In recent years, there has been an explosion of books for kids about mindfulness and contemplative practice. Many of these wonderful books are explicitly about discovering the present moment, impermanence, equanimity, and other similar concepts. The best of these books are deceptively simple. Many have few words or a single, simple idea. The most elegant ones do not resort to preachy exposition.
Some of the most insightful lessons, however, come from books that are not actually trying to teach mindfulness! Just as mindfulness has been around for a long time, so too have picture books that convey mindful messages. In many cases, we just never noticed these lessons before. As parents, and children’s book authors ourselves, we have discovered that many of the best books about mindfulness are often just the best kids’ books.
With this inspiration in mind, we’ve put together a list of classic children’s books with profound lessons on mindfulness. We hope you’ll share your favorite classics with us, too.
1) The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats, Puffin Books
The Snowy Day takes readers on a journey with a boy as he explores his neighborhood after a recent snowfall. How is this story mindful? The simple rhythm, the heightening and highlighting of the senses (“crunch crunch crunch” through the snow) bring us into the moment, while the sheer joy, awe, and intentional curiosity of nature’s beauty and surprises in the midst of the city all evoke mindfulness. This brightly illustrated book is so sensory—the boy smacks a tree with a stick, then drags the stick though the snow, all before relaxing into a warm bath—that the reader can almost experience the day alongside the boy. By the end we have been transported to that feeling of waking up to a still, quiet snow blanketing the busy city, and the coziness of thawing out upon returning home.
2) The Missing Piece
By Shel Silverstein, HarperCollins
Shel Silverstein has many classics that teach compassion, emotional intelligence, humor, and so much more. The Missing Piece, told in minimal text with Silverstein’s trademark line drawings, tells the tale of a circle who is missing a pie-shaped piece. The circle ambles through the countryside, singing and observing, when, at long last, it finds its missing piece: a slender triangle that fits just right. Yet, once whole, the circle can no longer sing (the piece is in the way), and it now rolls too fast to smell the flowers or truly look at the butterflies. The circle decides that it is happier without the piece, and the two go their separate ways.
For us, this books shows us how we all have a missing piece or two, but those imperfections are what make us human. If we try to “fix” all those qualities that we see as our flaws, then we are no longer true to who we are. Maybe you have to read it to understand what we are talking about.
3) The Important Book
By Margaret Wise Brown and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, HarperCollins
While Margaret Wise Brown is best known for her timeless Goodnight Moon, The Important Book is a quirky little story that explores the essence of everyday things in elegant, almost haiku-like prose. One page reads, “The important thing about the sky is that it is there. It is true that it is blue and high, and full of clouds and made of air. But the important thing about the sky is that it is there.” On the first reading, it may seem obvious, but only after frequent revisiting does the book’s profound lessons become apparent. It encourages readers to meditate on the true essence of everyday things—the sky-ness of the sky—without preconceived judgments clouding our view. The rhythm of the book sticks with you long after the kids have gone to sleep, inviting you to continue pondering: What is the true essence of the sun? The floor? This screen? Bonus: A posthumous follow-up illustrated by Chris Raschka, Another Important Book, is a sweet variation about growing up.
4) The Lion and the Little Red Bird
By Elisa Kleven, Puffin Books
A good friend and colleague, Susan Greenland, suggested The Lion and the Little Red Bird as a mindful book for children. The tale of a bird admiring a lion with a mysterious, color-changing tail is perfect in so many ways. It is just the right length, traces one main story and idea, includes beautiful pictures, and uses language that is straightforward, yet descriptive. The prose captures the vibrancy of the natural world, and teaches readers through the example of a simple act of kindness. The book ends with the bird and lion becoming friends and sharing their essential gifts with one another.
6) “At Evening”
By Arnold Lobel, HarperCollins
Arnold Lobel was a childhood favorite for us, so we had to include not one, but two of his humorous tales of friendship and feelings in this list. Our children love to read about the inspiring friendship between Frog and Toad, most mindfully as it plays out in the story, “Alone.” As Frog chooses to enjoy time by himself, Toad grows concerned about Frog being unhappy. The story closes with an image of appreciation both for friendship and the beautiful summer day, with “two close friends sitting alone together.”
Another favorite is the quirky “At Evening,” from the adventures of Grasshopper on the Road. As other insects look on in confusion, Grasshopper takes his time to truly enjoy his journey and gives himself a rest when he needs to, rather than focusing on his destination.
7) The Story of Ferdinand
By Munro Leaf and Illustrated by Robert Lawson, Puffin Books
We both remember this book vividly from our own childhoods. In The Story of Ferdinand, Ferdinand the bull is happiest under a cork tree, smelling the flowers. When he is stung by a bee, his fierce reaction leads a bullfighter to take him to the city to fight before a crowd. But when Ferdinand gets into the bullring, all he wants to do is sit and smell the flowers. Our own parents’ generation, who protested the Vietnam War and helped to popularize mindfulness, rediscovered this classic from the 1930s with its message about peace and nonconformity.
While we identified with Ferdinand as kids, gazing at the clovers in the outfield instead of keeping our eye on the game, we both remember finding this book a bit frightening (Chris) and sad (Olivia). Rereading it as adults, we resonate with the simple imagery of sitting beneath a tree and smelling the flowers as the clouds drift by.
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