Children’s Books for Teaching Character Traits in the Classroom

Children’s Books for Teaching Character Traits in the Classroom

Using picture books to teach character traits helps your students identify a deeper understanding of characters, even if the author doesn’t specifically state them.

Picture Books for Teaching Character Traits in the Classroom

Why Use Picture Books for Teaching Character Traits?

Picture books are short and, for the most part, self-contained stories. This lets you finish the books so your students can fully develop an understanding of its characters and their traits. The compact nature of picture books helps your students:

  • Use the text and illustrations to analyse feeling, actions, saying and thoughts (F.A.S.T)
  • Analyse how characters are influenced by events and relationships
  • Identify the change or turning point of a character, and how and when their actions changed
  • Identify the difference between character traits, internal traits and emotions
  • Infer a character's thoughts and feelings
  • Compare and contrast ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ traits in fairy tales
  • Explore how a real person influences or overcomes events in biographies

Teaching Character Traits

Teaching character traits can be challenging. Most of your students will be able to identify if a character is kind or mean, but using character traits as a literacy tool is so much more than that. Explicitly using picture books to teach character traits helps your students develop a deeper understanding.

Picture book authors don’t spend a lot of time describing every aspect of a character, like in chapter books or novels. So, your students need to learn how to infer information from the text, illustrations.

Reading between the lines to identify what the character thinks, feels, says and does will help them understand how events in a story change a character’s traits and behaviour and how this affects the plot and other characters.

Here are some things to think about before exploring the suggested books for teaching character traits.

  • Define character traits by clarifying the difference between character traits and emotions.
  • Highlight the difference between internal (actions, words, thoughts, and actions) and external traits (physical characteristics).
  • Use the vocabulary of character traits as much as possible so they become second nature to your students.

Questions to Use When Teaching Character Traits

  • Describe [character’s] character traits?What is the evidence?
  • How did [character] behavior and actions affect other characters? What is your evidence?
  • Describe the character traits [character] showed during [event]?
  • What caused [character] to change?
  • Describe the challenges faced by [character]? How did they overcome them?
  • What were the most important changes in [character]? Why?
  • What prompted [character] to change?
  • What do you think [character] is feeling or thinking?
  • What is the character going to do next? How will their actions affect the story?
  • What was the character’s mission? How did they achieve their goal?
  • Identify other characters who were also [trait].
  • How would the story have changed if [character] wasn’t [trait]?
  • How would the story have continued if [character] didn’t change?
  • Why did [character] change from [trait] to [trait]?

Graphic Organisers for Teaching Character Traits + FREEBIE!

I have made a pack of graphic organisers and activities to use teach character traits using ANY book.

I have a freebie that is part of this larger resource so you can try it out before buying anything!

Fill in the form below to get access to the Free Resource Library.

If you already have access to the free resource library, you will find the freebie in the Graphic Organiser section.

Books for Teaching Character Traits

This is not an exhaustive list of books for teaching character traits. You can use any picture books that have characters who show distinct personal qualities (positive and negative) and who go through character development and growth.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist's scientific curiosity leads her to question, hypothesise, experiment and figure out how the world works.

Promotes themes of curiosity, inquiry, knowledge and creative thinking.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

A retelling of Humpty Dumpty from the egg’s perspective. Promotes perspectives, a growth mindset, perseverance, and courage as Humpty Dumpty conquers his fear of heights.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Grace's love of reading and role-play motivates her to audition for the role of Peter Pan in the school play. The other children tell her she can't play a boys part. Her mama and Nana tell her she can be anything she wants, helping her find the confidence to audition and win the role of Peter Pan.

Promotes determination, self-esteem, enthusiasm, tolerance, and gender roles.

A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon

Camilla Cream loves lima beans, but she won’t eat them because her friends hate them. A mystery illness causes her to turn into what others think she should be. No one can figure out what is wrong until Camilla realises she needs to just be herself not bow to peer pressure.

Reinforces themes of balance, self-esteem and growth mindset.

The Bad Seed by Jory John

When a “bad seed' overhears negative comments he decides to change his ways. He doesn’t change his behaviour overnight but takes it one day at a time.

Promotes a growth mindset, self-management, self-awareness and social awareness.

A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy

A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy

A Boy Like You affirms positive character traits for boys to strive for. It shows masculinity is not about hiding emotions, physical strength and feats of daring, but rather fair play, kindness, understanding, self-management and self-awareness.

Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman

A young girl bands together with a group of children to influence change in their community. They realise they have the power to change the world for the better, big and small, with their words and actions and inspire others to do the same.

This first-person narrative poetry book promotes conversations about a sense of community, change, unity, hope, cooperation, kindness, activism and a growth mindset.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum loves her name but on her first day of school, she gets teased for its uniqueness. When her music teacher reveals she is naming her baby Chrysanthemum, everyone wants to change their name to a flower.

