

You can devise a classroom atmosphere of appreciation and create meaningful experiences for children helping them develop essential social and emotional learning skills, including the practice of gratitude. You can foster a classroom environment of kindness, empathy, and appreciation through these gratitude stories.

Characteristics of an Appreciative and Grateful Mindset

  • Recognition of what people do.
  • Expresses a happier and positive mindset.
  • Communicates appreciation to others spontaneously.
  • Recognises what is happening around them.
  • Appreciates the little things and not just material objects.
  • Values supportive people in their life.
  • Has the resilience to face difficulties.
  • Understands life is not always fair.
Picture Books about Gratitude to Engage Your Students

Why Read Picture Books about Gratitude and Thankfulness?

Reading gratitude and thankfulness picture books in the classroom has several benefits for teachers and students:

Fosters a positive attitude: Reading picture books about gratitude helps students develop a more positive attitude towards life and their surroundings.

Promotes empathy: Picture books highlighting the importance of gratitude and thankfulness promote empathy and understanding towards others as children learn to appreciate and express gratitude towards those who have helped them.

Builds a sense of community: Reading picture books about gratitude and thankfulness develops a sense of community and fosters positive relationships between students and teachers. By emphasising the importance of gratitude and thankfulness, teachers can help create a classroom culture that is supportive and inclusive.

Questions to Pair with Picture Books about Gratitude

Here are a few questions to ask your students before, during and after reading gratitude and Thanksgiving picture books.

  • I am thankful for ______ because _______.
  • Did you thank someone today? Why?
  • What acts of kindness have been important to you? Why?
  • What places/people do you feel grateful for? Why?
  • Tell me about one thoughtful action you showed someone.
  • What is the best thing that has happened today? Tell me why.
  • What made you smile today?
  • Tell me about the most beautiful thing you saw today.
  • How do your family and friends show they care for you?
  • How do you show your family and friends you care for them?

Picture Books about Gratitude and Thankfulness

Gratefulness is an abstract concept for children, but reading these picture books about gratitude and highlighting great examples makes it easier to understand. 

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

Based on a true story, 14 Cows for America tells the tale of a Maasai tribesman named Kimeli, who returns to his Kenyan village after studying in the United States. Upon hearing about September 11, 2001, Kimeli and his community offer a special gift to the people of America as a symbol of compassion and hope: 14 cows, a gesture of great significance in Maasai culture. 

14 Cows for America highlights themes of empathy, unity, the power of human connection across cultures, and the importance of kindness and understanding in the face of adversity.

Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey

This book takes us on a journey through nature, where a child learns the beauty of being thankful for the gifts it provides. From hazelnuts to apples, eggs, and milk, the child discovers the wonders of what nature has to offer and how they can create something delicious, like an apple cake.

This book teaches us to take pleasure in simple things and be thankful for what we have. It’s a reminder that joy can be found in the simplest of things and that we have much to be grateful for every day.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson

Lonely Bear invites his friends over for a meal, but he has no food to offer them. Bear becomes grateful and embarrassed that he has nothing to add as his friends each come by with food to share. When he admits this to his friends, they reassure him that his company is all they want.

Bear Says Thanks sparks discussions on gratitude, generosity, friendship, and the importance of being thankful. It helps children understand that it’s not always about what we have but who we have in our lives that matters.

The Beckoning Cat by Koko Nishizuka

In Japanese culture, the Beckoning Cat is believed to bring good luck. When a boy displays kindness to a stray cat, the feline aids the boy’s family business by attracting customers, which helps in caring for his sick father. 

The Beckoning Cat explores harmony and balance and the values of appreciation and gratitude. It demonstrates the impact of kindness and its potential to bring about positive changes.

Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming

In post-World War II Netherlands, Katje lives in a town devastated by the war. One day, she receives an unexpected package filled with soap, socks, and chocolate from an American girl named Rosie. This sparks a friendship and correspondence between them. As more packages from Rosie arrive, filled with much-needed supplies, Katje’s generosity shines as she shares the contents with her neighbours.

