Books & Resources

Top 5 Books to Inspire Nature Lovers

Top 5 Books to Inspire Nature Lovers ~ BigHeartedFamilies.orgGiven a chance, children are so universally, so naturally inspired by the natural world. It's no wonder that the list of beautiful children's books about nature is miles long. Nurturing this love of nature inspires all of us to take better care of the wild spaces and natural resources around us. Here is a short list of wonderful stories to inspire you to get outside.

Plus, here are a few conversation starters to get your family thinking after the story:

  • Name three things that you love to do outside?
  • Where are your favorite outdoor spaces?
  • Are their any outdoor adventures you hope to have some time in the future?
  • What creature do you wish  you could see in the wild?
  • What can your family do to help take care of your favorite natural areas?

Parents may consider reading the New York Times best selling book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen Canoe Days by Gary Paulsen.  Enjoy the peace and pleasure of a summer day in this poetic, beautifully illustrated, and fully transportable canoe trip.When you are done meeting the animals and insects in Paulsen's story, jam out with the Okee Dokee Brothers song "Can you Canoe."




Fairy Houses by Tracy Kane


Fairy House by Tracy Kane. Bring the joy of imaginative play to your outdoor experiences with this wonderful story. Join Kristin as she builds a fairy house in the woods, and follow her dream-like adventures with the fairies. Then build  your own fairy houses using the instructions in the book, and adding to them with your own imagination and natural treasures. It's a great alternative to screen time!



The Raft by Jim LaMarche


The Raft by Jim LaMarche. Follow along with Nicky's adventure in the Wisconsin woods. Nicky's summer with his raft, and his grandmother, opens him up to the natural world as well as his own artistic inclinations. The tone and the illustrations pull you in to this mesmerizing tale.



Fire Flies by Julie Brinkloe


Fire Flies! by Juilie Brinkloe. Discover the magic of fireflies on a summer night, and learn to respect the freedom wild things deserve. This is a perfect companion for a summer camping trip, along with a bug net!




Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Cool down a hot summer day  with this wintry tale. With few words and magical illustrations, this book places you in the chilled quiet of a winter night and the magical intimacy with nature that's possible in this quiet world.






Big Hearted Families Book Club: The Great Kapok Tree

Transform  family night into a creative, fun, book-centered kindness practice! June 2013 book club - kapok tree The book for June 2013 is The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry.

This incredible book will help your family look deep into nature. The vivid illustrations and simple story show us the beauty, vitality and interdependence  of the Amazon rain forest, and help us understand why it is so fragile.

The more we know about the natural world, the more we are inspired to protect it. With this in mind, we invite you to spend time observing the wilderness in your own neighborhood. Get to know your natural neighbors and practice the art of observation. Then create a personal photo journal.

This month’s recipe celebrates biodiversity, too, with a zesty summer Black Bean Mango Quinoa salad from The Kids Cook Monday.

If you are a subscriber, you have already received your beautiful book, the following materials, plus a shopping list, book suggestions for older readers, and a fun BHF book mark right in the mail.

Thank you for supporting our nonprofit work!

If you would like to subscribe, head on over to our SHOP to get started.

If you already own the book or would rather use your library, we invite you to download these materials for your own big-hearted family night! When you’re done, join us back here and share your stories. Or join the discussion on our Facebook page!

great kapok tree


The Book Discussion: Conversation for The Great Kapok Tree





Black Bean Mango Quinoa Salad


The Recipe: Black Bean Mango Quinoa provided by our friends at The Kids Cook Monday and created by Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and author of The Plant-Powered DietVisit  The Kids Cook Monday for more great recipes for your young chefs.



spring 019


The Kindness Activity:  Neighborhood Wildlife Photo Journal.  The more we notice and learn about the ecosystems around us, the more we will understand about the big idea of interdependence.

Kindness & Moving with Children

moving withe kids

moving withe kids

Sometimes showing compassion for my own family members is the only act of kindness I get accomplished.  Guiding children through big transitions - through fear or sadness or even uncontrollable excitement - can be all consuming.

Have I mentioned my family of 3 kids, 4 chickens, and 1  cat is moving?

For the most part, we're still keeping up with our regular habits of kindness, including Garbage Walks, collecting coins for the animal shelter, and participating in the One Book at a Time Program.

But most of my emotional energy has been funneled into smoothing these next few weeks for the kids and their sweet friends. It's no surprise that moving is tough for children. Psychology Today reports that frequent moves, or long drawn out moves, can have a long term impact on a child's happiness and ability to build stable relationships.

