Teaching Children Compassion:
Five Book Reviews

Teaching Children Compassion

Children's books reviews by P.J. Rooks

Experts in the emerging field of positive psychology believe that one of the best ways of teaching children compassion is to help them to see things through the eyes of another or from a different perspective. Empathy begins with putting the shoe on the other foot.

It sounds easy enough -- and yet, it seems a fair portion of every day with a pre-schooler or toddler is spent asking questions like, "how would you feel if Fluffy wrapped you in tinfoil?"

Learning to see the world from another vantage point is a huge exercise in imagination for these little ones. Here are some fun books that will help.

5 Books That Do a Great Job Teaching Children Compassion

George Shrinks by William Joyce

How would your day go if you woke up one morning and discovered that you'd shrunken to about the size of a bug? Making your bed might be a bit of a chore, not to mention brushing your teeth and yikes -- that friendly cat of yours doesn't seem like such a pal when you're only an inch tall.

This is how George's day begins. A note from his parents details a list of chores, which George dutifully attempts in spite of his compromised stature, and the result is great adventure and fun. When he crashes a toy airplane that had come in the mail, though, the fun is at an end (but at least he got even with the cat!) and it's time for Mom and Dad to come home.

George returns to his normal size just in time to assure his parents that everything is fine and that the mess they see or any whisper of trouble in the house is, well, your standard, run-of-the-mill byproduct of boys being boys.

George Upside-Down by Meghan McCarthy

George Upside-Down is the silly story of a boy who spends all his time walking on his hands. He will not sit properly in his seat for school, or at the dinner table, or anywhere else for that matter. Readers get to see the world from George's unusual position in which people and furniture dangle from the ceiling and other fun illusions that come from being inverted.

The grown-ups in George's world, however, really aren't "down" with this activity and eventually, they meet to conspire against him. George is called into the principal's office at school to find his mother, father, teacher, principal and the school nurse all upside down and mercifully, at least for them, he is cured.

Another fun book by McCarthy is The Adventures of Patty and the Big Red Bus. Though I won't go into it here, I will mention that all of her books have been graciously received by a vastly adoring public -- after all, grown-ups like to be entertained too! For quick fun or more information, have a look at her zany website at www.meghan-mccarthy.com

My Monster Mama Loves Me So
Written by Laura Leuck
Illustrated by Mark Buehner

Do monster mommies love their little ones? You bet. But how do they go about it?

Each page in this adorable story turns the world as we know it on its green and scaly head.

Monsters don't sleep at night -- of course not! They're up and about, roasting hot dogs and eating bug cookies. Little monsters will need help brushing their fangs or hiding from the scary humans. They will need to hear comforting stories and songs of things that go bump in the night and will need to be reminded to feed their pet spiders and bats. For all these things and more, Mama Monster is always around -- helping, coaching, cuddling - and teaching her children compassion.

Laura Leuck's affectionate rhyme of mother and baby monster-love is both catchy and charming while Mark Buehner's illustrations so closely capture the spirit of childhood that, well, I just want to pluck this little guy right out of the book and give him a great, big hug myself. (Of course, I'd have to take a shower then, because there's no doubt that this critter's a bit on the slimy side.)

I guess we will have to settle for just reading it -- over and over and over. This is a great book -- definitely one of our all-time favorites.

Hey, Little Ant
By Phillip and Hannah Hoose
Illustrated by Debbie Tilley

Squishing bugs is so passé, so un-p.c., so over -- and yet, Little Ant has crossed paths with the wrong kid. A bad-to-the-bone bug bully, this kid is ready to let the smashing begin and his school-mates are egging him on, but Little Ant has a thing or two to say first and in spite of his mean-spiritedness, our kid does lend an ear.

Little Ant goes on to point out that their lives are not so different, after all. Little Ant has a family at home that waits for him to bring them food. Our entomological insensate is shown sitting round the dinner table with his human family while, on the next page, Little Ant and his kin share a meal atop a twist-off bottle cap table.

But ants are thieves, points out the kid, they carry away the picnic food. Little Ant pleads for charity,

One little chip can feed my town,
So please don't make your shoe come down.

In the end, the situation is reversed and, much shrunken, our insect assassin stands at the feet of a giant ant who asks,

If you were me and I were you,
What would you want me to do?

The book won a Jane Addams Award honor in 1999 for its theme of peace.

Inside a House That Is Haunted
By Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Illustrated by Tedd Arnold

On a dark and spooky night, a green, scarred and veiny hand knocks at the door of the haunted house and sets off a cascade of falling, tripping, screeching, howling, chandelier-dangling, skeleton-rattling, bat-o-strophic chaos as the startled residents scramble to see who has come to visit.

When the bats, cat, mummy, owl, skeleton and ghost finally manage to bungle a path to the door, they allow Frankenstein to do the honors and the small, green, Frankenstein-look-alike is warmly received -- right up until he takes off his mask.

Horrors! It's a little boy! Bats disperse and skeleton bones fly as the occupants flee in panic. Back in the warm, yellow, porch-light glow of the now-empty house, the baffled trick-or-treater watches them go with his mask still upraised.

This is a hilarious book, made especially so by illustrator Tedd Arnold's nutty genius. A cause-and-effect story along the ever-repeating lines of "This is the House that Jack Built," it is also a rebus story, which means that some of the words, as they repeat from page to page, are replaced with little pictures so little ones can help "read" the story.

All that and monsters too -- Inside a House that is Haunted is tons of frightful, frantic fun!


Finally, if you like personality quizzes (Facebook fans, take note!) and want to learn more about teaching children compassion and modeling compassion, check out this collection of enriching quizzes at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center.

Measure your own level of compassion, your authentic happiness, your personality strengths, your child's personality strengths and more, then surf the site to learn about the amazing new science of positive psychology. (You'll be glad you did -- really!)

Teaching Children Compassion at Amazon.

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