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Picture 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.

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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, and 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] behaviour 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]?

Picture Books for Teaching Character Traits

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

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Twist scientific curiosity propels her to question, hypothesize, experiment, and unravel the world’s mysteries, including one close to home. Ada Twist, Scientist fuels discussions around the power of curiosity, the spirit of inquiry, the pursuit of knowledge, and the importance of creative thinking.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

A fresh retelling of the classic Humpty Dumpty story told from the egg’s perspective. Humpty Dumpty bravely faces his fear of heights, teaching us about courage, overcoming adversity, and the importance of self-esteem. His perseverance and resilience paint an inspiring picture of the triumph of determination over fear.

After the Fall promotes discussions around character traits, perspectives, and a growth mindset. It encourages students to understand and embrace their fears, foster adaptability, and celebrate resilience.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Amazing Grace is about a book-loving young girl who dreams big and defies gender roles. Despite being told she can’t play Peter Pan in the school play because she’s a girl, Grace, backed by her mama and Nana’s unwavering support, auditions and wins the role, breaking stereotypes.

The story of Grace encourages discussions on self-esteem, adaptability, determination, fairness, gender roles, and the significance of making personal connections.

A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon

Camilla Cream loves lima beans but won’t eat them because her friends hate them. A mysterious illness causes her to become what others think she should be. Only when she embraces her true self does she recover.

A Bad Case of the Stripes serves as a reminder that individuality should be celebrated and that personal growth stems from self-acceptance and the courage to resist societal pressures.

The Bad Seed by Jory John

A sunflower seed believes he’s bad due to the negative comments he overhears about himself. He decides to change his ways and make an effort to become better. He doesn’t change overnight but commits to taking it one day at a time. 

The Bad Seed introduces discussions on a growth mindset, self-management, self-awareness, and social awareness, emphasising that effort and determination make change possible.

A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy

A Boy Like You encourages boys to celebrate their uniqueness, exhibit kindness and fairness, and value emotional intelligence. It encourages boys to stay true to themselves, understand their emotions, exhibit resilience, and use their strengths to support others.

A Boy Like You highlights instances where boys can make a difference, such as standing up against bullying or expressing their emotions openly. It inspires them to be whoever they wish as long as they remain kind, honest, and authentic.

Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem tells the empowering story of a young girl and a diverse group of children who come together to influence change in their community. They realize that their words and actions, big or small, can make a significant difference and inspire others to follow their lead.

The book teaches your students that age is no barrier to making a difference and that their unique voices can bring about positive changes in the world.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

A young mouse, Chrysanthemum, adores her unique name but faces teasing at school due to its uniqueness. However, when her music teacher names her baby Chrysanthemum, it triggers a shift in perspective, leading her classmates to appreciate their unique identities and Chrysanthemums. 

Chrysanthemum encourages your students to embrace their identities and respect others’ uniqueness. It reminds us that open-mindedness and empathy can shift perspectives and contribute to an accepting environment.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Dragons may love tacos but hate spicy salsa. A boy discovers this peculiarity and hosts a taco party for his dragon friends. The party takes an unexpected turn when the salsa, much to the dragons’ dismay, turns out to be spicy, leading to a chaotic and fiery mess.

Dragons Love Tacos offers opportunities to discuss the concepts of problem-solving, cause and effect, and the importance of careful planning and reading labels!

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

Inspired by Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a girl who shattered Cuba’s taboo against female drummers, this story portrays a young girl devoted to drumming. Despite societal prohibition, she practices, remaining steadfast in her passion. Her diligence attracts attention, causing people to join her in dance and song. 

Drum Dream Girl underscores the significance of challenging societal norms, staying true to oneself, and the power of dreams and determination. The book inspires discussions on courage, determination, and gender equality.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae

Follow Gerald’s journey of courage, self-belief, and resilience as he longs to participate in the annual Jungle Dance, despite the taunting of other animals. 

Giraffes Can’t Dance teaches students the power of perseverance, determination, and a growth mindset. It also inspires discussions on self-awareness, self-esteem, enthusiasm, confidence, and overcoming bullying and self-doubt.