Boxes for Katje explores generosity, sharing, compromise, and thankfulness. It illustrates how acts of kindness, no matter how small, can significantly impact others and foster a sense of community.

A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A Chair for My Mother illuminates the power of love, family, and community even in the most challenging times. Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother lose their home to a devastating fire.

The book gives us a glimpse into poverty, the importance of saving money, the impact of community kindness and generosity, and the power of perseverance, even in the face of adversity.

The Crane Girl by Curtis Manley

Yasuhiro finds an injured crane in the snow. He helps the bird and watches it fly away. The next night, a mysterious young girl named Hiroko appears at his house. She offers to weave silk fabric to help Yasuhiro’s father, who is struggling to earn money. After selling the silk, his father wants more, and his greed significantly impacts their lives. 

The story of The Crane Girl teaches us about friendship, generosity, kindness, greed and how our actions can change lives.

Dear Little One by Nina Laden

Explore the joy, love, and beauty of everyday life through the eyes of a little girl and her dog. Written as a letter from Mother Nature, the book invites students to embrace the wonders of nature, fostering a sense of appreciation and connection to the world around them. 

Teachers can use Dear Little One to spark discussions about the environment, promote joy, and cultivate a sense of gratitude in their students.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

As a boy grows, a tree generously fulfils his needs at every stage of life, reminding us of the profound love and selflessness that nature embodies. Only in his later years does the boy realise the depth of the tree’s generosity, prompting feelings of gratitude and appreciation.

The Giving Tree sparks discussions on appreciation, selfishness, forgiveness, generosity, responsible decision-making and personification.

Here and Now by Julia Denos

The book invites the reader to slow down, live in the moment, and appreciate the world’s beauty. It offers a journey of discovery and self-awareness, fostering an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures and moments.

Here and Now” explores mindfulness, appreciation, and thankfulness. It illustrates the importance of living in the present moment and fostering a sense of gratitude for the world around us.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are is a guide to our planet and the diverse lives it houses. From the tallest mountains to the vast oceans, from the limitless sky to the array of beautiful creatures and human beings, the book encourages a sense of community and gratitude towards our shared home.

Use Here We Are to spark conversations around developing an appreciation for the world around us, nurturing curiosity about our planet and its inhabitants and building responsibility and open-mindedness towards all living beings.

The House Full of Stuff by Emily Rand

Mr. Macduff’s neighbours believe his home is cluttered with junk. Despite this, he maintains all his possessions have the potential for reuse or recycling. With the help of Mo, they mend the broken items of the community, leading the neighbours to appreciate Mr. Macduff’s house full of ‘treasures’.

The House Full of Stuff encourages conversations on recycling and reusing, the importance of community, and the values of appreciation and gratitude and demonstrates how something seemingly useless can be transformed into something valuable.

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca

Brian Floca pays tribute to the dedicated individuals who help a city function smoothly when its streets are quiet and deserted. They deliver mail, restock grocery shelves, and make deliveries, all contributing to the community’s well-being during uncertain times. 

Keeping the City Going promotes discussions on gratitude and appreciation for vital workers, community support, resilience and coping with uncertainty.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

Join CJ and his nana on a bus ride filled with colourful characters. As CJ questions why he doesn’t have the same things as his friends and why they volunteer at the soup kitchen, his nana’s wise and positive responses help him see the beauty in what he has and the power of giving.

Use Last Stop on Market Street to discuss appreciation for what we have and the joy of gratitude, generosity and the importance of helping others in need, developing a sense of community and belonging, poverty, being reflective and considering different perspectives.

