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Books That Build Kids’ Character
Posted on December 19, 2012 by Elizabeth Carey

These 22 books will help the little ones in your life appreciate what’s truly valuable in this world.


The waning days of winter can be brutal. A frosty wonderland that held the of allure of snowball fights, sled racing and igloo building has given way slushy streets, lost mittens and grumpy moods. As cabin fever builds, how to ride out the cold, dark days? Snuggle up in front of the fire with a few of these reads. Each selection showcases the benefit of having patience and building character—lessons that won’t be lost once spring finally sets us free.

“Character is what you are in the dark.” — Unknown


The Santa Trap by Jon Emmett — $15.95 (ages 6 and up)
 A beastly, bad little boy named Bradley is sick of getting socks from Santa Claus every Christmas. Shoving peace and goodwill aside, the vengeful character turns his family’s house into a complex trap. But something trips up his aim to capture Mr. Claus (spoiler alert: it’s his own despicable behavior).


The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco — $16.99 (ages 5 and up) As Trisha’s Babushka and Grampa plan the Russian traditions of dipping candles, cooking latkes, and carving wooden animals to celebrate Hannukah, scarlet fever spreads to their neighbors. Trisha and her family embrace diverse traditions to share the holidays with their friends. With warm illustrations and actual memories, Polacco describes a holiday tale rich with goodwill.


Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis — $15.95 (ages 5 and up) When seven quarrelsome brothers each receive a ball of silk thread from their father, they also receive a challenge: making gold by the time the moon rises. Set in a Ghanian village, this story vividly depicts the creation of the multicolored Kente cloth and the values of Kwanzaa.


Advent Storybook by Antonie Scheider— $17.95 (ages 4 and up)  Especially for the kid whose pre-Christmas anxiety rockets sky high, this book provides a valuable lesson for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Read it as a bedtime story to get sugar-hyped, Santa-ready kids to contemplate how they’re celebrating the season.


Hershel and The Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel— $12.21 (ages 5 and up) In a village’s old synagogue, a traveler named Hershel confronts the scary, greedy goblins that keep villagers from celebrating Hanukkah. With wit and grace, Hershel seeks to light the menorah each night with a few props like pickles. This Caldecott Honor Book will delight readers young and old.


New Red Bike by James Ransome — $16.95 (ages 3 to 6) Amid the holiday hubbub, new toys will make your kids squeal with glee. Do they share their shiny presents with others? With clean, compelling illustrations, Ransome tells a story about Tom, a little boy who discovers the concept of sharing soon after getting a new red bike.


Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg — $18.95 (ages 4 and up)  Selling more than 6.5 million copies, this award-winning book is a crowd-pleaser. Jump aboard an old-fashioned steam train to visit the North Pole and see whether you and your kids believe enough to hear a silver bell ring.


The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola — $12.23 (ages 4 and up)
 When little Lucida’s mother falls ill, her weaving—a vibrant gift she was making for the village Christmas celebration—ceases. In an effort to help, Lucida tries to finish the weaving, but ends up with a tangled mess. As the author-illustrator Tomie dePaola depicts, the unselfish girl’s conundrum becomes the legend of the poinsettia—a poignant, oft-overlooked symbol.


The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear by Stan and Jan Berenstain — $12.99 (ages 3 and up)
  Brother and Sister Bear know their chance to meet Santa Bear draws near, which has given them a bad case of the “gimmies.” Can they put aside their miles-long wish list to be guided towards more thoughtful, generous behavior? Mama and Papa Bear have faith that they can show them the way.


Happy Hanukkah, Curious George by H.A. Rey — $7.99 (ages 4 and up)  As curious as ever, Curious George gets into trouble during Hanukkah festivities. In the midst of celebrations, however, he doesn’t forget the importance of mitzvah, or good deeds.


The Night Tree by Eve Bunting — $11.56 (ages 4 and up)
 A young boy’s holiday involves a trek in the woods, tangerines, and sunflower-seed balls. Eve Bunting depicts this heart-warming tale, which highlights one family’s tradition of biodegradable, edible decorations.


Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney — $17.99 (ages 3 and up)  With holiday hustle and bustle at school and at home, little Llama can’t wait another minute for that special date. Overwhelmed youngsters will take the message Mama Llama imparts to heart.


How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? By Jane Yolen — $16.99 (ages 4 and up)  A mainstay in kid lit, the dinosaur-stars of this book threaten to cause a ruckus during the eight-day Jewish holiday. In this story, young readers will pick up on good and bad dinosaur (and kid) behavior.


Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa by Donna Washington — $12.99 (ages 4 and up) Inspired by a trickster from African-American folklore, the main character in this story, Li’l Rabbit, frets about the cancellation of the big feast during Kqanza. With his Granna sick, he sets out to get Granna a special treat, meeting a wide range of creatures en route.


The Classics


A Christmas Carol
 by Charles Dickens — $19.99 (ages 10 and up)
 The lessons in this timeless tale have yet to be diminished by countless retellings. With colorful cast of characters (most of all, that penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge), greed, and poverty as elements of the plot, Dickens invites readers to contemplate their own character during the winter holiday season.


The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry — $15.99 (age 9 and up) With a handful of pennies, Della decides to sacrifice her beautiful knee-length hair to make enough money for a gift for her beloved James. This classic story set in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century explores needs and wants, scarcity, tradeoffs, and, with an ironic twist, love.


The Nutcracker by Eta Hoffman — $45.95 (ages 7 and up)
 With visuals by the illustrious Maurice Sendak, this novel-esque story explores the age-old theme of good versus evil, but in a magical, snowy setting. Whether your family has seen (or been in) the ballet, this fascinating tale is worth revisiting.


Wintertime Wonders


The Shortest Day: Celebrating The Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer — $17.99 (ages 6 and up) Rather than despair the shortest, presumably darkest day of the year (aka the winter solstice), share this book with your youngsters. It explains the history of solstice celebrations, easy science activities and other stay-busy ideas.


The Mitten by Jan Brett — $17.99 (ages 3 and up)  What happens to lost mittens? In this popular, intricately illustrated book, the main character Nicki’s mitten is stretched to the limits by the forest animals who squeeze in it together. A true community commences when a badger and bunny seek refuge together.


Snowmen At Night by Caralyn Buehner — $10.87 (ages 3 and up)
 What do snowmen do when you and your kids aren’t looking? This tale explores the secret, exciting adventures of our bulbous, frozen friends. Besides offering a bit of winter holiday revelry, it teaches us that snowmen and people alike are not the sum of a day job.


Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin — $16.15 (ages 5 and up) A tale of perseverance and patience, this biography recounts Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley and his love for snow. With woodcut illustrations and captivating text, the tale pulls readers in.


A Perfect Day by Carin Berger — $16.99 (ages 4 and up) This delightful book details the perfect winter day, when it snows and snows. With vibrant collages, Berger depicts how everyone comes out to play, including a little girl named Charlotte who sets up an icicle stand.