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The Best Books on Gratitude for Kids

recommended by Dana Sheridan

What should you read with your kids on Thanksgiving? Dana Sheridan of Princeton University Library's Cotsen Children's Library recommends five children's books with themes of love, gratitude, belonging and sharing with one another—what the holiday is all about.

Interview by Eve Gerber

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Since the topic is gratitude, I must start by thanking you, not only for naming five fantastic books for kids, but also for your brilliant blog “Pop Goes the Page.” I appreciate how the projects you template enliven children’s literature and embed the morals of stories. Tell me about “Pop Goes the Page” and how it fits the mission of Princeton University Library’s Cotsen Children’s Library.

To me, hands-on learning is minds-on learning. When I do a community story time with three-, four-, and five-year-olds, we read a picture book and then do a creative project which is also featured on the blog. The projects connect the kids with the stories and the concepts of the stories. In some cases, kids relive parts of that story through the projects! And when they take their projects home, it’s as though they are taking a bit of the book with them. The goal of the blog is to share templates for our projects and programs so they can be replicated by other libraries, classrooms, or at home.

Great. Gracias. Gracias/Thanks is the title of the first book you’ve named, words by Pat Mora and illustrated by John Parra.

John Parra’s illustrations are perfect. Gracias/Thanks is about a boy thinking through what makes him thankful. The book illustrates, beautifully, bilingually, and creatively, that what we might be most thankful for are the common things that surround us—friends, siblings, and home.

Gracias/Thanks has characters from different cultures on nearly every page. Does representation in children’s literature increase its potency?

The world is multicultural, readers are multicultural. It’s the reality of the world, and it’s a beautiful reality.

Next, The Thank You Book by Mo Willems.

There are a massive number of Gerald and Piggie books. They’re magical on so many levels and The Thank You Book is how Mo Willems tied them together. He brings back all the characters he created in the series for a show of gratitude and love. He even includes a thank you card for the reader in the back of book! It’s a book about gratitude for the family of characters he created, and for the family of readers he created. It was an amazing way to end the series.

Spoiler alert! The end of this book breaks the fourth wall, as they would say if this story was told on stage, rather than in pictures. Lots of children’s books address their readers directly. Why?

When I read (and re-read) a book, the characters are basically friends I’m visiting. And when your friends turn from the page and talk to you directly, it’s very special. Breaking down that fourth wall is a powerful way for writers to really acknowledge and connect with their audiences.

Karma Wilson is a wonderful name for a children’s book writer. Next, you recommend her book Bear Says Thanks, illustrated by Jane Chapman.

When I see Karma Wilson’s name on a book, I know the verse is going to be stellar. She’s so playful and fun.

Bear Says Thanks, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, is about food and sharing. But there is more to Thanksgiving than that; it’s a holiday about family and the feeling of belonging. That is what this book is about—being with others who love you as you are. It’s just great.

The bear is very endearing-looking. Why do you think anthropomorphized animals have, for centuries, done so much of the work in children’s literature?

Well, we could trace this all the way back to the early domestication of animals for companionship. Or simply say that animals provide a feeling of companionship that readers often seek when opening a book? And, as an artist myself, I can tell you it’s really fun to draw a bear on roller skates!

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, is not a book about gratitude per se. Tell me about this one and why you’ve chosen it.

This book is beautiful. It’s gorgeously drawn. It points out the beauty in the world, the beauty in simple things, the beauty of different types of people, and the beauty of different types of relationships. As we grown-ups know, the world can be a very hard place at times. All the World assures its readers that there is plenty of love and beauty to be felt and shared in the world.

Finally, the last book you chose on gratitude is Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

It’s a book about sharing the abundance of good in the world. It cleverly illustrates the idea that the more you give, the more you get back. It’s very sweet, and it has glitter in it!

What aspect of thankfulness does Plant a Kiss bring to the fore?

We associate gratitude with material things, especially around the holidays. Gratitude is not just a box with a bow or a turkey on the table. It’s an act as well as a feeling. That’s what Thanksgiving is about—gratitude, both given and received.

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Interview by Eve Gerber

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Dana Sheridan

Dana Sheridan is the Outreach Coordinator at the Cotsen Children's Library of Princeton University. With a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia, Dana Sheridan joined Princeton University Library in 2006. Her academic career focused on how children learn in informal, out-of-school environments, and her professional passion has been the design of dynamic hands-on programs for children. She has designed programs for patients at UVa's Children's Hospital, developed tours for the Albert and Shirley Special Collections Library and coordinated programs at the Virginia Discovery Museum.

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Dana Sheridan

Dana Sheridan is the Outreach Coordinator at the Cotsen Children's Library of Princeton University. With a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia, Dana Sheridan joined Princeton University Library in 2006. Her academic career focused on how children learn in informal, out-of-school environments, and her professional passion has been the design of dynamic hands-on programs for children. She has designed programs for patients at UVa's Children's Hospital, developed tours for the Albert and Shirley Special Collections Library and coordinated programs at the Virginia Discovery Museum.