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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Good Egg by Jory John
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
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.
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.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt
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.
A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
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
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.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts
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.
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.
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.