Children’s Books that Foster Gratitude

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There is a memory from my childhood that plays on a loop. My maternal grandfather is standing at the head of a long family dinner table that seats nearly 30 adults. He stands as enticing fragrances of food waft through the air and offers a few words of gratitude. His thankful sermons feel long, longer than any hungry person wants to wait.

But in those heartfelt messages, he utters the phrase “thank you” at least a dozen times. And sometimes, he simply repeats the phrase several times in a row, like an ingrained gratitude mantra: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. As the theologian Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

Gratitude and thanksgiving are the staples of an abundant life. The more we appreciate what we have (however much or little), the more we work towards wholehearted living. 

For however you choose to track your gratitude, either by spoken word or making crafty leaf trees for your kids every November, cultivating a spirit of gratitude is one of the most important tools to foster in our children. 

May these picture books aid you in that process. 

Image: @bookbloom.

A Thank you Walk: A Story About Gratitude by Nancy Lowewen

A mother and child take their dog for a walk and, along the way, encounter a bird, a horse, and a beetle. Throughout their wanderings, the mother points out each of the ways the other creatures say thank you. This sturdy board book is part of the Bright Start series, aiming to develop children’s emotional intelligence. A sweet read, to be sure.

Ages 1-4

Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey

“Thank you, hedge, thank you, tree. Thank you, flower, thank you, bee.”

So begins a young girl’s mission to gather milk from the cow, eggs from the hens, and ripe apples from the tree. Armed with a basket of provisions, she then gathers with others in the kitchen to bake an apple cake.

With a recipe at the back of the book (which we thoroughly enjoyed) and ebullient illustrations, this feel-good fall book is a perfect non-Thanksgiving gratitude book.

Ages 3-7

Being Grateful by Rebecca Pettiford

What does it mean to be grateful? Rae gets a gift, then writes a thank you note of appreciation and puts it in the mail. Deb is grateful for the rain because it helps her plants grow. A firefighter saves Zoe’s cat, and she bakes cookies to express thanks.

With images of real children throughout, this book gives impressionable readers ideas for ways to live a more grateful life.

Ages 5-7

Duck and Hippo Give Thanks by Jonathan London

As Hippo rakes leaves into a pile, he dreams of a delicious old-fashioned Thanksgiving. Soon Duck plops into Hippo’s tidy leaf pile, and together the two take off to shop in preparation for the next day’s Thanksgiving feast.

Despite a series of minor mishaps, Hippo still invites Elephant, Turtle, Pig, and Duck to share the meal. However, when his guests arrive with an assortment of non-traditional food items, Hippo has to decide if his friends or the food is more important. A tasty tale that may result in some old-fashioned leaf jumping.

Ages 4-8

Five Little Thank-Yous by Cindy Jin

Friends, food, family, home, and love are common threads that most of us feel a surge of gratitude. With five simple page turns, this lyrical board book also reminds young readers to be grateful for themselves. This book would pair perfectly with a simple turkey craft.

Ages 0-3

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp

“To be a human being is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for the gifts of life.”

For the bounty of Mother Earth, for the beauty of blue waters, and the feel of cool grass on our feet. The expansive images in this book reflect a connection between the spirits of all living creatures.

Written by a member of the Mohawk Nation and Founder of the Tree of Peace Society, this timeless message of thankfulness is a way to celebrate Indigenous people throughout the year.

Ages 5-8

Giving Thanks: More Than 100 Ways to Say Thank You by Ellen Surrey

A little boy named Andy thinks of all the people he wants to thank in his life and why he wants to thank them. With a series of eight subsequent questions, Andy reflects on ways to spend time with and show thanks to the important people in his life.

Children are encouraged to make a gratitude jar and write thank you notes with encouraging prompts at the end of the book.

Ages 5-8

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli

Gratitude is a lifelong lesson, and this book celebrates everyday blessings, woven together with playful images and a sweet text. I especially appreciate how the mishaps and inconveniences of life are portrayed as ways to be grateful with just a shift in perspective. A perfect rhyming bedtime read-aloud.

Ages 3-7

Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes

This collection of 16 short poems holds a special place in my heart. With relatable experiences (tripping over shoelaces or leaving a goodie on a neighbor’s front porch), each stanza tugs at the heart and offers young readers a glimpse into our shared humanity. Savor these poems; they are truly delicious.

Ages 4-8

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson

Born in 1788, Sarah came of age when women were discouraged from doing nearly everything. That didn’t stop her. A prolific writer, Sarah took up the cause of Thanksgiving once it had fallen out of fashion and celebration in the early 19th century. After writing to numerous presidents, Sarah’s persistence eventually paid off with Thanksgiving becoming recognized as a national holiday.

If you haven’t read about Sarah Josepha Hale, you’ll find this nonfiction title inspiring. I’ll even forgive the fact that she discouraged eating pie for breakfast.

Ages 5+

We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

“Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude.”

This is a reflection that lasts throughout the year (not just at Thanksgiving). From the beginning of the Cherokee New Year (which starts each fall) and through the various seasons, we follow a Cherokee Nation and learn about the sacrifices of people past and the Cherokee culture’s legacy that still exists today.

The backmatter includes definitions and an author’s note, making this an outstanding book for young (and old) readers alike.

Ages 4-8

What I Like Most by Mary Murphy

A young girl looks out of her window and sees a changing scene. She can fog the glass and make pictures or simply imagine what might be from the view of her window. It’s hard to choose only one thing to like best of all, and although things may change (in fact, they always do), some things remain constant. A standout book of 2020—one that fosters both gratitude and mindfulness. 

Ages 3-5

Children’s Books that Foster Gratitude

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