My oldest starts Kindergarten this year. I am so excited for him to learn, grow, and make new friends. He has the sweetest heart and I want more than anything for him to stay true to himself and not change who he is because of others around him. I don’t want him to change based on what his classmates think is “cool.” So that is the inspiration behind why I chose to share some of my absolute favorite books that encourage children to be themselves. So that we, as teachers and parents, can use these stories to show children that they are special, exactly as they are.
1. “A Bad Case of the Stripes” Written and Illustrated by: David Shannon
I read this to my class EVERY year, and for good reason. This book always leads to wonderful discussions about the importance of being yourself. Here is a little snip-it about this must have book. Camila Cream loved lima beans. But she didn’t want to eat them because the other kids didn’t seem to like them. She was very concerned about what everyone else thought of her. On the first day of school she breaks out in a case of the stripes and throughout the book they seem to just get worse. By the end she learns that being herself might just be the cure that she was looking for.
2. “Elmer” Written and Illustrated by David Mckee
Elmer is an elephant, but not an ordinary elephant. Elmer is a patchwork of rainbow colors, but he longs to be a normal elephant colored. But when he gets the chance to look ordinary, he finds out it may not be all that it was cracked up to be. So with the help of his friends along the way he learns to love being exactly the way he is.
After reading this story to my class, I loved to discuss how Elmer felt and what he learned. After our discussion it was so much fun to let the students create their own elephants that represented them. I loved the variety of patterns, colors, and designs the kids chose. You can extend on the craft by having them write about what makes them each unique and special.
3. “Stephanie’s Ponytail” Written by: Robert Munsch Illustrated by: Michael Martchenko
This book teaches a few messages. To be true to yourself, and to not do something just because other’s are doing it. Stephanie tries throughout the story to be unique by having her mom do a different style of ponytail each day. When she goes to school the other kids tease her, but she states with confidence that “she likes it!” But the next day, they all copy her style. Stephanie tries to tell them to stop copying her, but it didn’t work. By the end she finds a way to show them all that it is pretty silly to just do something that another is doing without thinking about it. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it is sure to bring a few laughs.
4. “The Story of Ferdinand” Written by: Munro Leaf Illustrated by: Robert Lawson
Every time I have read this book to a class, they have been still, silent, and completely captivated by the story. Ferdinand is a bull, but he is different from the other bulls in Madrid. He doesn’t want to fight. He just wants to sit and smell the flowers. The story gets intense when Ferdinand gets stung by a bee and the bull fighters choose him to go against the Matador. Will he fight? Or will he remain true to himself?
5. “Thelma the Unicorn” Written and Illustrated by: Aaron Blabey
This book is the perfect way to reach the hearts of all of the little unicorn lovers in your class. Thelma was not a unicorn. But after a little mishap with paint and glitter, others start to believe that she is. At first she loved the attention and fame, but as time went on, she realized she missed her true friend. By the end she realizes that she just wants to be herself.
If you love this book, and want a writing craftivity and bulletin board to go with it you can check out my Unicorn Craftivity here.
6. “You Are Special” Written by: Max Lucado Illustrated by: Sergio Martinez
The Wemmicks were wooden people carved by Eli. Every day the Wemmicks went around putting stickers on each other. The talented and pretty Wemmicks got gold stars. But Punchinello kept getting gray dots despite his efforts to try to get stars. One day he met a Wemmick that the stickers just fell off of. He was curious how she was able to keep them from sticking and he learns just how special he is as he searched for that answer. I love reading this one to my own little ones. Such a wonderful way to remind them how truly special they are and to not let others label or define them.
7. “The Sneetches” Written and Illustrated by: Dr. Seuss
In this story there are Sneetches with stars on their bellies, and there are Sneetches with plain bellies. The Sneetches spend the story separated by who has stars, and who doesn’t. Then a man comes to town with a funny machine. The machine can add or take away the stars if the Sneetches pay. The Sneetches were so worried about fitting in that they kept adding and removing stars. But by the end they learned that with stars or without, that Sneetches were Sneetches.