Layla's Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

A young girl discovered the contentment found in everyday life. From the bright hue of her favourite colour to listening to her dad’s stories and snuggling up with her mother to read poetry in a blanket fort, to the community garden and visiting the farmer’s market with her best friend. From these special moments, she understands the importance of family, community, love, and the joy of finding beauty everywhere.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

A lion finds an injured bird and nurses it back to health, forming a deep friendship. As spring arrives, the bird must rejoin its flock and migrate north, leaving the lion alone. The lion continues with its life, experiencing the passing of seasons with a brave heart. The lion is rewarded with the bird’s familiar sound as autumn returns, signifying its friend’s return.

The Lion and the Bird explores themes of separation and reunion, the importance of empathy, kindness, and the bonds of friendship.

Little Bird by Germano Zullo

A man releases a flock of birds from his truck, but one stays behind. He nurtures the bird and eventually encourages it to rejoin its flock. As he prepares to leave, the entire flock returns, showing gratitude and thanking him.

Little Bird delves into themes of caring for others, expressing gratitude, building unexpected friendships, the transformative power of kindness and the value of freedom.

Outside, Inside by Leuyen Pham

Despite the challenging circumstances of the global pandemic, the book pays tribute to essential workers and highlights how communities came together, adapting to the new normal. The book echoes the emotions experienced by millions worldwide and highlights the strength and resilience that emerged from the crisis.

Outside, Inside presents themes of hope and optimism, adaptability, and gratitude amidst a global crisis. It emphasises the crucial role of essential workers and showcases how communities adapted and came together during challenging times.

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

Mrs. Piggott, the mother, single-handedly manages all domestic duties while her husband and two sons do nothing. Exhausted, she goes on strike, leaving the men to their own devices. The house quickly descends into chaos. Eventually, they recognise their lack of appreciation, plead for her return, and vow to divide household chores more fairly.

Piggybook encourages discussions about gender stereotypes, equality, gratitude, respect, the necessity of collaboration and fairness within a family, and the effects of taking others for granted.

Selma by Jutta Bauer

Selma’s idea of happiness is simple: grazing, playing with children, exercising, conversing with her neighbour, and having a long, satisfying sleep. Selma’s routine and definition of contentment remain the same whether she has more time or wins a million dollars.

Selma explores themes of appreciation, happiness in simplicity, the value of routines, and the importance of balance in life and emphasises gratitude for what one has.

Shu Lin's Grandpa by Matt Goodfellow

Shu Lin struggles to understand her grief and find ways to honour her grandfather, a skilled calligrapher. He shared his wisdom and love with his family through his art. After his passing, Shu Lin finds comfort in his calligraphy and continues her grandfather’s legacy. 

Through her experiences, Shu Lin learns about the importance of family and community and discovers the strength and resilience that can come from honouring those who have come before us.

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson

A young girl, strolling through the city with her father, finds flowers blossoming in unexpected places, such as sidewalk cracks. She shares these flowers with those she encounters – a lifeless bird, a sleeping man, a dog, and her family, symbolising random acts of kindness and discovering beauty in unlikely places. 

Sidewalk Flowers sparks conversations about empathy, generosity, and appreciating simple beauty within daily life.

The Sour Grape by Jory John

The Sour Grape learns the importance of forgiveness and having a positive attitude. The grape easily holds grudges until they experience being on the receiving end. This realization prompts a change in their outlook, highlighting the benefits of letting go, managing emotions, forgiveness, compassion, and self-management.

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Omu’s stew draws the attention of her neighbourhood, who come asking for a share. As the day ends, she realises she’s shared so much stew there’s none left for her. With a knock on her door, everyone she shared her stew with returned with food for Omu.

Thank You, Omu! illustrates the values of community, generosity, gratitude, and the joy of sharing. Omu’s selflessness and kindness is returned by her neighbours, demonstrating that when you give selflessly, you often receive more in return.

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

In this series’ final book, Piggie expresses her gratitude to all the significant individuals in her life. Gerald, however, is sceptical and feels overlooked when Piggie seemingly forgets to thank him. When Piggie realizes her mistake, she promptly apologizes.

The Thank You Book sparks discussions about appreciation, reflection, and thankfulness. It highlights the importance of expressi