Children's books that teach resilience
Resilience has become a bit of a buzzword in 2018. With so many big, challenging events happening on a local and global stage, it’s becoming increasingly important to learn how to adapt to unexpected changes and bounce back from difficult experiences. Teaching young people to build their own resilience will prepare them to more easily navigate their changing environments as they grow and develop.
Here are some of my favourite children’s books about patience, self-confidence, perseverance and versatility. I’ve shared recommendations for different age groups, from newborns through to almost-teens. (And if you’re looking for teen recommendations, you’ll also find some of mine and my colleagues’ best picks by browsing this online collection.)
Recommendations for babies (ages 0 and up)
There are a stack of cute, baby-friendly stories that celebrate perseverance and believing in yourself in spite of setbacks. Consider the nursery rhyme Incy Wincy Spider in which a spider continues to climb up a water spout even after the rain has put a dampener on its plans. This song is available in a number of different book formats and I’m especially fond of this adorable Sing Along with Me! board book edition, which features art by Taiwanese illustrator Yu-Hsuan Huang.
New Zealand classic, The Little Yellow Digger, sees a little digger gets stuck in the mud. A range of bigger diggers are sent to finish the job but the problem is that they keep getting stuck too. Eventually, it’s up the little digger to save the day after all. I’m also pleased to see a board book edition of Susannah Chambers’s The Snow Wombat (featuring illustrations by Mark Jackson) was released this year. This is a sweet Australian story about a wombat who goes on a wander into the wintery landscape and faces some small challenges, before returning to a warm, safe burrow.
A brand-new favourite from this year is Little Boat from the ever-brilliant Tarō Gomi – the author of eccentric books like Everybody Poos and Presents Through the Window. In both this new title, and in Gomi’s earlier book, Little Truck, small characters bravely navigate and overcome obstacles on their solo journeys. Throughout, the narrator reassures you that all will be well, and indeed it is.
I’m also happy to report that there are now board book editions of the extremely popular Little People Big Dreams series and they are really beautifully made for small people.
Recommendations for toddlers (ages 3 and up)
A big part of being resilience is learning how to be patient, and this can be an especially challenging skill for toddlers to master. I’m a big fan of Christie Matheson’s interactive and playful Plant the Tiny Seed which invites children to discover the magic in gardening – an activity that is secretly all about resilience. (Doing some gardening or even baking with your child can be a fun and hands-on way to cultivate resilience.)
There’s also Christiane Engel’s ABC for Mindful Me, which teaches both the ABCs and key concepts of mindfulness, and Fearne Cotton’s Yoga Babies, which is fun and very adorable. Or, for something less instructive, The Sloth Who Came to Stay is a wry and charming tale of a sloth who comes to stay with a chaotic family, inspiring some lovely slow changes, while Hyewon Yum’s Saturday Is Swimming Day is an excellent tale about a very relatable fear for children that emphasises the important of taking your time, and being brave.
For the more sophisticated readers in this age bracket of 4+, The Girl Who Ran is an inspiring and vividly illustrated book that tells the true story of Bobbi Gibb – the first woman to have run the entire Boston Marathon. You can find some more recommendations for fantastic and inspiring picture book biographies here.
If you’re wanting a direct approach, I highly recommend Resilience. This charming story models resilience in the form of young Emmi, and is suitable for ages 4+. Author Jayneen Sanders is an experienced primary school teacher, author and publisher and her practical and accessible range of books tackle a host of big and important topics for children including self-acceptance, gender stereotypes, and body safety education.
Finally – I can never resist giving a plug for Marianna Coppo’s Petra. Petra is a rock – or is she? Our excellent heroine demonstrates optimism, adaptability, courage and imagination as she refuses to let the whims of others shake her self-confidence or ruin her good mood. I adore this book.
Recommendations for children (ages 6 and up)
Grit and determination are other key attributes of resilience, and very important skills for anyone playing sport. The Game Day! series from Australian Olympian and NBA star Patty Mills (along with co-author Jared Thomas and illustrator Nahum Ziersch) is a a terrific pick for sports-mad junior readers. In the first book, Patty Hits the Court, the younger version of Patty plays basketball for the first time and discovers he’s not a natural. Getting better requires persistence, teamwork and the help of friends.
You can find more children’s books for sporty kids (of all ages) here.
It can be empowering for children to see fellow children in books that are working to support their communities, especially when the stories show how small change can lead to bigger and lasting change. To this end, I’m a big fan of Samantha Wheeler’s excellent Australian eco-adventures, all of which see young characters fighting to protect animals and the environment. Her most recent contribution is Turtle Trackers but there’s also Mister Cassowary, Wombat Warriors, and more.
You can find a list of other excellent books promoting grassroots activism here, with picks for beginner readers through to teens.
I’ve long loved the wonderful, rhyming picture books of Andrea Beatty and David Roberts, and they’ve just released a truly delightful chapter book featuring crossover characters. Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters is the first book in The Questioneers series, and it’s a lively tale about friendship and the importance of persistence in science.
To end with another favourite picture book recommendation – The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse is a hilariously dry deconstructed fairy tale in which a mouse and duck refuse to let their extreme circumstances (i.e. being swallowed by a wolf) dictate their lives. In the words of the duck: ‘I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.’
Recommendations for tweens (ages 9 and up)
The transition from childhood to adolescence can be a rough time – and this is before they even truly enter the rocky waters of adolescence! What this means is that children in this age bracket are often ready to tackle more complicated stories and ideas, and also have conversations about the real world.
In Our Race for Reconciliation, Anita Heiss reimagines the atmosphere of the 2000 Sydney Olympic with a tale of one Aboriginal family. This is a fantastic story that gives important insight into Australia’s recent history as many children would not have learned of the Walk for Reconciliation that occurred the same year as the Olympics (in which 300,000 people walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge as a public expression of support for meaningful reconciliation between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples).
Other excellent middle fiction books which have their basis in true stories include Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound, inspired by Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai; Jessica Watson’s Indigo Blue, inspired by the author’s own solo sail around the world; and Samantha Wheeler’s Everything I’ve Never Said, inspired by her own daughter who has Rett syndrome. (Wheeler’s book is particularly special and our reviewer recommends it for adults as well as children.)
For something not set in this world, I loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. A whimsical, funny and magical adventure, this is a chunky book with with a brilliantly practical heroine at its heart. As a bonus, a sequel is due to arrive next month.
And a new release for this age group that moved me recently is Black Cockatoo. This is an evocative, short, illustrated book from Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler in which a young Aboriginal teen girl learns to draw inner strength from her family and culture. I found it incredibly powerful.