Growth Mindset Books
Spring has arrived with the gentlest nudge, a breath of fresh air after the dreary days of winter. With each calm breeze that kisses our skin, our bodies fill with warmth, finally rejuvenated after so much time indoors.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the world erupt into color after months and months of gray. Vibrant flowers and dazzling butterflies compete for attention, fruit trees spill their offerings to the ground below, and the crunch of fresh vegetables is mouthwatering. But the world outside isn’t the only thing we can cultivate this spring. This season of growth also provides a brilliant opportunity for us to look inward to see how we too, can grow. This idea of growth brings me to one of my very favorite topics in children’s literature – that of the growth mindset.
You’ve likely heard the term thrown around. Researched significantly by a psychologist named Carol Dweck, growth mindset is discussed frequently in education and refers to the idea that a student believing he can get smarter is more likely to understand that effort and hard work will strengthen his academic performance. It’s the notion that intelligence can be developed, and students that are praised more for their effort rather than their intelligence perform better in future projects. Kids with growth mindsets are more likely to take risks, tackle challenges, and learn from their mistakes.
Needless to say, authors and illustrators have run with the growth mindset concept. Some incredible books have been published that truly embody the notion of effort and courage being the most important characteristic our children can embody- not just in the classroom, but in connection with hobbies, relationships and even fears, too. It is not difficult to understand why. These books instill valuable lessons deep into the recesses of our kids’ developing brains. They teach our little ones both the value of hard work and that opportunity can be found within every obstacle and apparent set back they face. If our children and students understand the significance of rising to a challenge, no matter how overwhelming, difficult or scary it may seem, we’ll come a long way towards nurturing confident and resilient kids. Children who understand they are capable of evolving are those who will recognize the beauty in perseverance. They will also be the first to recognize that failure is not something to frown upon but instead a free ticket to try again — this time, even harder.
So, what are you waiting for? This spring, let’s get our kiddos thriving with these outstanding books that exemplify the idea of the growth mindset!
This is the story of what happens after Humpty Dumpty gets put back together and how he manages to overcome his newfound (and crippling) fear of heights. The themes embraced here — anxiety, resilience, and putting oneself back together after a fall — lend themselves well to didacticism, but Santat delivers this story with a light which enables the story to speak to both children at all social and emotional maturity levels. A masterpiece!
What Do You Do With a Chance, by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom:
Here, a young child is confronted with a chance out of the blue. But the boy doesn’t embrace it; he is uncertain and pulls away. When the next chance comes around, he reaches for it and falls. He is overcome with fear, never wanting to feel so foolish again. The chances keep appearing, though, but because he keeps ignoring them, they eventually cease. Only then, of course, does the boy realize that as scared as he is, he does want to take a chance. Will he be brave enough to seize a new opportunity?
The Wall at the End of The Book, by Jon Agee:
In this powerful story, there is literally just what the title says – a wall running along the gutter of the book. On one side of the wall stands a knight who proudly proclaims he is safe. The dangers, after all, live on the other side of the wall. So what exactly is on that other side? Angry animals and evil ogres, of course. Yet when the knight finds himself in need of serious help on his side of the wall, the dangerous side may become his safe haven if only he can get there — and change his perspective.
The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds:
Vashti can’t draw, and because she knows she’s no artist, she doesn’t even want to try. To prove her point? She makes an angry dot on her piece of paper. Vasthi’s teacher makes her sign her dot drawing, and thus begins the start of a beautiful journey. We adore the way this book encourages play and experimentation as an antidote to failure.
How to Catch a Star, by Oliver Jeffers:
There once was a boy who loved stars so much, he wanted to catch one of his very own. He tries everything, from waiting for the stars to tire and fall from the sky, to climbing the tallest tree. Nothing works, though, and right as he is about to give up, the boy discovers that some things aren’t quite what we expect them to be!
Drum Dream Girl, by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez:
This is a beautiful story of a young girl living in Cuba. It is the epitome of turning a “can’t” into a “you better believe I can”! Who says girls can’t play drums? We love the protagonist’s no holds barred attitude and her determination to turn her dream into a reality. Aside from the fabulous narrative, the illustrations are simply breathtaking.
Jabari is quite excited to jump off the diving board at the city pool – if, of course, he can first conquer his fear of heights. This book is true to life and, in short, exudes compassion and tenderness in the best way possible. It is a touching story of how a boy’s trust in his father, coupled with his dad’s gentle encouragement, help one small child jump off one big board.