The good news is, parents can help limit the stress of a move with some targeted acts of love and kindness.

The book Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family's Transition to a New Home by Lori Collins Burgan was full of helpful ideas. Here are tools I've used to make the move emotionally easier for my kids and their friends:

  • Throw your own going away party. Initially, I was a bit embarrassed by this one, but it really is a must. After months of prepping our house for sale, searching for a new one, and endless packing, we needed a party. Each kid was given a stack of invitations to hand out at school and around the neighborhood. We held a simple open house in the back yard, just popcorn and a bounce house. Between neighbors, teachers, and friends old and new, well wishers filled our yard and our hearts for a very memorable afternoon.
  • Pen Pal Kits: Label a few envelops with the new address, bundle them with stationary, and let the kids pass them out to favorite friends. Hopefully, the kids can look forward to a summer of letters and pictures to and from their special people.
  • A Traveling Journal: For that favorite friend, keep a traveling journal to mail stories and secrets to one another throughout the summer. We haven't implemented this one just yet, our the eight-year-old girls who are about to be moved apart mention it nearly every day. I'll let you know how it goes.

The wonderful world of technology offers so many other helpful solutions. Video chatting and e-mail will make the separation easier on everyone.

Have you moved with children? How have you made the transition easier for your family?

Big-Hearted Families Book Club: Rabbit & Squirrel

Transform  family night into a creative, fun, book-centered kindness practice!April 2013 The book for May 2013 is Rabbit & Squirrel: A Tale of War and Peas by Libba Moore Gray.

Peace is a state of mind as well as a state of the world. This entertaining book demonstrates how jumping to conclusions, misunderstandings and revenge can lead to can lead to all out war. 

This book is a great springboard for conversations about how we can each create peace in our own lives. You'll even create a family work of art to remind yourselves of your commitment to peace.

Plus, enjoy your veggies - the one good example Rabbit & Squirrel offer - with a great recipe from The Kids Cook Monday.

If you are a subscriber, you have already received your beautiful book, the following materials, plus a shopping list, book suggestions for older readers, and a fun BHF book mark right in the mail.

Thank you for supporting our nonprofit work! If you would like to subscribe, head on over to our SHOP to get started.

If you already own the book or would rather use your library, we invite you to download these materials for your own big-hearted family night! When you’re done, join us back here and share your stories. Or join the discussion on our Facebook page!

rabbit and squirrel and tale of war and peas


The Book Discussion: Conversation Starters for Rabbit & Squirrel.





Veggie-ful Croissants


The Recipe: Veggie-full Croissants provided by our friends at The Kids Cook Monday and created by Michelle of The Kids Cook MondayVisit  The Kids Cook Monday for more great recipes for your young chefs.




peace quilt


The Kindness Activity:  Family Peace Quilt.  Spend time with your family creating a visual pledge to build peas - er  - peace.

Big Hearted Families Book Club: Amos & Boris

Amos and Boris - March 2013 - Small
Amos and Boris - March 2013 - Small

Transform  family night into a creative, fun, book-centered kindness practice! The book for March 2013 isAmos & Boris by William Steig.

This epic story of friendship is simply spellbinding. It has its roots in Aesop’s classic fable of the lion and the mouse, though in Steig’s rendition the backdrop is a harrowing ocean adventure.

Your family will discover how a tiny mouse can, in fact, come to the rescue of the whale he loves. How, you might ask? A little community organizing can solve almost any problem!  Make change yourself with our little animal advocacy project.

Plus, you’ll LOVE the wonderful recipe provided by our friends at The Kids Cook Monday and created by Cate of Tribecca Yummy Mummy.

If you are a subscriber, you've already received your beautiful book, the following materials, plus a shopping list, book suggestions for older readers, and a fun BHF book mark right in the mail.

Thank you for supporting our nonprofit work! If you would like to subscribe, download our order form here: BHF Order Form.

If you already own the book or would rather use your library, we invite you to download these materials for your own big-hearted family night! When you’re done, join us back here and share stories of your family night. Or join the discussion on our Facebook page!

amos and boris - steig
amos and boris - steig
Sesame Spinach Dumplings
Sesame Spinach Dumplings

The Recipe: 

Sesame Spinach Dumplings Recipe provided by our friends at

The Kids Cook Monday 

and created by Cate of Tribecca Yummy Mummy.

animal advocacy
animal advocacy

The Kindness Activity: 

Amos & Boris Animal Advocacy Project.