Promotes identity, friendships and self-management.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Did you know dragons love tacos but hate spicy salsa? This becomes a problem for a boy when he hosts a dragon taco party and the spicy salsa is mislabelled!

Use to teach problem & solution and cause & effect.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López

Cuba’s traditions don't allow female drummers. A young girl tries to keep her passion a secret. But when others hear her music they dance and sing to her rhythm. This passion changes tradition and anyone who dreams of playing the drums, no matter their gender, can.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae

Giraffes Can’t Dance? Or can they? Gerald is determined to take part in the annual Jungle dance. While the other animals laugh he shows perseverance, determination, and confidence to follow his dream.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Over the course of a boy’s life, he asks a tree to help him and she gives him everything she has. It is only on reflection, as an old man, he feels gratitude and thankfulness towards the tree.

The Good Egg by Jory John

A virtuous egg spends its time helping people out, whether it’s needed or wanted! One day The Good Egg cracks (literally) from the pressure of perfection. It takes a much needed break where it learns to live a more balanced life.

Promotes acceptance, balance, wellbeing and self-management.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Henry Brown, a slave, overcomes many challenges, including being torn from his family who were sold as slaves. Working at a warehouse he comes up with the idea of achieving his dream of freedom by mailing himself to the North.

Reinforces themes of freedom, overcoming adversity and resilience.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Brian struggles to make himself stand out. When he befriends a new student from Korea, she helps him grow in confidence and feel less invisible.

Promotes themes of loneliness, kindness and relationship skills.

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes

Explore the story of the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian American to become Vice President of the United States. Read how Kamala Harris’ immigrant parents instilled her with a passion for freedom and justice.

Promotes gender roles, female role models, empowerment, social justice and equality.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

A grumpy CJ and his nana ride a city bus full of wonderful characters. He wonders aloud why he doesn’t have the things his friends do and why they have to volunteer at the soup kitchen every week. His nana’s straightforward and positive responses help CJ see and appreciate what he has and what he can give.

Read to promote discussions on community, poverty, volunteering, kindness, and optimism.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

ROCK, a fearsome warrior, goes in search of a worthy opponent to battle. When he collides with SCISSORS and PAPER a battle for superiority begins and introduces us to the legend of Rock, Paper, and Scissors.

Use to teach character traits and prediction.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly loves school, her teacher, and her purple plastic purse. When her teacher, Mr Slinger, confiscates the purse she plans her revenge. She draws a mean picture of Mr Slinger but soon feels remorse and sets out to make amends.

Promotes self-management, forgiveness, integrity, relationship skills and reflection.

The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright

A timid mouse attempts to make himself heard after being ignored by other animals. The mouse realises that first impressions are not always what they seem as he develops a new friendship.

Promotes risk-taking, courage, independence and self-awareness.

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

Paj Ntaub, a Hmong girl, moves across the street from an elderly couple, Ruth and Bob. As the seasons pass, Ruth dies. The young girl wants to help Bob so she draws a map into the world for Bob in his driveway. It shows him he can find kindness and support at Paj Ntaub's home.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport

A biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., using quotes from his important speeches to tell the story of his life. The book includes a timeline and further resources to learn about this influential man.

Use to discuss black history, civil rights, segregation, freedom, courage, integrity and activism.

Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley

Mary courageously challenges the gender norms in the 1830s. One day she wears trousers and the townsfolk react with disapproval and they throw things at her and shout that she should not dress in boys’ clothes.

Read to promote gender roles, confidence, tolerance and open-mindedness.

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice by Jasmine A. Stirling

Learn about the life and struggles of the remarkable writer, Jane Austen. Growing up, poetry, books, debates, performances and songs surrounded her. The book illustrates her struggles as a female writer and her emotional challenges to continue her creative writing.

Use in the classroom to discuss the writing process, overcoming adversity and gender roles.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

Mufaro's two daughters react in different ways to the King's search for a wife – one is aggressive and selfish, the other kind and dignified. The king disguises himself to learn the true nature of both girls and chooses Nyasha, the kind and generous daughter, to be the queen.

This African folktale promotes themes of jealousy, vanity and kindness.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

When Unhei moves from Korea to America her classmates can’t pronounce her name. She wants to choose a new name that is easier to pronounce but decides she likes her name just the way it is.

Promotes themes of acceptance, identity, integrity, open-mindedness, principled and tolerance.

No David! by David Shannon

David is a boy who breaks the rules; flooding the bath, jumping on the bed, and breaking a vase. His mum repeatedly says “No!” until David apologises and he gets his mother's forgiveness.

