Inside: A great selection of picture books about the importance of listening well and how to become better at it.
Engaging and dynamic picture books that teach fundamental concepts are my favorite books to read with my kids. Today I’m sharing with you my roundup of books about listening.
It’s no secret that listening is hard even for adults. But how well we listen (and to whom) has a significant impact on the direction of our life, the quality of our relationships, and our general well-being.
There’s no quick solution to become a good listener. But the following books open a window of opportunity to talk about different aspects of listening, such as forgetting to concentrate (yes, listening takes effort), selective listening, jumping to conclusions, understanding feelings behind spoken words, poor listening (aka multitasking), hearing only what you expect to hear, etc. I suspect that just bringing those ideas into awareness will make a difference in your kids’ lives in many fundamental ways.
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Deep in the Jungle, Dan Yaccarino
This lion doesn’t want to listen to anyone. He’s the king of a jungle, and everybody should bow to his wishes. However, when he happens to overhear how other animals in the jungle really feel about him, he’s deeply hurt. And he’s also motivated to set things right.
I love this book for its exaggerated cartoonish illustrations, its twisty plot, the happy ending, and the funny, unexpected dialogues.
“I’m the king of the jungle! Now prepare to be eaten!”
“Rrrrroar,” he added.
“Hmm, that’s quite good,” said the man. “Could you do that again, this time with a little more feeling?”
The lion was confused, but pleased to meet someone who knew a good roar when he heard one.“
Listen, Buddy, Helen Lester
This hilarious story about a distracted bunny is a winner all around. Each of my four kids went through a stage when they had to read it a few times every day.
Buddy’s head is always up in the clouds, which makes him very bad at listening. When his dad asks him for a pen, Buddy brings him a hen, and when his mom asks for a slice of bread, he brings her a slice of… bed (yep, he uses a saw. My kids love this part). But then something scary happens that teaches Buddy a lesson and improves his listening skills once and for all; what a fun way to deliver a powerful message that listening is an active choice!
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School, Davide Cali
Listening without judgment requires an open mind, something the main character’s teacher in the story doesn’t have. She is towering over her student with her feet wide apart and her hands crossed in front of her. And her attitude says she’s heard it all many times before. Well, too bad for her, because there’s a dinosaur right behind her that’s about to eat her! (She hasn’t heard that one!)
The action-packed artwork is hilarious and expressive (look for the puppy on each page). This book can help you get started talking about the importance of suspending judgment in some situations so we don’t lose the ability to be surprised or to grow.
10 Ways to Hear Snow, Casey Camper
In modern life, we are constantly exposed to a world of sounds—appliances, cars, roadworks, beeping, shouting, etc. In order not to go crazy, we develop selective hearing skills and other defense mechanisms important for insulating our minds. The problem is that the more we use them, the more we forget what it means to really listen.
The best way to counteract the problem is to practice focused listening skills. In this story, a young girl goes for a walk after a snowstorm and listens to the sounds around her. She hears the scrape of a shovel on the sidewalk, the crunch of boots in the deep snow, the pat-pat of mittens smoothing a snowman, and the thwomp of a snowball.
The story is a great invitation to slow down and practice sensory awareness in your environment. If it’s not winter now, you can replace this book with The Listening Walk by Paul Showers. It addresses the same idea, only instead of snow, a little girl listens to lawnmowers, water sprinkles, and baby ducks. Reading the book before taking a walk will prompt your kids to do a sound exploration of their own.
A Library Book for Bear, Bonny Becker
Bear refuses to listen to story time at the library because he is only interested in books about pickles, and he already has a good book about pickles right at home. So, there! Bear is in a huff because he’s certain that he’s right and everybody else is wrong, and besides, he is quite annoyed with the repeated refrain “quiet at the library.”
Well, he’s in for a surprise, of course. Not only does the story time book turn out to be about pickles after all (it was The Very Brave Bear and The Treasure of Pickle Island), but he also discovers the good things about opening his mind to new ideas and information.
I hope your children carry at least this one important thing out of reading this book, and that’s that an unwillingness to listen is a very unattractive trait. Gently humorous watercolor, ink, and gouache artwork provides an ideal setting for the narration.
The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld
The Rabbit Listened is the best picture book about empathic listening ever written. When a flock of crows destroys the block tower that the young protagonist of the story was building, his friends want to make him feel better. They encourage him to talk about it, scream to let it all out, move on, and give other good advice given with the best intentions.