Learn about your favorite endangered animal and advocate for them!

Top 5 Big-Hearted Books about Death

This tender subject is too often avoided in my house. Or maybe it comes up too often. As with everything else, there are times when we focus and talk about this a lot, and times when it nearly disappears from our thoughts. Obviously, death is a natural part of life. It is a painful part of life, and love, and empathy. When the children have questions about this heavy subject, I do my very best to answer them earnestly, honestly, and bravely.

Our calico kitty suddenly passed away last week, only a year after we adopted her, bringing the topic of death and dying back to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few beautiful books to help your family begin a conversation about death, and life too.

The Next Place

The Next Place

The Next Place by Warren Hanson  

(Waldenhouse Press, 1997) 

This simple non-denominational poem beautiful expresses the release, relief, and freedom death might bring. My children have returned to this book many times over the years. It certainly is more abstract and artful than instructional, but it has brought us peace many times.

water bugs and dragon flies
water bugs and dragon flies

Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney (Pilgrim Press, 2012).

Stickney adapted a graceful fable about a water bug that changed into a dragonfly in order to explain death to a five-year-old. This book is more traditionally religious than The Next Place.My family was most interested in the metaphor of the dragonfly larva, who live below the surface of the water, and the adult dragonflies, to illustrate the notion of someone going beyond our sight, to a marvelous place.

the fall of freddie the leaf
the fall of freddie the leaf

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: a story of Life for all Ages by Leo Buscaglia (Slack Incorporated, 1982).

This classic story  is perfect, both simple and comforting. A little leaf named Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter's snow. As an avid gardener, I use nature often to teach kids about the circle of life and death. This book makes that analogy come alive.


Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Childrenby Bryon Mellonie (Bantam, 1983).

"All around us, everywhere, beginnings and endings are going on all the time. With living in between." This is a book to fall in love with, a book to read even when death is not a major topic around the house.

tenth good thing about barney
tenth good thing about barney

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1987).

This book is on the secular end of the spectrum. The writing is beautiful, the story is simple, and my children found it extremely comforting. They've been preparing their lists of good things about their own cat for our own kitty memorial service.

Please share your recommendations. I realize the topic of death is deeply entwined with personal spiritual beliefs, so feel free to share whatever speaks to you and your family. There are likely many others just like you who will be grateful for an additional resource.

Top 5 Big-Hearted Books about Fear and Worry

Children who understand emotions are more likely to act kindly toward others. They're also better able to express themselves, helping others understand their own needs. Fear and worry are particularly tricky emotions. We all, young and old, have a tendency to mask fear with anger or worry with aggression. Understanding these difficult feelings and learning to cope with them is a lifelong undertaking.

Begin today with these five wonderful picture books.

Top 5 Books about Fear and Worry

Parents, you can prepare yourself for a variety of big conversations with the book Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Children Cope when Things Don't Go Their Way  by Elizabeth Crary. Though the title focuses on disappointment, this book is full of practical tips to help a worrying child put that fear and uncertainty to rest.

Also, for older children looking for a great chapter book on this issue, check out the series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. These creative stories are full of mystery and endless lessons in courage and bravery.

what to do when you worry too much What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner (Magination Pr, 2005) Ages 6 and up.

This is really a 'coping with worry' handbook, overflowing with examples and activities to get kids thinking about how to handle their worrying. I found this useful for my oldest daughter, who is especially prone to worry.


scariest thing of all image


The Scariest Thing of All  by Debi Gliori (Walker Childrens, 2012) Ages 3 and up.

This book is wonderful for very young readers. Pip the rabbit is afraid of lots of things—until he gets lost in the woods, right in front of the Scariest Thing of All! But when Pip confronts his fears, he finds courage in the most unlikely of places: inside himself.


the monster who ate darkness


The Monster Who Ate Darkness by Joyce Dunbar (Candlewick, 2008) Ages 3 and up.

A monster that eats darkness stew?  This is a fun, rather silly book with an endlessly big-hearted conclusion. You can start a big-hearted conversation about that "empty feeling" the monster was so concerned about, and explore many other big ideas about fear, darkness, friendship, and hope after reading this wonderful story.




Fritz and the Beautiful Horses by Jan Brett. Boston (Houghton Mifflin, 1981) Ages 4 and up.

