Teaching Your Kids Kindness and Compassion

In this day of multimedia, television and video games, the act of reading to a child can provide immeasurable benefits. Books with messages of compassion for animals can spark the inherent interest in animals all children seem to possess. Yet while Winnie the Pooh and Clifford the Big Red Dog will always be popular, there are innumerable lesser-known books that promote caring, respect and empathy for animals and the environment. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, other relative, teacher or friend, here is a sampling of the Animal Welfare Institute’s favorite books for teaching younger children the importance of being kind to animals.

Stellaluna
by Janell Cannon
Harcourt, Inc.
1993
ISBN: 0152802177
Children are often afraid of bats, but after reading Stellaluna, they will learn these small mammals are interesting and adaptive. Stellaluna is separated from her mother after an owl attack, eventually landing in a bird’s nest. She learns to be just like the other birds, until one day she is reunited with her family. This book teaches children about bat behavior, from eating fruit to sleeping upside down and flying at night. By 1899, the once vast herds of American bison, commonly known as buffalo, had nearly disappeared because of overhunting by white men. They Came from the Bronx contrasts the story of a Native American grandmother telling her grandson about the importance of the bison to native culture and the tragic tale of their annihilation. The story of individuals who reintroduced captive bison to Oklahoma as the first step toward restoring wild bison to the western United States is told as well. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about these remarkable animals.

Just a Dream
by Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin Company
1990
ISBN: 0395533082
This glimpse into the future provides a boy named Walter with a shocking look at what may happen to our world if we do not start protecting our environment. After a journey to see mountains of garbage, a clear-cut forest, choking pollution, excessive development, depletion of our wildlife, and a smog-filled Grand Canyon, Walter is transformed from an inconsiderate litterbug to a committed conservationist. This is a great story for getting children to care about our environment.

The Story of Ferdinand
by Munro Leaf
Viking
1936
ISBN: 0670674249
Ferdinand is a gentle bull who likes to sit quietly in the shade and smell the flowers. One day, he sits on a bumblebee and becomes alarmed, bucking around. Men who want to demonstrate their bravado come to take him away to the bullfights, thinking he is the fiercest bull in all of Madrid—but when Ferdinand enters the ring, he just sits down. When the kind bull refuses to fight, the foolish men must take him home. This book shows children the absurdity of being cruel to animals for entertainment purposes.

They Came from the Bronx—How the Buffalo Were Saved From Extinction
by Neil Waldman
Boyds Mills Press
2001
ISBN: 1563978911
By 1899, the once vast herds of American bison, commonly known as buffalo, had nearly disappeared because of overhunting by white men. They Came from the Bronx contrasts the story of a Native American grandmother telling her grandson about the importance of the bison to native culture and the tragic tale of their annihilation. The story of individuals who reintroduced captive bison to Oklahoma as the first step toward restoring wild bison to the western United States is told as well. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about these remarkable animals.

Tom Mouse
by Ursula K. LeGuin
Roaring Book Press
2002
ISBN: 0761315993
A conversation with an old “hobo rat” prompts Tom Mouse to set out to be free as a wind by jumping on a train. After sneaking bits and pieces of food from a woman’s pocket and dancing in the moonlight, Tom eventually gets caught—but the kind woman doesn’t scream at the sight of him, she just tells him where to hide and brings him more food. Tom finds out he is very lucky because the old woman loves animals and travels all around the world. She invites him to join her as a friend, and he promises to dance for her every night. Tom Mouse is a tale that will show children they should be kind to the animals our society often regards as “pests.”

The Swan
by Virginia Mayo
Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
1994
ISBN: 0812019385
In this story illustrated with beautiful watercolors, a young girl goes on a picnic by the river with her mother and her brother Rob. The mother shows her children the importance of being kind to animals by speaking up to an irresponsible fisherman. The trio also sees a swan, who looks at the girl as if she is a friend. That night, the girl dreams that the swan comes to her. Together, they fly all around the world. In the morning, her mother mysteriously finds a feather on the girl’s clothes. Later that summer, the family goes back to the river and finds that the swan and her mate have had six babies.