Unfortunately, people in pain cannot hear good advice unless they have first felt heard. This story is a great reminder to approach each situation with the intention of listening first instead of rushing to fix it.
If you are curious about the story behind this book, read an interview with the author/illustrator Corey Doerrfeld.
Wolfie the Bunny, Ame Dyckman
Nobody wants to listen to Dot. Her parents adopted a wolf, and Dot is confident he’s going to eat them all up. All her friends agree that a wolf in a rabbit family is a bad idea. But her parents are too busy (and too smitten) to listen. Who is going to be right? You will have to read the book to find out, and I’m sure you will enjoy the unexpected ending. The acrylic paints have childlike simplicity but also convey a huge range of emotions.
My kids sometimes moan, “why is nobody is listening to me?” meaning that their arguments are not taken seriously. Depending on the situation, I might reply, “Have you considered if it’s because your argument is not as persuasive as you think it is?” You can read tips on being persuasive and discuss them with your kids if they often struggle with feeling unheard.
Bear has a Story to Tell, Philip C. Stead
Bear has a story to tell, but all his friends are too busy to listen. I feel for the bear because there were times in my life when I also felt like I had something to say but nobody to say it to (that’s why everyone should have a blog or diary :).
Besides using this book as an opportunity to remind my kids that we show respect by taking the time to listen to each other, I’m absolutely smitten with the artwork. The gorgeous watercolors have an almost effortless feel about them, but at close examination look intricate. I love that I can almost feel the wind on my face or hear the rustling of the leaves under the bear’s feet as he walks through the forest.
You can also use this book to talk about changing seasons and hibernation. So it’s a perfect book for this time of the year.
My Heart is a Compass, Deborah Marcero
One thing we ought to listen to is our own heart. It’s only possible to live with true passion, compassion, and attentiveness when we let our hearts be our compasses. The little girl in this story is on an adventure to discover something that hasn’t been found before. Armed with pens, paints, an atlas, a stack of white paper, and her imagination, she creates her own adventure.
Heart’s Content Old Forest, Daydreaming Glasslands, and The Princess Academy of Science and Arts are some of our favorite stops on her adventure. Our personal choices make a difference in the world. It’s a good book to tell kids that how we do anything is how we do everything, and how we listen to ourselves is how we listen to others. The lovely mixed media artwork by the author is full of detail and creativity.
Ginny Louise and the School Showdown, Tammi Sauer
At first glance, it appears that Ginny Louise is one of those super positive characters, who only sees the best in everyone and hears only what she wants to hear. When a school bully says to her, “Yer gonna pay.” She replies, “I would love to play! You’re the best new best friend!” It turns out that Ginny Louise’s natural cheerfulness and kindness can wear even the toughest of bullies out.
On a second reading, however, you might begin to suspect that Gunny’s listening might go deeper than originally suspected. She heard the bully’s threats all right, but she also heard what was not said – the bullies’ readiness (and perhaps even longing) to give up their bad ways.
This tale of reformed bullies is definitely one of my kids’ favorites, and it always makes them laugh out loud. It also helps that the illustrations are done by one of our favorite illustrators who we know from the Tacky the Penguin series by Lynn Munsinger.
One of Those Days, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Let’s be honest, even if you have the most loving and understanding family, there are days when you feel like nobody’s listening to you. Those are “nobody is listening to me” days. Sometimes we have a bad day, and that’s okay. Even the worst day turns into a night, and the next morning becomes a brand-new day.
This lovely book resonates with children of all ages. What kid hasn’t felt like he is living through a “the answer to everything is NO day“? Ice cream for breakfast? No! Can I have a pony? No! The silly illustrations compliment the story. On each page, you can ask your children, did you ever feel this way? Can you give an example? It will give you a peek inside your kid’s world and can start a discussion about dealing with frustration and how to make yourself heard when it really matters.
Little Elephant Listens, Michael Dahl
I saved this cute little baby book for last. It’s a bit simplistic, but kids always love it. “Little elephant uses his big ears to listen.” He listens to his papa, mama, and brother elephant, and when the night comes his whole family listens to his snores.
Read this book and ask, what does your mom always say to you? What does your dad always say to you? You might be utterly surprised by what your kids say.