It was last week that our Family Focus trait for May was honesty, and you may have seen that. Here are some of our favorite picture books about being honest! For our Family Focus kick-off night for May, we used The Empty Pot and Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie. You’ve already read about that. Today, I’m going to show you the rest of our honest list. A book about telling the truth or lying is sure to be there, but also books about cheating and other dishonesty are there, too. If you want to know more about each book’s plot, you can read my short summaries below. I also worked with my friend Lauren from Happily Ever Elephants to bring you two honesty book lists today. You can check out her website here and her Instagram account here. She has a lot of the same books on her website, but there are also some new ones that I can’t wait to read when the libraries open again.
People who want their families to be honest should be aware that kids lie. They just do it. When you are a parent, hearing that first lie can be very painful. But research shows us that we’re not the only ones, and that a toddler’s lie doesn’t mean that she’s going to be a lot less social in the long run. In fact, researchers say that being able to tell a lie is an important milestone in a child’s development. The fact that all kids lie doesn’t mean that adults should. In fact, we can do a lot to help our kids understand how important it is to be honest. For example, we can read stories to them that show how brave it is to be honest instead of lying. The more we show kids how honesty can be good when the stakes are small, the more likely they are to be honest later in life, when the stakes are much higher.
Our Favorite Picture Books About Honesty
What Should Darla Do?by Ganit and Adir Levy, illustrated by Doro Kaiser
Do you agree? This is part of the Levy’s “Power to Choose” series, and it’s more than just telling the truth! That’s not all. Darla and her readers face some great situations in which they could choose to be honest or dishonest (such as finding a toy on the sidewalk and trying to find its owner or taking it home). My love for this series is strong, especially because it shows what could happen if you make a good or bad choice. To read my full review, click here. Ages 3 to 12
Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lieby Laura Rankin
Ruthie finds a tiny camera at school one day and takes a picture. Martin tells Ruthie that the camera is his. Ruthie says that she got the camera for her birthday. From here, Rankin shows us how we might feel after we tell a lie, from happiness to anxiety, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and remorse. Parents are kind and gentle when the truth comes out, but they do encourage her to fix her mistake by telling the truth. This is a lesson that all parents should keep in mind. To read my full review, click here. Ages 3 to 6.
The Berenstain Bears and the Truthby Stan and Jan Berenstain
The Berenstain Bears aren’t my favorite books to read, but our younger daughter loves them. They can be a little preachy and didactic, but she loves them. When she brought this one home from school one day, I had to agree with her that the message in this one is good. She goes to the nurse’s office to borrow books from the library, not to get out of class. There are many things that can be fixed and broken things can be put back together, but “trust is not something you can fix again.” Years 3-7.
Little Croc’s Purseby Lizzie Finlay
One day, while playing hide-and-seek with his friends, Little Croc finds a purse with a lot of cash inside. A hidden surprise is also found inside. Friends tell him to keep the purse and give them the money. Little Croc decides to look for the person who owns the purse. That doesn’t mean that Little Croc doesn’t know that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Even when new boots and ice-cold lemonades are calling out to you! After getting her purse back, the person who owns it decides to reward Little Croc for being honest. This is a book about a crocodile named Little Croc who gets a lot of money for good behavior. He gets three envelopes: one for money he can spend, one for money he can share, and one for money he can save. Years 3-7.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf(multiple illustrated versions, but my favorite is B. G. Hennessy’s version, illustrated by Peter Scolari, ages 3-8),The Wolf Who Cried Boy(by Bob Hartman, illustrated by Tim Raglin, ages 5-8), andThe Boy Who Cried Bigfoot(by Scott Magoon, ages 4-8) —
Okay, so you can’t have an honesty book list without these important stories that help kids understand that the more they lie, the less likely people are to believe them when they tell the truth. These are three of my favorite versions of this story, but you can find a lot of other versions of both The Boy Who Cried Wolf and other versions of broken fairy tales.