8. “We’re All Wonders” Written and Illustrated by: R.J. Palacio
If you have seen the movie, or read the novel, then you know how easy it is to love Auggie. This picture book is a wonderful way to share the same amazing message with younger audiences. Auggie is a an ordinary boy, but looks different than ordinary. He deals with bullies and people treating him differently. I love that the book sends the message that if people would change the way they see, they would see that we are all wonders.
9. “Not Quite Narwhal” Written and Illustrated by Jessie Sima
This story is about Kelp. Kelp was quite different from the other narwhals. But he didn’t seem to mind, and neither did they. But he later discovers that he is actually a unicorn. He loves fitting in with all of the unicorns, but misses his friends under the sea. He finds a way to celebrate who he is and doesn’t leave anyone out. This story has darling illustrations and all of the creatures are kind, positive, and welcoming.
10. “Chrysanthemum” Written and illustrated by: Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes writes so many wonderful children’s books. But this one may just be my favorite. Chrysanthemum grows and has wonderful confidence. Her parents remind her often how perfect she is. Chrysanthemum loved her name. Then when it was time for her to start school, the other children tease her about her name. Suddenly, she didn’t like her name anymore and her confidence dwindled. But one amazing teacher helps change how she and the other kids view her unique name. You will love reading this story and finding out how Chrysanthemum feels about herself and her name by the end of this sweet story. I love that this book teaches children to love themselves and the things that make them unique. It also shows them the impact they can have on others if they say unkind things.
11. “Giraffes Can’t Dance” Written by: Giles Andreae Illustrated by: Guy Parker-Rees
This is a book that really shows how you can find your strengths by embracing your differences. Gerald the Giraffe feels sad at the jungle dance. He feels like everyone else can dance, and he dances bad. The other animals didn’t help, by confirming his fears and teasing him for being clumsy. But as Gerald left the dance, he met a cricket that told him he may just need to dance to a different song. You will have to read to see how that new song helped Gerald turn his differences into a strength the other animals soon admired.
12. “Nerdy Birdy” Written by: Aaron Reynolds Illustrated by: Matt Davies
This book uses a sweet, nerdy bird to show the effects of being too cool, leaving others out, and treating others badly. Nerdy Birdy is different from the other birds. He feels alone, and left out from the “cool birds” until he meets another nerdy bird. They bond and he makes a flock of nerdy friends. But in the end, a vulture tries to join the crowd. His nerdy flock doesn’t welcome her with open arms. How will Nerdy Birdy treat the new bird? Check this one out to find out how Nerdy Birdy acted when the tables turned at the end of the book.
13. “I Like Myself” Written by: Karen Beumont Illustrated by: David Catrow
Okay, I know… I said 12 books. But I had to add this cute book. Let’s just consider it a bonus. “I Like Myself” has a very straightforward message with a silly spin that is great for younger audiences. I love how it shows that you should love all of the things that make you, you!
Let’s help our little ones embrace all of their unique qualities. Let’s show them to embrace differences, feel confident, and show empathy. Let’s show them that kindness is truly powerful, and that they are absolutely amazing just the way they are.
Do you have another favorite picture book that helps encourage children to be themselves? Please share in the comments. I would love to check them out.
You can find most of these books in your school or public libraries. If you would like to add them to your personal collection, I have provided affiliate links for your convenience below. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
A Bad Case of Stripes (Scholastic Bookshelf)
Elmer (Elmer Books)
Stephanie’s Ponytail (Munsch for Kids)
The Story of Ferdinand
Thelma the Unicorn
You Are Special (Max Lucado’s Wemmicks)
The Sneetches and Other Stories
We’re All Wonders
Not Quite Narwhal
Giles Andreae: Giraffes Can’t Dance (Hardcover); 2012 Edition
I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont (2005-05-03)