Jan Brett beautifully illustrates the story of Fritz, a pony excluded from the group of beautiful horses within the walled city. Fritz becomes a hero when he rescues the children of the city. The adventures of Fritz provide many opportunities to talk about the loneliness of exclusion, and the value of personal fortitude over superficial beauty.


the old woman who was not afraidGrandmother Stories: Wise Women Tales from Many Cultures by Burleigh Muten ("The Old Woman Who Was Not Afraid") (Barefoot books, 2006).  Ages 4 and up.

This treasury is wonderful. I've mentioned it in detail before (click here for the post). This collection of stories has been a favorite in our house for years. The story "The Old Woman Who Was Not Afraid" has captured Little Miss 5's imagination. Whenever she talks about something frightening, she parrots the woman in this story. "But I am not afraid," she declares, squaring her shoulders and jutting out her chin. In the story, the woman teaches us that brains and patience are all the tools we need to solve any problem and overcome any frightening situation.

5 Big-Hearted Books about Hunger & Poverty in the USA

As America faces record poverty rates and increasing income disparities, it becomes more and more important that we take action in whatever ways we can. Big-Hearted Families has an impressive and diverse list of project ideas to Fight Poverty with your family. Nothing inspires action quite as much as a good story, which is why we've assembled this short list of our favorite books on the subect.

These 5 picture books about hunger and poverty will help you bring up this difficult subject in a thoughtful way. Plus, they are each excellent stories.

Here are some conversation starters to make the most of your experience:

  • How would you feel if you had to rely on a stranger to provide your lunch every day?
  • How does it feel when you are hungry and you have to wait to eat?
  • What are ways we could help those who are hungry?
  • What do you think would be the hardest part of not having a home?
  • If you did not have a place to live, what things would be most important to you? Where would you sleep? How would you stay clean?
  • What things are you grateful for? Are these things you need to live or things that are simply nice to have?

Older readers (8 to 12) may enjoy Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, about the unlikely friendship between a little red hen and a homeless dog.

Here are some of my favorite picture books that will start a big-hearted conversation about hunger and poverty:


Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnn DiSalvo-Ryan (Morrow.

A young boy who is afraid of homeless people gains a new perspective when he helps his uncle work at the soup kitchen.



Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherford (Scholastic).

This book is based on actual events in the 1920s, when a philanthropist - the founder of Sears - offered money to African American communities to build schools—but only after they raised money themselves. For an impoverished community, this was a difficult task. This story of how they achieved it is very inspiring.



The Lady in the Boxby Ann McGovern (Turtle Books).

It is wintertime in the city and freezing cold, but not everyone is inside and warm. Ben and his sister Lizzie know that there is a lady who lives outside in a box over a warm air vent. The children worry about the kind-looking lady, and begin sneaking food and clothes out of their apartment for her. Gently told and powerfully illustrated in rich hues, The Lady in the Box deals candidly with the issue of homelessness.



Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (Clarion Books).

This heart-wrenching yet hopeful book follows a boy and his father through their daily routines as they shelter in an airport, obviously before airline security become so strict. This is book especially fostered a lot of conversation in my house. It perfectly presents the heartbreak of being a homeless child in a non-threatening, non-frightening way.



One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar).

For a more whimsical approach to the issues of hunger and sharing, this folktale while entertain and edify any audience. It's a variation on the theme of a magic pot, featuring a community pulling together. It's a new favorite.

5 Stories to Inspire Gratitude

Gratitude book list
Gratitude book list

Gratitude... 'tis the season, right? I do think it's helpful to have a holiday devoted to giving thanks, even though I aspire to a year-round practice of gratitude.Expressing gratitude, even out of obligation, helps me clearly see the abundance of love, of comforts, and of freedoms that surround me. Research shows that people who regularly express gratitude are happier and healthier than their counterparts, regardless of measurable wealth.

To that end, here are a few books to inspire a gratitude conversation with our children. They also happen to be wonderful stories. Don't forget to scroll down for a few additional recommendations for older readers, plus discussion questions to get you started.

Please share your recommendations in the comments! 

quiltmakers gift
quiltmakers gift

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau (Pfeifer-Hamilton).

A very talented seamstress makes beautiful quilts for the poor and the homeless When the king who has everything decides he must have one of her creations, she tells him he must give away everything; then she will give him a quilt. In the process of shedding his many possessions, the king finds true happiness. No summary can do justice to the mesmerizing, fairy-tale quality of this beautiful tale.

the table where rich people sit
the table where rich people sit

The Table Where Rich People Sit by Bryd Baylor ( Aladdin Picture Books).