The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR! by Rob Biddulph
On this list, The Empty Pot is the one that I like the best. My kids like the one called The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GrRRRR! Fred, the best bear in the wood, has competition for the first time in three years when Boris, a newcomer, gives him a run for his money. This is the first time in three years that Fred has had a rival. Fred’s roar isn’t there when the race is too close to call. But it looks like Boris has something under his sweater. Is it possible that Fred hasn’t said “GRRRRR!”? They’ll be angry when they find out that Boris cheated in order to win over Fred. Definitely, this is a good book to read. But it can also be a great way to talk about honesty and cheating in games and competitions. Ages 4 to 8.
Eli’s Lie-O-Meter: A Story About Telling the Truthby Sandra Levins, illustrated by Jeff Ebbeler
In this book, Eli is just like every other child. Make-believe and real are two different things to him. Eli can tell the difference. But, sometimes, he tells the truth. Sometimes his lies are small, and sometimes they’re big. But when one of his lies leads to someone (or something) getting an unfair punishment, Eli really starts to understand the consequences of truth and lies. Parents will definitely want to read the Note to Parents at the end, which was written by a clinical psychologist and professor who specializes in helping families and kids. The note talks about why kids lie (because the truth is they do) and how parents can help their kids be more honest. Ages 4 to 8.
The Golden Plateby Bernadette Watts
Her best friend Elisabeth and Isobel’s dollhouse, which is fully furnished and beautiful, are two of her favorite things to play with. Isobel steals one of Elisabeth’s little golden plates one day. She hides it in her pocket and quickly leaves before Elisabeth notices. In the beginning, Isobel doesn’t feel bad about what she did. Then, remorse takes over and she tells her mother what she did. People who tell the truth without being asked about it in stories like The Golden Plate and Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie are very interesting to me. As you read this book, be sure to look at Watts’s illustrations. Watts shows us how we feel after we tell a lie through his background. I especially like the spread where Isobel’s dolls seem to be watching her in shock as she puts the golden plate into the dollhouse. Ages 4 to 8.
The Honest-to-Goodness Truthby Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Giselle Potter
Her mother has always told Libby to “Speak the truth, and shame the devil,” but until her mother caught her in a lie, Libby didn’t fully understand what that meant. Libby made a promise to only tell the truth from that point on. Instead, she makes people angry and gets into more trouble. She sets out to find out if the truth can ever be wrong. This is a very important lesson for Libby to learn. She has to know the difference between hurtful truths and real truths, and how to be kind when you tell hard truths. And her community learns a little more about hearing the truth, even if it’s not what they want. Ages 4 to 8.
The Empty Pot by Demi
It’s the story of Ping, a young Chinese boy who loves flowers. The Empty Pot tells his story. In fact, everyone in the kingdom likes flowers, but the Emperor is the only one who likes them more than anyone else in the kingdom. That’s not all: When it comes time to choose the next Emperor of China, he decides that “flowers should choose” and have a flower-growing contest. The child who can “do their best” in a year will be the next one. It’s no surprise that this is right up Ping’s alley. He knows he can win. Try as he might, his flower won’t grow. Before long, Ping only had an empty pot to show for his work. His father tells him that’s fine because he tried his best. In this story, I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that bravery and honesty always win out. Also, this book is on our list of honest books. Also, you can read my full review here. Ages 4 to 8.
A Bike Like Sergio’sby Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
A lot of people think this story is about being honest even when you really, really want to do something else. It turns out that empathy is what makes the main character do the right thing. Empathy is the ability to understand how it felt to lose something important, because he has been there. Then he thinks about how devastated the girl is and how he should be honest and do the right thing. That’s why it also made our list of 50+ books that can help build compassion and empathy! Ages 5 to 8.
A Day’s Workby Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler —
It’s no surprise that Eve Bunting writes magically powerful books for kids, andA Day’s Workis no different. His grandfather has just moved to the U.S. and doesn’t speak any English. Francisco is helping him find a job for the day because his grandfather doesn’t speak any English. As Francisco’s chances of finding a job for the day start to fade, he lies about how good his grandmother is at gardening in order to get hired for the job. But his grandfather doesn’t know a thing about gardening and makes a huge mistake on the job, which makes the person who is in charge very angry. An important message from Abuelo: Even though it may be hard, we must always try to make things right, even if it is hard. Ages 5 to 8.