The kind of moralizing I like!
September 18, 2020 11:42 AM   Subscribe

What children’s books have progressive morals, without being too heavy-handed? I’m thinking of books like Ferdinand (just say no to toxic masculinity!), and not so much of “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” which is great but not especially subtle. What other books might be suitable? I’m looking for pre-/early reader level (toddler up to 4 or 5, I guess?) Thanks!
posted by stillmoving to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The Paper Bag Princess maybe?
posted by mhoye at 11:43 AM on September 18 [9 favorites]

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill. Teaches (in a subtle way) about finding yourself by doing good works.
posted by holborne at 12:04 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

Oliver Button is a Star by Tomie dePaola. William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow.
posted by mareliz at 12:04 PM on September 18

Click, Clack, Moo
posted by veery at 12:04 PM on September 18 [8 favorites]

Maybe Most People? I saw it in a library and intend to buy it when my youngest is a little older.

It's a lovely book that looks at a lot of diverse people and the message is "most people are good people who care about and help one another." Yes, that message isn't subtle at all, but the diversity is just in the pictures.
posted by kitcat at 12:13 PM on September 18

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez is a book about community organizing and collective action that always makes me tear up a little.
posted by EmilyFlew at 12:14 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

Farewell to Shady Glade by Bill Peet had an environmental message that spoke to me at that age, as did some of his other work.
posted by Candleman at 12:18 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

Rosie Revere, Engineer has a moral about being willing to fail and it makes me choke up every time! My niece thinks it's very funny (me crying, not the book itself, although the book is also kind of funny)
posted by babelfish at 12:19 PM on September 18 [5 favorites]

Who Needs Donuts - when you have love. Essentially about sacrificing material possessions to help your fellow human.
posted by brookeb at 12:26 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]

'Last Stop On Market Street' by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson- about a boy who accompanies his Grandmother after church on a bus ride and shares all the wonderfulness that is city living.

'Red: A Crayon's Story' by Michael Hall- A blue crayon in a red crayon wrapper and all the ways their community tries to get them to conform to being red, when inside they know they are not.

'Worm Loves Worm' by J.J. Austrian- a picture book that unpacks the wedding industrial complex and gender conformity with the love tale of two worms.

Many of Leo Lionni's book fit this bill- Frederick comes to mind, but so does Swimmy and Fish is Fish.
posted by momochan at 12:31 PM on September 18 [6 favorites]

I don't know if this is quite what you're looking for, but I always appreciate how Frog and Toad avoids any sort of obvious lesson or moral, and is just about two friends existing together. Frog never scolds Toad or tells him what to do, although he often takes gentle action or shows compassion to shape his behavior. The Swim (where Toad is embarrassed to get out of the water because he looks funny in his bathing suit) doesn't end with a moral about how wrong the other animals are to tease Toad, but with Toad being fearless, and getting out of the water regardless.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 12:43 PM on September 18 [17 favorites]

Miss Rumphius: longed to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful, esp. the last bit. I love the illustrations and the story.
posted by theora55 at 12:44 PM on September 18 [8 favorites]

The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright is about two rivals who learn that cooperation is better than competition. I guess maybe it's not all that subtle for adults, but it's well done. My toddler, at least, doesn't find it overly moralizing.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:53 PM on September 18

Little Blue and Little Yellow!
posted by Melismata at 12:56 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]

+1 for Paper Bag Princess and Miss Rumphius. They're both great.

Might I suggest And Tango Makes Three? True story about 2 same sex penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raise a chick together. Our kids loved it, and it's the right age range. Progressive but not over the top (unlike Heather Has Two Mommies, which was painful to read to the kids, and I say that as a woman with a same-sex partner).
posted by widdershins at 12:56 PM on September 18 [3 favorites]

I think you should check out The Nerdy Bookclub award winners. One thing I really like about Nerdy Bookclub is that they are very aware that there are more children's books with animals or objects as the main characters than there are with books with people of color of as the main characters.

You may also be interested in We Need Diverse Books

Last Stop on Market Street is great as is Carmela Full of Wishes.
posted by CMcG at 12:57 PM on September 18

Anything by Jonah Winter is a good choice. Many are bios of profoundly good people tailored for wee ones.
posted by quarterframer at 1:14 PM on September 18

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea: don't reject nonbinary/gnc/otherwise-unique children because actually they're people too (and, if you are the nonbinary/gnc/unique person: try not to let rejection get you down too much, because you're a delightful person in your own right as well)

The Most Magnificent Thing: if you can work through your frustration when things aren't happening perfectly on your first try, you can make magnificent things
posted by teremala at 1:45 PM on September 18

Snutt the Ift: be open to exploring strange and wonderous places and perhaps you'll even find a friend

Wanda's Roses: children can inspire adults to do good works; neighbors can come together to create beauty; the library is a good source of information when you don't understand something
posted by teremala at 1:50 PM on September 18

It Feels Good to be Yourself
By Teresa Thorn

She and the illustrator made sure to have the images in the book be inclusive.
posted by bilabial at 1:57 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]

Ooooh! There's no such thing as a dragon is perfect.