Promotes themes of behaviour, manners, love and forgiveness.

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848, and at the age of 116 she learned to read. She witnessed the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, and through her perseverance, she showed you’re never too old to learn.

Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson

A little girl and her grandmother live and work in their general store. They try to rent out a dilapidated apartment, but no one is interested. The grandmother is unsure of renting it to a couple who express their interest. The girl intervenes and the couple brings the building to life with their optimism and hard work. Their positivity spreads, and the grandmother slowly accepts the couple as part of the family.

Use this wordless book to discuss acceptance, different perspectives, open-mindedness, assumptions and judgements, and a positive attitude.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Princess Elizabeth saves her fiancé Prince Ronald from a dragon only for him to tell her to clean herself up and look like a princess. Elizabeth happily skips into the sunset by herself.

Promotes gender roles, independence, self-esteem and strong female characters.

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

Pig the Pug was greedy and selfish in almost every way. He lived in a home with his dachshund friend, Trevor, but selfish Pig refused to share his toys with Trevor. Pig soon learns a painful lesson when he gets his just deserts.

Promotes positive behaviour, integrity responsibility and self-management.

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

The Piggott men are chauvinistic and unappreciative of the fed-up Mrs. Piggott. She goes on strike, but on their own, the father and two boys literally live like pigs. They plead with her to return and when she does, things are very different.

Use in the classroom to discuss appreciation, gender roles, fairness, respect, responsibility and cooperation.

Red by Jan De Kinder

At first, a girl finds it funny when another student is teased for blushing. Soon, she realises she must stand against the bully but is fearful. Through her compassion and integrity, she finds the courage to do what is right.

Use to teach inferring, integrity, courage, compassion, and social justice.

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

In the first of five chapters, an armadillo has a bad feeling about standing in Turtle’s favourite spot. He suggests Turtle come and try his favourite spot, only for a huge rock to fall on Turtle's spot. In the preceding chapters, we get a sense of the character’s personalities and how they get along or don’t!

Use in the classroom to discuss first-person narration, dialogue, asking questions, and differing points of view.

She's Got This by Laurie Hernandez

Zoe dreams of becoming a gymnast because it looks like flying. During her first lesson, she learns it will be harder than she ever thought. Zoe perseveres and shows a growth mindset to follow her dream.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts

Observant Sally notices everything, particularly bullying in the playground. Despite being small she makes a big difference by standing up to the bullies.

Read during back to school to discuss bullying, compassion, being principled, respect, tolerance and character traits.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Jeremy is mortified when his old shoes fall apart and the school counsellor provides an unstylish replacement pair. He successfully searches a second-hand shop for a pair of ‘those shoes’, but they are too small. After some reflection, he passes the sneakers to a young child who Jeremy realises needs them more than him.

Read to promote discussions on peer pressure, compassion, empathy, generosity, kindness, sharing, and poverty.

Tough Boris by Mem Fox

Boris von der Borch is like all pirates, tough, mean and greedy. But a young boy discovers a softer side when the pirate’s pet parrot dies. Use in the classroom to discuss gender stereotypes, making connections, word choice, and drawing conclusions.

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

Four different characters retell events of a visit a local park from their own perspectives. Check out the illustrations carefully as they are full of meaning.

Promotes different perspectives, relationship skills, and asking questioning.

We’re All Wonders by R J Palacio

Auggie shares how he likes to do ordinary things, but he just doesn’t look ordinary. He wants to believe someone will accept him for who he is.

Promotes self-esteem, identity, friendship and open-mindedness.

What Next?

I hope these picture books to teach character traits give you a great jumping-off point.

This video gives a clear overview of what is meant by the term ‘character'… not to be confused with Superman or characters on a keyboard!

Check out these video playlists on YouTube (which I can't take any credit for compling) that have short videos you can use when teaching character traits.

Character Traits in Pixar Shorts

Teaching Kids Characterization & Character Traits

Do you have any favourite books to help your students develop a deeper understanding of characters and their traits?

Remember to check out the Character Traits pack on Teachers Pay Teachers. You will find over 50 graphic organizers to print and use in the classroom straight away.

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Picture Books for Teaching Character Traits in the Classroom

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3 thoughts on “Children’s Books for Teaching Character Traits in the Classroom”

  1. Hi Kirsten! Your list of of things to ask children when teaching character traits is helpful even from a writing standpoint. I think I would have loved being in your classroom as a child. Thanks!

  2. The perfect character is a character that creates intimacy with young readers—and to get them to care about the main character, utilize internal monologue. This means letting the young ones read the character’s thoughts as they happen, which exposes the character’s inner conflict, motivations, opinions, and personality. Internal monologue not only builds the characters but it also reveals their personalities and behavior.

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