70 of the Best Character Building Picture Books For Kids

Any time is a good time to read a fantastic picture book, but when that book serves double duty as an educational tool it’s truly a “keeper”. The character building picture books listed below are definitely keepers.

We know that good character is best taught through example, right? The saying goes that way more is caught than taught when it comes to building virtues in our children. In other words, we can talk until we’re blue in the face, but our daily actions and the examples we set teach way more about our value system than lectures.

Once in a while, lectures seem really necessary, though, don’t they? I’ve found that picture books are one of my very best tools in this case. The characters in books (and even films) can make powerful points about good and bad character qualities. Without the need for lectures, a book can reach pretty deep into the heart of a child to help them see the benefits of positive character traits and the negative effects of bad ones.

These character building picture books can be so helpful in your home!

Character Building Picture Books for Kids

The list below includes some of the best character building picture books I’ve found over the years. Sometimes, a light discussion is helpful after reading a book, but sometimes the book is all that’s needed to get a point across. Purposely consider the wisdom to know when to talk and when to simply let a book soak in.

If you aren’t dealing with a particular need for character training right now, you can certainly still read any or all of these books! Remember, our children are taking in information to build their character all the time. It’s never too early or too late to read character building picture books.

Note that some of the books will display poor character qualities alongside good character qualities. That’s actually a good thing because it allows your children to see a great contrast between better and worse behavior choices.

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As much as we want to protect our children from the hardships of life, they must learn how to persevere through tough times and circumstances. These books host a variety of perseverance examples. Whether it is simply waiting on a carrot seed to grow or persevering through a major event, your children will see the benefits of pushing forward.

Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the PlainsBrave Irene: A Picture BookBy Ruth Krauss The Carrot Seed (First Edition)Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground RailroadBy Michael O. Tunnell - Mailing May (1997-09-16) [Hardcover]The Most Magnificent ThingThank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved ThanksgivingPancakes for BreakfastAmazing Grace (Reading Rainbow Books)Thank You, Mr. Falker



Responsibility is a character trait that some children naturally lean into and others shy away from because of motivation or forgetfulness. These books will help your children see a wide range of examples in responsibility and the effects of irresponsibility.

Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last SundayThe PaperboyPeppe the LamplighterStrega Nona



Courage can sometimes be hard to teach, but it is well illustrated by a story. These great books help kids connect with the characters and learn what it is like to be brave and have courage. Through slavery and the civil rights movement, as well as examples in life and even nature, children will see what courage is and how it can change the course of a person’s life.

The Dandelion Seed: A Life Cycle Nature Book for Kids (Plants For Children, Science For Kindergarten)The Story Of Ruby Bridges: Special Anniversary EditionThunder CakeSheila Rae, the BraveMirette on the High WireHenry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground RailroadBrave Charlotte and the Wolves



Honesty is an extremely important character trait. We’ve all heard of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the consequences he endured because of continued lies. This story and others like it will illustrate for your children the correlation between honesty and trust, and how, when trust is broken, it takes a long time build again. Your children will clearly see that it is always better to be honest from the beginning!

The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Rigby PM Collection Purple: Student Reader)Sanji's SeedToo Many TamalesThe Empty PotThe True Story of the Three Little PigsThe Golden PlateThe Emperor's New Clothes (Folk Tale Classics)David Gets In Trouble (David Books [Shannon])



Ahh, selfishness. What child hasn’t been selfish at least a few times in their lives? Hey, this could apply to adults too. These amusing stories show that selfishness isn’t a good trait – and how it can actually get them quite the opposite of what they were wanting. In the end, the stories will point them in the better direction of selflessness.

A Bargain for Frances (I Can Read Level 2)The Little Red Hen (Paul Galdone Classics)Stone Soup (Aladdin Picture Books)


Sharing and Generosity

Sharing and generosity go hand-in-hand. These wonderful books teach children that it is better to give than to receive. And, that by giving they actually receive joy and satisfaction…even if it hurt to give at first. The opposite of selfishness is generosity, so it might be a good idea to read some books about selfishness and generosity together so that children can grasp the contrast.