Moral: If you ignore a problem or uncomfortable feeling they get big and cause problems. Best to just acknowledge things and not pretend they don't exist.

Personal note: I was given this book (for my own kids) by a relative who spent my childhood ignoring problems or uncomfortable situations within our family. I haven't figured out if the gift of this book signals a newfound insight or just a lack of close reading. But I love the book, because it sparks great conversation in my family!
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 2:28 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

We always liked One by Kathryn Otoshi.
posted by cleverevans at 4:07 PM on September 18

Todd Parr’s books celebrate diversity and inclusion while using humor, which keep them light.
posted by epj at 5:05 PM on September 18

I like the picture books by Davina Bell / Allison Colpoys:

All The Ways To Be Smart
The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade
Under The Love Umbrella
posted by a very present absence at 9:19 PM on September 18

A Chair for My Mother is a wonderful, low-key depiction of community.
posted by BibiRose at 12:57 PM on September 19

Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems demonstrates inclusivity, although not in a didactic way and you can't pick it apart logically. It's just very gestural.
posted by BibiRose at 1:06 PM on September 19

How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head (reconsidering stereotypes and expectations)
Paper Bag Princess, definitely
The Owly books are about an extremely kind and nature-loving little owl who is best friends with a worm. Strong environmental themes.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:29 PM on September 19

Farmer Duck is a silly farm noise filled tale about friends who care. But it is, in my opinion, also about a proletariat revolution and seizing the means of production from the landlord/rentier class.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:12 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

As a parent of a toddler and a preschooler, I LOVE these sort of books , and seek them out for our family's library. Here's a link to the books we have for the 2 - 5 year range (on Amazon for simplicity, not as a recommended place to buy books). Of these books, I would particularly recommend:
- Ada Twist, Scientist (keep trying to learn about the world, experiments, scientific method)
- Chrysanthemum (be true to yourself, it's okay to stand out and be different)
- Click Clack Moo (socialism, essentially)
- Du Iz Tak? (observing the world, passing seasons, beauty is fleeting but that's okay)
- Ella May Does It Her Way (a bit on the nose, perhaps - doing things independently, trying out new ways)
- Evan's Corner (sharing, finding bountifulness even with little material wealth)
- Fritz and the Beautiful Horses (kindness and being helpful are more important traits than looks)
- Frog and Toad (a wide variety of lessons about the human condition)
- Jabari Jumps (how to overcome fears)
- Julian is a Mermaid (accepting yourself and family acceptance)
- The Little Hummingbird (helping matters, even if you're small)
- Last Stop on Market Street (beauty of the world + helping others)
- Miles of Smiles (small acts of kindness can spread through a community)
- Miss Rumphius (crafting a life that is full of adventures and improves the world)
- The North Wind and the Sun (slow & steady & gentle approaches over fast & hard)
- Not Quite Narwhal (seeking your own place in the world, but your family will still love you)
- Nya's Long Walk (taking hard tasks one step at a time)
- Our Animal Friends (a lovely but frank look at farm life)
- The Paperbag Princess (being smart, not settling for a loser dude)
- People (people are all different around the world & that's okay with a bonus "we all die in the end")
- The Rabbit Listened (working through your feelings and how to be there for a friend)
- Red Kite, Blue Kite (coping with being apart from your family)
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee (the many ways to show love to your friends)
- Sidewalk Flowers (finding and sharing beauty in the world)
- The Snow Lion (coping in a new place)
- Sofia Valdez, Future Prez (collective action & leadership)
- Something From Nothing (reusing worn goods, rather than trashing)
- Sweep (dealing with big emotions)
- They All Saw A Cat (understanding different perspectives)
- This Moose Belongs To Me (sharing, not being bossy)
- A Tree Is Nice (all the many ways to appreciate nature)
- The Way to Start A Day (appreciating the world & our interconnected nature)
- Waiting (it's okay for nothing to be happening)
- Where the Wild Things Are (it's understandable that you feel wild and your parents still love you)
- The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (lots of lessons - see the Tao of Pooh for more)
- Zen Shorts (retelling of Zen Buddhist tales)

I left off some on our shelves that are a bit more heavy-handed (e.g. How to Solve a Problem), but they're really lovely as well
posted by Jaclyn at 10:38 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]

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