When you have some good books to help you teach kids about character traits, it makes it a lot easier to do. If you’re teaching kids about character traits in elementary school, these picture books are great mentor texts for writing and teaching kids how to make inferences and tell the difference between internal and external traits.
Why Is It Important to Teach Character Traits?
Learning about character traits is an important part of being able to read and write. But maybe more than that, character education helps young people become better people. When kids learn how to identify the traits that make up a person, they get a new perspective and learn how to be more empathetic.
Early on, kids need to be able to tell the difference between internal traits that show up in their actions or words and external traits, like how tall they are or how many freckles they have. When they’re in middle school, their understanding of character traits should become more focused on internal traits, and they should be able to write a story with characters who show different traits and be able to point out how their characters show those traits.
Children’s Books for Teaching Character Traits
These are some of our favorite books to use to teach kids about character traits, whether you’re teaching them for the first time or reintroducing them to the idea.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
It was written by the author of Love Me Forever. The Paper Bag Princess has long been praised by children’s book fans because it turns the damsel in distress trope on its head. Prince Edward, who is a bit of a snob, doesn’t need to be saved. Princess Elizabeth is the one who needs to be saved. To have the book in the classroom is great, but it’s also a good way to talk about character traits with young people and get them used to positive words being used to describe female protagonists.
Tip: Use a graphic organizer of character traits to help students as they make inferences about Princess Elizabeth.
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
In David Shannon’s book, Camilla Cream, Camilla is very worried about what other students think of her. She’s so worried that she might get a bad case of stripes! When it comes to talking about internal and external character traits, A Bad Case of Stripes has a lot to say. It also opens the door to a lesson about forging your own path and not being afraid to walk to your own drum. Camilla is shy and worried inside. She has a lot of different colors on her outside.
Starter tip: You can use “A Bad Case of Stripes” with your students to help them practice summarizing.
Who is the main character in this story?
What does the main character want to do in this story?
It doesn’t work this way.
The main character tries to solve the problem in this way: by going to school.
What is the answer to the problem?
Princess Truly in I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt
For kids who are just learning about character traits, Princess Truly by Kelly Greenwalt might be a good choice. The main character spends a lot of the book talking about herself and how brave she is. She also talks about the things she can do, from dancing on the moon to taming wild animals. With a little girl of color at the center, this book is a good one for your classroom library as well.
After reading the book aloud to your class, make an anchor chart with your students to describe Truly’s internal and external character traits, then show it to your students. You could draw a picture of a little girl and make a zig-zag line down the middle. People write “outside” and “inside” on each side.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes’ book about a little mouse named Chrysanthemum is a favorite one to read at the start of the school year or on World Kindness Day. It’s also a great mentor text for teaching kids how to use descriptive words when they write about a character. Chrysanthemum is kind and brave. Classmates who make fun of her because of her name are mean and not very nice to her.
Use a template for writing a story about how someone was kind to you as a guide for your students to write a story about how that person’s character traits made them so kind.
Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
A favorite old story about Strega Nona and her pasta pot that won’t stop cooking is the story of Strega Nona and her pasta pot. It’s a great way to teach kids about character traits. Student’s can use descriptive language when comparing and contrasting Strega Nona and Big Anthony. They can also predict what will happen, look for problems, and think of solutions.
Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich
He knows what kids are like and how to make them laugh. Carter Goodrich is the author of a lot of kids’ books. People love Nobody Hugs a Cactus because it’s about Hank, the cactus who doesn’t like noise or rowdy people… or hugs. He was also the character designer for Brave, Ratatouille, and Despicable Me. When we follow Hank, we see how he misses chances and thinks about how important friendship is to him.
Tip: Pick three events in Nobody Hugs a Cactus, draw a picture of each one, and then make an inference about how the character is feeling at the time of the event in the book. This worksheet can be used as a whole-class activity or as a task for yourself.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Andrea Beaty, whose other books made our list of favorite engineering books to share in the classroom, wrote this book about a scientist named Ada Twist. It’s a good way to get your first-graders to use more complex language. Ada is interested in science and wants to learn more.
Tip: Make an anchor chart with your students to help them think of words to describe Ada’s personality traits.
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
If you want to learn how to write about character traits, the Molly Lou Melon books by Patty Lovell are the best choice. It’s a picture book, but it has a lot of detailed character descriptions for even middle schoolers to think about. One girl has “a voice that sounds like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor,” which is what the book is about.
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
The Junkyard Wonders, by author Patricia Polacco, is based on a real-life event. It’s a great way to learn about real-world things while you read aloud. Before you start reading the book, rub scents on the hands of your students. You can use smelly markers or LipSmackers. Three or four students should have each scent, so they can walk around the room and form small groups based on the same scents. In the book, a teacher does the same thing. When you start reading that book, this will all make sense to them
Smell groups can use Junkyard Wonders as a way to talk about how the kids in Vanilla Group have certain traits. Then they can make character trait profiles for the people in their group.