fathersonreadingFor centuries, people around the world have come together at harvest times to celebrate and offer thanksgiving for the food that sustains us. In keeping with this tradition, President George Washington proclaimed a nationwide “day of public thanksgiving” on November 26, 1789. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln took it a step further, creating a federal holiday grounded in gratitude.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation — penned in the midst of a devastating Civil War — began with the humble acknowledgment that, despite the tragedy, the year had “been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”

Modern research bears out what these rich traditions teach: Gratitude is good for the soul.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, who has conducted studies on psychological benefits of expressing thanks, writes, “Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying.” According to research, gratitude helps people “feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

The habit of gratitude can be nurtured in early childhood, as parents help their kids pay attention to small moments of beauty and goodness around them – and express that thanks through their words and actions. (You can read more about “raising grateful kids” in here.)

In this season of Thanksgiving, consider picking up a good book to read aloud with your children and start your own conversation about what makes you feel grateful. Here are nine books that my family enjoys. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

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  1. Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson (Author) and Jane Chapman (Illustrator)
    All of Karma Wilson’s “Bear Books” are written in delightful, rhythmic rhyme. In this installment, bear wants to throw a feast for his friends, and they arrive with delicious dishes. But when Bear sadly discovers his own cupboards are empty, they share how grateful for the gift of his friendship.
  2. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson (Author) and Tiphanie Beeke (Illustrator)
    In this gem of a story, a fox named Fletcher is distraught when the leaves of his favorite tree begin to fall off, and he tries his best to reattach them. After the last leaf falls, the first snow descends, and he is amazed by the magical transformation. This book reminds us to look for the good that can emerge from changes in our life, even when those changes feel scary or uncomfortable at first.
  3. Look and Be Grateful by Tomie dePaola
    Rather than listing reasons to be grateful, this simple book by the legendary Tomie dePaola reminds the reader to pay attention: to look, listen, and notice the beauty in the world around us. The beautiful illustrations include a boy studying a ladybug and sharing fruit with his sister. As the text reminds us, “Today is today, and it is a gift.”
  4. The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
    This brightly illustrated picture book for very young children begins, “Every day I try to think about the things I am grateful for.” It models, in simple language, how to express gratitude for the small things in life, such as “I am thankful for music because it makes me want to dance” and “I am thankful for my feet because they help me run and play.”
  5. Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
    In this Caldecott Honor book, a giant Panda named Stillwater befriends three children and shares with them some Zen tales, wise stories that remind the children to slow down and pay attention to the people and world around them. All the stories are lovely, but the “Farmer’s Luck” is particularly appropriate for this season, exploring how “bad luck” may have unexpected silver linings.
  6. Thankful by Eileen Spinelli (Author) and Archie Preston (Illustrator)
    In this warm and whimsical book, Spinelli highlights simple reasons that various people might feel gratitude, beginning with the words, “The waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes. The local reporter, for interesting news. The gardener’s thankful for every green sprout. The fireman, for putting the fire out.” Two young siblings in dress-up clothes represent most of the characters.
  7. In November by Cynthia Rylant (Author) and Jill Kastner (Illustrator)
    If you live in a climate that grows cool in autumn, this poetic book will remind you to be grateful for the beauty that November offers. It begins, “In November, the earth is growing quiet. It is making its bed, a winter bed for flowers and small creatures. The bed is white and silent, and much life can hide beneath its blankets.” The book also has a nod to Thanksgiving and gathering with family.
  8. Ladybug Girl Gives Thanks by Jacky Davis (Author), David Soman (Illustrator)
    If you aren’t familiar with Ladybug Girl, she’s worth getting to know. In this latest installment, Lulu (Ladybug Girl) playfully shares what she is grateful for, from playing make-believe with her friends to swinging on trees.
  9. Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen (Author) and Kristina Swarner (Illustrator) This book echoes Fred Rogers famous advice during times of tragedy, “Look for the helpers,” and describes ordinary people in our communities doing good things — from farmers to doctors to teachers to builders.
About Deborah Farmer Kris

Deborah Farmer Kris spent several years as a K-12 educator and as an associate at Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility. She is a regular contributor for MindShift and the mother of two young children. You can follow her on Twitter @dfkris.

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