Reading a book, any book, has a profound impact on a child’s developing brain. Countless studies have shown how reading to your toddler produces a more literate child, but it also helps shape the way they view and understand the world around them.

Something like Der Struwwelpeter might instill sheer old school medieval terror in your young child. Good for keeping them away from the match book. Other books bring much more value to their young lives than others.

1Big Wolf & Little Wolf

A beautifully simple tale authored by Nadine Brun-Cosme and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. Full of expression and a treasure for any age. The styled illustrations give it a feel that’s completely unique, subtly conveying powerful emotion and the understanding between big and little wolf.

It’s a story of friendship and belonging, sadness and solitude, and our search for meaning in a world that often seems ready to swallow us whole.

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Perhaps the simplest yet most powerful book on the list, One by Kathryn Otashi is great for youngsters of any age, from babies to toddlers and beyond. The youngest will find the colors fascinating, and once they start understanding the story, the message will reveal a powerful meaning.

It’s a tale of bullying and respect, belonging and friendship. It is quite simply the best book on bullying. The artwork is beautiful. It teaches children to stand up for themselves, and importantly, for others. It helps that it teaches about numbers, too.

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3The Invisible Boy

Author Trudy Ludwig’s sweet and touching story shows those who just aren’t joiners how their own kindness can bring them out of their shells and into the spotlight. Social butterflies, meanwhile, receive a gentle lesson in empathy and acceptance for shier and more introverted kids.

Patrice Barton’s simple, softly colored illustrations bring an unnoticed gray-scale boy into full-color communion with his classmates as he befriends a new student and shares his skills. Gentle and reassuring, it’s a tale of compassion and inclusion that all kids can relate to.

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4Each Kindness

Profound and even heart-wrenching, this is one for slightly older kids from 2nd to 5th grade. From the Caldecott Honor winning duo of Jacqueline Woodson and E. B. Lewis, Each Kindness focuses on class discrimination to remind readers that sometimes it really is too late to say sorry.

Written in lyrical but telling free verse, the book features standout watercolors full of light and astute shifts of perspective. The gentle paintings lend a special poignancy to the harsh lesson of a chance for kindness lost forever.

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5Somebody Loves You, Mr Hatch

A classic Valentine’s Day tale for kindergarten and younger elementary school kids, this book shows the difference that a little loving-kindness can make in the life of a person and a community. Prose and colored-pencil pictures progress hand-in-hand from a drab and uncaring everyday to a man made whole by an unexpected gift.

Engaging for the story alone, this is also great exploration of love of a kind that kids this age are just beginning to understand – that of neighborliness and friendship. Paul Yalowitz’s memorably drawn characters and detailed settings keep things every bit as interesting on a visual level.

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6The Lion and The Bird

Sometimes a children’s book is so absurdly profound that we wonder how the author managed to pack such monumental meaning into such a tiny tome. And in the case of The Lion and The Bird, so few words, for this is a story told largely in pastel pictures (and even totally blank pages) that is still a gripping meditation on the passage of time and the inevitability of parting.

With a reassuring reunion at the end, this is a book that will teach preschoolers and kindergartners to value the time they have together with friends and loved ones without exposing them to the more tragic aspects of loss.

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