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How to Use Children's Books to Teach Tolerance and Respect for Others

Updated on March 15, 2012

The Power of Books in Teaching Respect

Unless you are living under a rock, you have seen the media coverage about people being treated with disrespect and even bullied because of their race, religion, or even sexual preferences. So how do we as a society change this belief that so many of our citizens have? My answer, start young and read books. Books are incredibly powerful and are an amazing tool to teach young people about prejudices and how to practice tolerance with others.

Helping Children Understand Others' Differences

So how can you use children's books to promote awareness and cause children to think about their relationship with others and the choices that their interactions cause? Here are a few tips to help you out.

  • Choose a story and read it. Select one of the stories below or one that you already know of and read it. Be sure that you use great reading strategies like looking at the pictures for clues, predicting what may happen next, and identifying the problem in the story.
  • Talk about the characters feelings and situation. Identify the feelings that the main character may be feeling at the time. Have your child or students think about and share how they know that this character is feeling this.
  • Make a personal connection. Making a personal connection is critical to helping young people understand differences and begin to build a sense of tolerance for others. Ask your child or students to think about a time when they experienced or witnessed a time when they or someone they know were treated poorly because of a difference. For older kids, I have them write about this first, and then share their thinking.
  • Make a plan of action. It is not enough to just read the book. The next step is to make a plan of action. How are you going to make a difference in someone's life that is being treated with disrespect or cruelty because of something that is different about them. I always tell my students that if they are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem. So make a plan to be part of the solution. Will you stand up to that bully? Will you tell a grown up? Will you set the example by treating that person with kindness and respect in spite of what others may be doing?

Books That Teach Respect

Five Great Books to Teach Tolerance and Respect

  1. Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester Tacky is a penguin who is the epitome of a bird of a different feather. He likes to wear bright colored clothing and do non-penguin things. The traditional penguins get very upset and frustrated with him because he is not like the rest of them. That is until the hunters come and Tacky becomes the hero.
  2. Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester  Wodney is a Wat, I mean Rodney is a rat. Unfortunately for him he is a rodent who cannot say his r's. He is teased continuously because of a speech impediment that is beyond his control and it takes a toll on his self esteem. One day the class gets a new student who is quite a bully. Wodney is able to banish the bully with the very speech that his classmates have teased him about. He becomes the one that everyone looks up to.
  3. The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane DeRolf This is a delightful book about crayons that must live together in one box. The crayons start out bickering about each other only to see in the end that they are able to compliment and enhance one another as the owner of the crayons creates a beautiful picture using all of the colors in the box.
  4. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes  This story is about a cute little mouse with an extraordinarily long name.  She is teased because of how long her name is and her parents do what most do, tell her not to worry and that things will be ok.  But that doesn't change how she feels each time she goes to school.  It is only when she realizes that her teacher shares the same problem of a long name that she begins to feel some comfort.
  5. Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli  Although all of the books above can be used with children of all ages, this one is specific to older children.  This chapter book explores the life of a "troubled" child who sees the world in a very different light.  His running leads him to a town that is literally divided along a racial line and no one understands why they won't interact with the other group of people.  This is a great conversation starter for young people about the power of doing what is right and questioning why things are the way they are in the world.


Be a Role Model

Remember to lead by example. The greatest lasting impact on your child or students will be the things that you do and say. These books are great tools but it is the conversations that you have and the way that you treat others that will really show your child how to be respectful of people who are different from them.


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