As her family attempts to calculate the value of the desert hills, the colors of blooming cactus, and the calls of eagles and great horned owls, a young girl discovers that her impoverished family is rich in things that matter in life, especially being outdoors and experiencing nature.

too much noise
too much noise

Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern (Sandpiper Books).

Gratitude versus "I want more" is simply a matter of perspective. This exceptionally simple story makes that clear. When the old man searching for silence is told to bring home a variety of barnyard animals, even the youngest child can see the folly in his quest

Greedy triangle
Greedy triangle

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns (Scholastic Bookshelf).

Follow the greedy triangle to learn how wanting more and more  and more can change your life in ways you might never expect. And reinforce those basic geometry skills along the way.

money tree
money tree

The Money Tree by  Sarah Stewart (Live Oak Media).

Miss McGillicuddy's simple country routine continues through-out the year in spite of a very unusual tree growing in her yard.

As you read, I invite you to use our discussion questions to help your children consider a sense of gratitude, its importance, and why it can be so evasive:

  • Why is it so easy to forget the many things we are grateful for when we discover something new that we desperately want?
  • How can we remind ourselves to be satisfied with the good things already in our lives?
  • What if we woke up tomorrow and only had the things we expressed gratitude for today?
  • What is the difference between what you need and what you want?
  • Is it wrong to want something more when you have so much?
  • What would you do with a money tree if one appeared on your doorstep?

If you have a little extra time, try one of our related activities. Consider creating a Gratitude Garland or take time to write thank yous to people who have inspired your gratitude.

where the mountain meets the moon
where the mountain meets the moon

Independent readers, their parents, and even young ones willing to sit still for chapter books, will fall in love with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon  by Grace Lin.

5 Big-Hearted Treasuries

Why treasuries, you might be asking. I find collected stories or poems to be incredibly handy. I keep one in the car for road trips or the unexpected traffic jam, relying on my second grader to entertain the crew. I toss one in the diaper bag, regaling my weary little people in waiting rooms all over the city. When we're traveling, it is so nice to pack one book without sentencing myself to retelling the same story every night.

Clearly, I rely on them. It's a desperate attempt to keep the kids from noticing the DVD player in our new(ish) vehicle.

Brace yourself for this bit of news: I'm not even going to include Buddha at Bedtime. I've posted and linked to it enough times now you're sure to have stumbled upon it. It remains a favorite in our home, but I've decided to make room on this top five list for some collections you may not have run into just yet.

These stories are all so different from one another, a common set of discussion questions doesn't seem feasible. Certainly feel free to use the comments section here to  share the reflections you've shared with your children.

Children's Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett.

Clearly, this is a classic. You may have read it as a child. Former secretary of education William Bennett shares stories, fables, and poem conveying virtues we all hope to share, including courage, compassion, and loyalty among many others. Some of the stories are very familiar (Aesop's fables) others are quirky and new, at least to me. One or two I may have excluded, but on the whole, this is a wonderful book to read and discuss together.


I can make a difference: a treasury to inspire our childrenby Margaret Wright Edelman.

This collection is exceptional. I posted about it long ago, and it is still one of my go-to books. Again, I love the combination of stories, poetry, and art.

The works in this treasury do not simply teach and inspire. They are literary jewels, beautiful in and of themselves, and I am always delighted to sit down with my children to savor words so perfectly crafted.


James Herriot's Treasury of Inspirational Stories for Children by, obviously, James Herriot.

The author of All Creatures Great and Small brings us eight heart-warming, occasionally heart-breaking tales. My little animal lovers went nuts for these stories, and though we had to return it to the library all-to-soon, it just might show up under the Christmas tree.

While morals and virtues are not so heavily emphasized in this collection,  the stories easily lend themselves to big-hearted discussions.

Kids Random Acts of Kindness by Conari Press.

This collection is sure to inspire your family's next kindness activity. Nothing motivates kids - or adults - like a good example, which is exactly what these stories provide. While they may not be classic children's literature, they will certainly spark the spirit of giving.




Tales of Wisdom and Wonder (with CD) by Hugh Lupton.

The musical CD included with this collection makes it ideal for road trips or traffic jams.

And I promise, it will captivate your audience. This book features seven stories from a variety of cultures. They are expertly crafted, perfect for reading aloud repeatedly to young children. And, as the title declares, there is a bit of wisdom in each tale to get a conversation started.