During the preschool years, your child is coming to terms with an often difficult task: sharing. For perhaps the first time, they are playing with communal toys. Is it mine or not? It's all very confusing. You can teach them to navigate these new waters, with a tool that might not have occurred to you...books.

In her work with children, author Cheryl Coon has discovered that children's stories can help pave the way towards better cooperation and turn-taking. For Books to Grow With (Lutra Press, 2004) Coon compiled a comprehensive list of books that help to solve a variety of difficult issues children face, by broaching them at story time. Here's a list of her favorite “learning to share” books:

  • I Want It by Elizabeth Crary. Illustrated by Marina Megale. (Parenting Press, 1996) In this book, two friends want the same toy. Using a problem-solving format, children are offered choices of what the main character should do as she grapples with the act of sharing with her friend: hit, cry, find another toy? Coon says the book challenges children to ask themselves what they would do in a similar tug-of-war. “The subtle, but beautiful message is that there are an array of possible ways to react. Some work better than others and some wind up with you feeling happy,” she says.
  • The Toad is Mine by Barbara Shook Hazen. Illustrated by Jane Manning. (HarperCollins Children's Books, 1998) Two children who usually share everything try to figure out how to share the toad they found together. Coon says this fun book helps children understand the idea of cause and effect. It also shows kids how easy it is to get mad about sharing, and offers alternative options.
  • It's My Birthday by Pat Hutchins. (Greenwillow Books: 1999) Sometimes, sharing can seem like sacrifice. This book explores the idea that some things are more fun when they're shared. Billy figures he doesn't have to share because it's his birthday. Then he gets some gifts that he can't play alone. Coon said this teaches children to negotiate for alone time, as well as highlighting the importance of friendship.

These books are great examples of how bibliotherapy (the use of books to solve problems) can be a great alternative to long parental lectures. “You let characters with whom children can identify teach them the lesson instead of talking at them,” she says. Reading is a joint learning experience. Take a tip from Billy: some things are better when they're shared.