Katie Schwalb September 2, 2015
Katie Schwalb
September 17, 2015

My boys and I make a lot of trips to the local library. Recently my five-year-old looks for chapter books with “scary” covers for me to read out loud to him and my two-year-old randomly pulls picture books off the shelves and requests that I check those out for him.  A few weeks ago the two year old grabbed, among others, a book called Martha doesn’t say sorry! by Samantha Berger. I brought it home without reading it. At home, I discovered that it’s a cute little book about an otter named Martha who learns that if you want to get along with your family you need to say sorry when you make mistakes. It has pretty watercolor illustrations and it quickly made our read-again pile.

And the Martha book gave me an idea. In preparation for Yom Kippur, I looked for as many picture books as I could find that touch on the topics of repentance and forgiveness, without specifically being about any religion or holiday. There are a lot. I reserved a big stack of them and started reading.

The books have been excellent way to engage with my kids on these topics. Generally speaking, my boys are too young to be very interested in philosophical discussions. I can’t for example, say “kids, Yom Kippur is coming up, so let’s talk about what it means to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.” That just wouldn’t work. But as we have been reading this new stack of books, I have been trying to ask a lot of “why” questions as we read: “why do you think the bunny/otter/boy/girl” feels that way?” or “What should the bunny/otter/boy/girl do next?”  I try not to ask too many “has that ever happened to you” questions, because I do not want to feel that our reading time is a self-improvement lecture or a quiz (even if self-improvement is occasionally the goal).

To be honest, I get a lot of “Mommy, can you just read the book?” in response from the five-year-old, and a lot of “I don’t know” in response from the two-year-old. Many times, however, as we talk about these books, the boys are able to step into the shoes of the characters. And a few times, they have even brought up examples from their own lives to talk about. Perfect.

Not all the books we tried were good – there’s nothing I dislike more in a children’s book than a character that gives kids ideas on super snarky things to say that my kids haven’t already heard before and weren’t saying before we read the book. See, for example, the book called Must Push Buttons!  (another grab-off-the-shelf selection by Mr. Two) that I wish I had never read out loud and pretty much anything from the super snarky, bad-attitude Ivy and Bean series, which a friend tipped me off about.

Many of the books we tried, however, I think are good enough to recommend to others. Here are a few to try mixing into your pile of bedtime stories to get your young kids talking about forgiveness and repentance:

Martha Book

Martha doesn’t say sorry!
by Samantha Berger

Grudge Book

The Grudge Keeper
by Mara Rockliff

What Book

What Have You Done, Davy?
by Brigitte Weninger

Forgiving Tree

The Berenstain Bears and the Forgiving Tree
by Jan Berenstain

Jacob Book

Jacob the Dragon Catcher
by Amy McNeil

Words Book

Words Are Not for Hurting
by Elizabeth Verdick

I'm Sorry book

I’m Sorry
by Sam McBratney

Katie Schwalb
Katie Schwalb


Katie is a native of rural Kansas. She writes about agriculture, education, children, Jewish interfaith families, the arts, and law. She is on an extended sabbatical from her practice as an intellectual property attorney and lives with her husband and three young boys in Boulder, Colorado.