Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells gives little readers an important lesson in kindness

Yoko Writes Her Name Book Cover
Book Cover

“Those girls are mean.”  Lovebug pointed to the two kitties who were picking on Yoko for writing and reading in Japanese.

Japanese is Yoko’s first language, but all of the other kids in the class had English as their first languages.  The Mean Kitties didn’t understand her language, so she became their target.  It was that easy.  We’ve all seen it, haven’t we?

I admit, I had told him the girls weren’t being nice. At the age of four, he is learning what being mean looks like.  So when I see it, I point it out; I try to make a lesson out of it if it’s appropriate.  And this story is an eloquently appropriate guide for little readers who are drudging through the jungle of meanness vs kindness:  recognizing it, responding to it, experiencing it, surviving it.

“Is that boy being mean?”  He pointed to a friend of Yoko’s.  “Oh, no,” I said.  “He is kind.  He’s teaching her to write her name in English.  He’s a Helper.”  (Lovebug and I have had lots of discussions about Helpers; but that’s a story for another day.)

Kindness is contagious, and when it is embraced, it becomes woven into the fabric of our environments.  This story comprises the evolution of Yoko being rejected for her differences to Yoko’s differences being celebrated.  And Yoko becomes the brave winner in the end as she forgives and becomes the Helper herself.  This message is a nice reminder for all of us, not just the little readers.


Yoko Writes Her Name © Copyright 2008 by Rosemary Wells, Hyperion Books for Children (an imprint of Disney Book Group.)

Bear Is Not Tired by Ciara Gavin is a lovely snapshot of family unity.

Bear Is Not Tired-Book Cover
Book Cover

I wondered if we would learn why big cuddly Bear was living with the little Duck family.  I mean, it was hard not to notice.


Lovebug didn’t seem concerned, though, that Bears and Ducks don’t typically cohabitate.  And, he’s even at that age when kiddos ask about 300 questions per day.  (That’s what I hear anyway. I swear it’s more.)

So, I expected these questions:

Why does Bear live with the Ducks?

Where is his mommy?

But, those questions didn’t come.  Clearly, Lovebug recognized, Mama Duck is Bear’s mommy.

Our author’s explanation didn’t come either.  Because that’s not what this story is about.

When we enter into their cozy and loving home, our respect for any differences within the Duck family’s unity is pretty much assumed.  The only real questions Lovebug pondered were:

Why are the duckies holding Bear’s eyes open?”  (Not hibernating is a team effort.  He didn’t want to miss all the winter play, of course!)

Look!   Why is his face in his food?  That’s silly!”  (Silly indeed.  He had fallen asleep ‘splat!’ in his plate.  The not hibernating?  Not working.)

Yes, Bear is different; unlike the Ducks, he has to hibernate.  It is something natural and true about his species.  It is this acceptance of difference that embraces the family with a warm air of love.  I want to tear a page out—the scene with tiny Mama Duck comforting gargantuan Bear—frame it, and hang it on my wall.  It is a lovely moment in their lives that we are lucky to share.


Bear Is Not Tired © Copyright by Ciara Gavin, Alfred A. Knopf (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC)

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae teaches empathy and finding inner joy.

Giraffes Can't Dance (Book Cover)Lovebug giggled when the “silly” lions danced the tango.  I giggled at him giggling.  The narrative’s rhyming beats guide us through a craftily-implied rhythm.  The animals at the Jungle Dance are fun to watch in the warm tones of the sunset, each duo taking its turn to show off their mad dance-floor skills.  But, when the dancing stops, their real selves come out.  And they aren’t very nice.  Gerald the Giraffe is all of us at some point:  the awkward one who doesn’t quite fit in.  And the other animals laugh and laugh and laugh at him until he creeps away.  Defeated.  The story touches on my insecurities.  It also offers an incredible opportunity for children to learn empathy.

Once, when he was a crawling babe, I caught Lovebug giving kisses to the baby pictured on the diaper box.  That was when I knew that empathy naturally is inherent within young children; we just need to nurture it.  I also knew that was about the sweetest thing I had ever seen!  But, I digress.

This mama wasn’t sure, at first, if reading a book to a three-year-old about bullies was age appropriate.  But, of course it is.  Kiddos will be exposed to this behavior in some form in their lives; this story truly opens an opportunity for dialog, page-by-page, for us to talk about some of the difficult lessons facing our children.

The first time Gerald somersaulted into the air, after finding that music within him, for him, Lovebug squealed “Oh, is he going to fall?”

But, no, he didn’t fall.  He landed on those “clumsy” legs and he danced!  And Lovebug cheered.  And my heart danced with Gerald.

I don’t take for granted that Lovebug or I or anyone I love will be empathetic always.  So I am grateful for stories like Gerald’s that remind me to talk actively with him about exhibiting kindness toward others, whether they are different from us or similar, whether they are friends or strangers.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees  © Copyright 1999 by Purple Enterprises, Ltd., a Coolabi company

Dinosaur Rescue! by Penny Dale charms with wordplay and vibrant imagery.

Dinosaur Rescue! by Penny Dale (book cover) It’s a story of dinosaurs!  It’s a story of trucks and trains!  It’s a story of dinosaurs driving, piloting, and conducting vehicles.  (Rescue vehicles no less!)  But it was the train’s “Chugga!  Chugga!  Chugga!” and the helicopter’s “Choppa!  Choppa!  Choppa!” that got his attention immediately.  Not that Lovebug cares what it’s called, but the use of all that onomatopoeia certainly got my little man hooked on the actions of the Dinosaur Rescue squad.  It only took a couple of readings before he was engaging the sounds effects right along with my reading.

Dinosaur Rescue! provides a colorful glimpse of what a child might imagine as he is pushing his awkwardly-fitting dinosaur, squeezed into the fire truck, around the living room.  With each turn of the page, we see another beautifully-crafted scene: modern transportation paired with prehistoric culture.  Oh, those aren’t supposed to go together?  Well, who are we to interrupt their reality?  Frankly, this one is more fun.  And, it’s even easy to disregard the intentional use of incomplete sentences; no grammar rules allowed here.  Rather, the narrative cleverly brings the action to life.  With the vibrant illustrations, there is so much to see and do.  And it’s all wrapped up in this little book!

“Police dinosaurs racing.”  Telling the tale of a day in the life.  The life of Dinosaur Rescue!  (See what I did there?)

Dinosaur Rescue! © Copyright 2013 by Penny Dale, Nosy Crow Ltd. (an imprint of Candlewick Press)