If you have children in your life that you would like to introduce to Buddhist concepts, Buddhist children’s books are a great place to start. Nowadays, there are more and more of them that either directly or indirectly disseminate the Buddha’s teachings, from mindfulness and lovingkindness to impermanence. Here are eight such books appropriate for a variety of reading levels, from early education through middle school.
Goodnight Love: A Bedtime Meditation Story
Written by Sumi Loundon Kim, with illustrations by Laura Watkins. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, February 2023, 32 pp., $17.95, cloth. For ages 2–5.
This all-encompassing bedtime meditation follows two sloths as they ground themselves in a reflection of our capacity to love deeply. Their practice begins by focusing inward with self-compassion before offering compassion toward the animals, natural landscapes, and the universe beyond. By the end of the book, both parents and children will be left feeling safe, happy, loved, and ready to sleep.
It’s OK: Being Kind to Yourself When Things Feel Hard
Written by Wendy O’Leary, with illustrations by Sandra Eide. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, March 2023, 32 pp., $17.95, cloth. For ages 0–2.
It’s OK gently guides readers through the afflictive emotions of sorrow, anger, guilt, and jealousy with reminders that the tremendous feelings we experience will eventually pass. In relatable vignettes, we observe the universality of these painful emotions and learn to soften how strongly we identify with them. The resounding message is that we are all deserving of care and compassion. This illustration-forward storybook is great for new readers and includes ten exercises at the end to help develop self-compassion, such as “Kind Voice” and “Kind Touch.”
Ashoka the Fierce: How an Angry Prince Became India’s Emperor of Peace
Written by Carolyn Kanjuro, with illustrations by Sonali Zohra. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, December 2021, 40 pp., $17.95, cloth. For ages 4–8.
Carolyn Kanjuro presents a modern retelling of the epic Indian tale of how Ashoka the Fierce became known as Ashoka the Great. An angry and overlooked young prince, Ashoka grew into a fierce emperor eager for war. But after a particularly bloody battle, Ashoka experienced a change of heart and vowed to dedicate his life to promoting Buddhist teachings on compassion, tolerance, and virtue. Accompanied by mural-like illustrations, Ashoka’s compelling story of transformation exemplifies our potential to overcome feelings that seem unshakable.
Love Your Amazing Self: Joyful Verses for Young Voices
Written by Ofosu Jones-Quartey, with illustrations by Ndubisi Okoye. Storey Publishing, 2022, 72 pp., $17.99, cloth. For ages 7 and up.
Ofosu Jones-Quartey, a meditation teacher and hip-hop musician, seamlessly carries readers through teachings of mindfulness, gratitude, and self-compassion in a playful blend of illustrations and lyrical verse. With words that call out to be spoken, recited, or sung aloud, this book invites young readers to step into the creativity of self-expression through an embodied practice.
Buddhist Stories for Kids: Jataka Tales of Kindness, Friendship, and Forgiveness
Written by Laura Burges, with illustrations by Sonali Zohra. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, December 2022, 76 pp., $18.95, cloth. For ages 4–8.
The Jataka tales are ancient stories of the Buddha’s lives before his birth as Prince Siddhartha. This modern retelling of ten tales by Soto Zen teacher and retired educator Laura Burges is written with readers aged 4–8 in mind. These rich morality tales and vibrant illustrations feature a wise gardener, a mischievous monkey, a discerning gazelle, and other characters relaying lessons that can be easily understood and incorporated into a child’s daily life right away: opening our hearts to others, the value of a true friend, and that everything changes.
—Wendy Biddlecombe Agsar, “What We’re Reading” from Tricycle’s Winter 2022 issue
Don’t Kill the Bugs: How Kids Can Be Heroes for Creatures Big and Small
Written by Berthe Jansen, with illustrations by Victoria Coles. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, March 2023, 32 pp., $17.95, cloth. For ages 3–7.
“Be kind, don’t kill. That harmless bee is scared, just like you. That tiny thing has real feelings, too!” This gentle story follows a group of friends as they learn to reconsider their relationship with the small beings of the earth—spiders, ladybugs, bees, and beetles—that are equally deserving of kindness and compassion. This book prompts reflection on how we respond to moments of conflict, fear, or uncertainty.
Kuan Yin: The Princess Who Became the Goddess of Compassion
Written by Maya van der Meer, with illustrations by Wen Hsu. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, May 2021, 32 pp., $17.95, cloth. For ages 4–8.
Featuring whimsical illustrations, this fairy tale about how Kuan Yin, the Chinese translation for the bodhisattva of compassion, came to be will delight children who love princesses, animals, and adventures. It’s also a story about two sisters supporting each other and the importance of following one’s heart.
–Alison Spiegel, Tricycle’s Web Editor
Everything Changes: And That’s OK
Written by Carol Dodd, with illustrations by Erin Huybrechts. Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, October 2022, 32 pp., $17.95, cloth. For ages 3–7.
“Everything changes, night to day. Everything changes, and that’s OK.” The concept of impermanence is thoughtfully explained in Everything Changes through vibrant illustrations and bouncy, rhyming couplets. By exploring change across place, relationship, and seasons, this book reminds children that change does not have to be scary and they can instead find comfort in the liveliness of change.