I love the idea of books that show kids that they can be whoever and whatever they like. One kid might love playing sports. Another might be a theater lover. One might want to play with trucks and another wants everything to be glittery and stylish. Friends don’t have to agree on everything, as long as they enjoy spending time together. The more we can share this idea, the healthier our world can be.
Here is a short list of some great picture books that let kids know just how special they are. Whether they look different, act different, or just feel different, kids need to know that they are special just the way they are.
I immediately fell in love with Hannah Sparkles: A Friend Through Rain or Shine, by Robin Mellom and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Hannah was “born happy.” She was the ultimate cheerleader who thought that the world would be a better place if everyone was constantly cheered and if everything sparkled and shone. When a Sunny moves in next door, Hannah has grand ideas of a new best friend who likes all the same things she does, but she is in for a shock. She tries to convert Sunny to her sparkly ways, but can’t change her. Sunny has her own passions and her own way of looking at the world. While Hannah is initially quite sad, when Sunny extends the hand to her in her own creative way, she realizes that you don’t have to be the same to enjoy doing things together in your own way. I loved that Hannah learned that everyone has their own kind of sparkle and we should let people shine.
On the sparkly theme, I also love the book Sparkle Boy, by Lesléa Newman. This book starts with a sister not being able to accept the way her brother wants to dress. Casey likes sparkly skirts, nail polish, and his grandmother’s bracelets. His sister, Jessie, is uncomfortable with the idea of her brother dressing like this because “boys aren’t supposed to.” But the reality is that we should all feel comfortable being ourselves. When Jessie & Casey go to the library and Casey is wearing his sparkly skirt he gets teased by the other kids, but now Jessie sees the light and stands up for her brother. The other kids say he shouldn’t wear these things because “that’s just the way it is,” but Jessie realizes that that’s not a good enough excuse and we should feel free to express ourselves any way we like. I especially enjoy this book because there isn’t any discussion about sexuality, whether Casey identifies as a boy or a girl. He just likes sparkly things and that is okay.
A great book for the preschool set that is similar to these is Pink is for Boys, by Robb Pearlman. While this might initially look like a book about gender fluidity, it isn’t. Instead, it is a book that boldly states that kids can like any colors out there, they can enjoy a wide variety of activities, and that every child should do what makes them happy. The flow of the book is that there is a spread saying that a given color is for boys and girls and then a spread using that color to showcase something kids might like to do. Whether having fancy parties, playing sports, pretending they are royalty, or exploring the world around them, the world is open to everyone. All kids should be able to grow up feeling like they can do anything and not that certain activities are open to only one gender. (This book comes out 6/5/18 and I received a review copy from Media Masters Publicity in return for my honest review)
Sometimes you have to encourage kids to be okay with being different. I know that I don’t always fit in, but as an adult, it is easier to accept. T. Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur, by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, is a silly, rhyming adventure that celebrates both vegetarianism and just being yourself. The idea of a T-Rex deciding to be a vegetarian feels a little far fetched, but when you look at the story as the tale of a boy who just so happens to be a vegetarian in a world full of meat eaters, it makes a world more sense. Reginald, the T-Rex, loves his fruits and vegetables but the rest of his T-Rex crew can’t understand. They think that not eating meat will make him weak, but he proves that the nutrition that he is getting is just as good, if not better, than them. When he saves everyone, they hold a vegetarian feast in his honor, and as they danced the night away, they all had learned that “the best thing in the world is being happy being you.” A different, but fun, way to get the message across.
There are a lot of kids who feel different not necessarily because of who they are, but because their family unit is different from those around them. Maybe they are adopted, have parents who are two different races or religions, or have two parents of the same sex. There are many more books these days that focus on these subjects. One of my favorites is A Family is a Family is a Family, which I wrote about last year. Another really wonderful book is Stella Brings the Family, by Miriam B. Schiffer. In this touching book, a young girl feels awkward when her class is going to have a special celebration for Mother’s Day because she doesn’t have a mother, she has two fathers. Families come in all different shapes and sizes and this book highlights that fact.
In addition to being different, there is something important in the message of loving yourself for who you are. The book Ten Big Toes and a Prince’s Nose, by Nancy Gow, encourages children to look past superficial things and focus more on what is inside. A prince and princess both struggled with having people only see a superficial quality – big feet on the princess and a large nose on the prince. Fortunately, they both had parents who gave them an important lesson – “I am what I am and that’s all right with me. I don’t have to be different, I just have to be….I am what I am and that’s all right with me.”
It can be hard to be different, but sometimes people just need a little extra time to realize how special your differences can be. Take Small Saul, as told by Ashley Spires, for example. All of his life, Saul has dreamed of a life at sea, but he was too small for the navy. Saul became a pirate instead, but his heart wasn’t in it – Saul enjoyed being neat, clean, and in order, things often overlooked by pirates. All of his attempts fail to win over the pirates until the captain finally gets frustrated and throws him overboard. However, when Saul is gone, his pirate crew mates realize what a difference he made and go back to get him. A great lesson that sometimes it takes a little extra time to figure out how cool a person really is.
With a nod to “Stephanie’s Ponytail,” Big Bouffant, by Kate Hosford, is a cute book about wanting to be an individual in a world where everyone feels the same. Annabelle doesn’t want to wear the same boring hairstyles that everyone else is always wearing. When she sees a picture of her grandmother with a “marvelous tower of hair” she knows what she must do. Within 2 days everyone is copying her. We often think about how it feels to be different, but what about the flip side – how it feels to be the same? Or how it feels to be a trendsetter? People might laugh at those who don’t follow the norm, but we should applaud kids like Annabelle who have a need to be individuals.
Finally, for a really great book to read to your little girls as they are getting ready to go to bed, or take a nap, or really, whenever, I would recommend Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal. Each page in this book starts with “Dear Girl,” and then gives tidbits of information to remind girls of all ages to love themselves, to be themselves, and to believe in themselves. It is a little sappy, but it is also really special. There are a few pages that particularly speak to me and I’m sure the pages that speak to you will be different and that’s kind of the point. A great reminder that each one of us is special in our own way.
I grew up with the amazing Free to Be You and Me, which was revolutionary at the time. Show the kids in your life that we like them just the way they are.