The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken:
Many kids are perfectionists, beginning a project again and again because they cannot get it just right. How do we nurture their creativity and limit their insecurity? Use this book to show little ones that magnificence can be found in mistakes, even our biggest ones. An “oh no” can easily become an “oh wow!” with just a bit of endurance and a whole lot of imagination. Kids will be amazed at the manner in which Luyken’s smudges and spills are transformed into something extraordinarily special.
How we love the story of Ursa, a bear who dreams big– and then even bigger! Ursa wants to fly, but her initial attempts at soaring all fail. Bears, after all, don’t fly! But when Ursa auditions for a role in a show as a shooting star, her performance might just allow her dreams to take flight. We love this story and its message of always believing in yourself, even when others might try to steer you in a different direction.
Max and Marla, by Alexandra Boiger:
A boy and his owl are on a mission to become the next winter Olympic sledding champions! They understand the rules of the game and have taken all the preparations they need to succeed. But when they take some unexpected tumbles, they learn that true success might not always be measured by a medal at the end of the contest. We love this sweet and engaging story of practice, perseverance, and, above all, friendship.
Accident, by Andrea Tsurumi:
Accidents happen to the best of us, and how we handle them says a lot. Are we going to fess up, clean up, apologize, and move on? Or are going to run away from the problem? This fabulous book handles the notion of “accidents happen” in a brilliant way, with animals running far from their catastrophes only to encounter more problems. Only when a wise little bird whispers the word “accident” do the animals realize how they can make things better!
Saturday is Swimming Day, by Hyewon Yum:
If your kids are hesitant to jump into the water, this story is a must. One little girl happens to get a stomach ache every Saturday before her swim lessons. With the help, patience and kindness of a wonderful teacher, the child finds her confidence and realizes she can’t knock something if she doesn’t even try it!
Ruby’s Wish, by Shirin Yum Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall:
Most little girls in China dream of growing up and getting married, but not Ruby. Ruby wants to go to school, and despite all the people who try to persuade her that girls don’t do such a thing, she persists. This is a beautiful story of a girl who strives for an education just like the boys in her family.
Inspired and written by a real-life astronaut, this is the story of a child who is scared of the dark. Yet, when he sees the Apollo 11 landing on television, the boy realizes that space is the darkest dark there is. If he truly wants to be an astronaut, he has to open his eyes to the wonders of the deep, dark sky — even if it’s awfully scary and intimidating at first.
Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts:
Quiet by day, brilliant inventor by night, little Rosie dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her aunt (based on the great Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a dream of flying, Rosie sets out to make her aunt’s dream a reality. Though she hits some roadblocks, Rosie never gives up. As the book so brilliantly explains, you can only truly fail if you quit.
Bike on Bear, by Cynthea Liu, illustrated by Kristyna Litten:
Bear can do many things well– except for the one thing he desires most of all: he cannot ride a bike. He stops at nothing to help him learn this skill and eventually finds a “how-to” book which he devours. Nothing seems to help though, and when a young goat suddenly gets carried away by the wind, Bear knows there is only one way to save the baby animal – by jumping on his bike. Will he succeed?
Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse, by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken:
Adrian Simcox tells his classmates he has a horse – the best and most beautiful horse in all the world. But Chloe knows Adrian is lying. After all, Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house and has holes in his shoes, so there’s no way he has a horse in his backyard. The more Adrian talks about this beautiful horse, the angrier Chloe gets… and the more she wants to prove him wrong. Will vindication give Chloe the satisfaction she so desires? Or will she gain a new understanding — and compassion for her classmate?
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Qin Leng:
Hana signs up to play the violin in her school’s talent show, but there’s one tiny problem – she has only taken three lessons! Though her brothers insist she isn’t good enough, Hana practices every day and strives to play the violin as wonderfully as her grandfather. Hana is nervous before the show, though, and her confidence is shaken. But, when she begins to play, she realizes she is not just surprising her audience, but herself, too.
Nerdy Birdy Tweets, by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies:
How do we go from being addicted to social media and impulsive behaviors with our gadgets to taking a look up? How do we make sure we don’t hurt anyone with things we post online? These are just some of the questions sparked by this fabulous book about how we grow to become responsible internet users. Many of us need to adopt a growth mindset when it comes to technology, too! I fell in love with this story instantly and believe it should be required reading for students of all ages — especially those in upper elementary school who are just beginning to navigate the online world.
Lauren Bercuson is an attorney turned library media specialist by day and an avid reader, blogger, freelance writer and aspiring author by night. She is the founder of Happily Ever Elephants, where she shares book reviews and recommendations for toddlers to tweens. Check out her blog at happilyeverelephants.com and be sure to follow her on Instagram @happily.ever.elephants and Facebook at facebook.com/happilyeverelephants.