There is a quote by Alvin Price that I remind myself of regularly: “Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.”
As the mother of two fabulous, sensitive, and creative children, it’s a quote that really speaks to my heart. All of our children are wonderfully unique, and this is something we should celebrate with them. By helping our kids recognize and embrace the qualities that make them special, we not only boost their confidence, but we can also guide them to accept and value the differences they see in others. (Here are more books that encourage kindness and empathy.)
The books in this collection are great for inviting discussion with your children about the qualities and abilities that make us each different, being proud of what they can do now, and feeling confident to work hard to achieve whatever they dream of doing in the future.
For Toddlers and Preschoolers
1. I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont features a catchy rhyme, bright illustrations, and the important message that we should all be proud of who we are, and celebrate the things that make us unique — no matter what others think!
2. Princess Truly in I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt introduces Truly, a girl who knows that she can do anything she sets her mind to — from learning Japanese to tying her own shoes. Truly reminds young readers that they too can achieve anything they dream of doing. This is a terrific story for initiating conversations with your kids about both the things they love to do now and what they dream of accomplishing in the future.
3. Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey shares the story of Thelma the horse, who dreams of being a unicorn. When one day her dream unexpectedly comes true, she learns a lesson about the importance of loving yourself — with or without sparkles.
4. Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance is the wonderful tale of Gerald, a rather clumsy giraffe who dreams of dancing at the annual Jungle Dance. When the other animals laugh and scoff at him, Gerald leaves the dance feeling sad and alone, but on the way home, he meets a wise friend who suggests that maybe the problem is that Gerald just hasn’t found the right music to dance to.
5. Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes is an inspiring book for children who regularly feel worried or anxious. Despite assurances from members of her family, Wemberly worries about lots of things — big things, small things, and in-between things, and right now Wemberly is very worried about starting school. However, once she is there, Wemberly discovers that she might not be the only one!
For Kindergarten Through Second Grade
6. Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds offers a thought-provoking conversation-starter about the importance of being true to one’s own self, even when the world tries to box you in. Dreamers have a way of always moving forward and finding their voice, and this book is a celebration of the many different types of dreamers that exist in the world. Reynolds, who has ADHD, uses the story to redefine the acronym as Amazing Delightful Happy Dreamer.
7. Exclamation Mark! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a clever story about an exclamation mark who tries to blend into a world of periods. When he meets fellow outsider — question mark — he discovers his own inner purpose and unique abilities, and learns to be proud of what he can do!
8. The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania Al Abdullah shares valuable lessons about jumping to conclusions, acceptance, and the importance of embracing differences. Despite their friendship, Lily and Salma are each horrified by the disgusting foods the other eats for lunch every day: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for one, and a hummus and pita sandwich for the other. When one day Lily tells Salma what she thinks of her lunch, an argument begins that ends up involving the entire school! However, the two eventually learn that their differences only make their friendship stronger.
9. Camilla Cream loves lima beans, but she never eats them because the other kids in her school don’t like them. And Camilla Cream is very, very worried about what other people think of her. In fact, she’s so worried that her skin breaks out in wild patterns! A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon is a wonderful book for talking with children about peer pressure and being true to one’s own tastes.
10. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman is the story of the beautifully imaginative Grace, who desperately wants to play the role of Peter Pan in her school play. Despite her friends’ comments that Peter Pan isn’t a girl or black, Grace finds the inspiration she needs to audition. The book's a valuable reminder that we can be anything we want to be if we work hard enough.