The Giving TreeA Chair for My Mother 25th Anniversary Edition (Reading Rainbow Books)One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference (CitizenKid)Beatrice's GoatThe Quiltmaker's GiftAn Orange for FrankieSilver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas StoryThe Talking Eggs



These books illustrate how teamwork usually works better than trying to tackle a big project alone. By learning teamwork, children often learn better communication skills as well. So, whether it is pulling an enormous turnip or getting school kids to understand safety, these books will show children the value of leaning on others for help once in a while.

SwimmyFarmer DuckClick, Clack, Moo Cows That TypeStone Soup (Aladdin Picture Books)Officer Buckle & Gloria (CALDECOTT MEDAL BOOK)The Great Big Enormous Turnip: A Traditional Story with Simple Text and Large Type. for Ages 5 and Up (Award Young Readers series)


Helping and Serving

Many kids are naturally good helpers because it means they get to be involved in bigger jobs around the house. Perhaps, they beg to help their parents prepare a meal in the kitchen or love feeding the family pet. Seize the exuberance to help them learn the joy of helping and serving (even if it means your jobs may take three times as long). For these kiddos and the ones who are less than exuberant about helping, these books will show the beautiful value of serving their families, friends, and even strangers.

The Giving TreeThe Trees of the Dancing Goats (Aladdin Picture Books)An Orange for Frankie


Care and Compassion

Compassion isn’t something that comes easily to a lot of people. These books provide wonderful stories about caring and compassionate people to give examples of how powerful those character traits can be to the recipients. Be sure to point out that in many of these stories, the characters aren’t only compassionate people, but they act on that compassion. Either by buying a chair for her tired mother, or giving his shoes away, the action flows from the compassion itself.

CorduroyA Chair for My Mother 25th Anniversary Edition (Reading Rainbow Books)Chicken SundayAlexander and the Wind-Up Mouse (Step Into Reading, Step 3)Miss RumphiusPink and SayThose ShoesAngeloUncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen (Reading Rainbow Book)Little Nino's Pizzeria



Being grateful will change a child’s mindset from selfishness to thankfulness for what they have, as well as grow compassion for others. In many of these stories, the characters are not grateful for what they already have and long for something new or different. Often, it turns out that they took their family, friends, or things they had for granted. By the end of each book, the characters usually have a change of heart and decide what they already had was enough, and they choose gratefulness instead.

Sylvester and the Magic PebbleThose ShoesAll the World (Classic Board Books)It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale (Michael Di Capua Books)Thanks a MillionElmoreWhen I Was Young in the Mountains (Reading Rainbow Books)Thank You, Mr. Falker



Kindness is a very broad topic and can be seen in many of the other concepts and books in this list. Compassion, helpfulness, and generosity all have elements of kindness in them for sure. These tales illustrate that kindness is never in vain, even if we don’t necessarily see the fruits of our kind actions or words.

The Lion & the MouseHey, Little AntMufaro's Beautiful Daughters (Reading Rainbow Books)Boxes for Katje (Rise and Shine)


Oh, I do so hope you see growth in your children by reading these beautiful character building picture books! If you’re consistent, you can’t really help but see growth. And, don’t be surprised when your children pull an example of a character from one of these stories someday far in the future when a random discussion about character qualities comes up around the dinner table.

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  1. Bernadette says:

    Have been coming to your blog for awhile now. Such a great resource! Thank you, thank you!! I am looking high and low for picture books/ read alouds for my kindergarteners that help instill the habit of obedience. What do you suggest?

  2. I should do a post about obedience, Bernadette. That’s a great idea! Off the top of my head, though, I can only think of a few: A Children’s Book About Disobeying by Joy Berry, Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems.

  3. Thank you for this site! I have been using the 50 states book list and it has been so helpful! I plan to do the character building list this summer. May God bless of your efforts!

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