Children's books about resilience
Notes From the Reading Nook: January 16: A guest post from Sri Juneja
Hello, lovely people.
Today I have a guest post for you from one of my very favorite Substackers-writing-about-children’s-books:. Her newsletter is chock-full of helpful, useful booklists and tips for those moments when, as caregivers, we have an opportunity to impart life lessons, values, and how to be a good human in the world.
Without further ado, here she is, on the topic of children’s books about resilience. (I couldn’t love this more.)
Hi everyone, I’m Sri 👋🏽
It’s an honor and privilege to be a guest writer for Can We Read?! I write the Readable Moments Book Club newsletter and my goal is to help parents and caregivers find the perfect children’s book for those important, teachable moments our kids inevitably encounter.
I moved to the United States from India when I was 5 years old. My English was subpar at best. I can’t overstate how much books and reading transformed my life. Picture books helped me gain a foothold in my new country and culture. They led me on a journey to become a lifelong reader and book lover. So, of course, my newsletter hopes to do the same and get the next generation hooked on books while also helping adults navigate tricky situations at the same time.
When Sarah and I discussed a guest post, I asked if there were specific topics of interest I could write about. The one that stood out to me was ‘resilience.’
The popularity of the word ‘resilience’ is something that has puzzled me for a long time. Whenever I’d hear the word, I’d roll my eyes. Way to show off that you still remember your SAT vocab, I’d think. Wasn’t this just a fancy way of saying ‘strong’?
Oddly, I was at the park with my kid when she face-planted, at high speed, onto the asphalt. As I packed away my bleeding, hysterically sobbing kid, a few kind ladies reassured me: “She’ll be fine. Kids are so resilient.” There was that word again. And despite having heard this trite phrase so many times over the years, for some reason, it stuck now (even though my child has attempted to break her face regularly since birth).
Here’s what I’ve gathered: Strength is about overcoming adversity; resilience is about how you handle the fallout — how you absorb that adversity into your life story. It’s letting saltwater smooth out your surfaces and filling in cracks with gold. It’s regularly exercising the muscle to choose how you let events shape your narrative.
Or, you know, maybe listen to Surface Pressure from Encanto again (or for the thousandth time):
Frankly, as someone whose own resilience muscle has been lying dormant for some time now, this list of children’s books below is as much for me as it is for the kids. Yes, kids are resilient. We know that. We see it daily. Maybe what we need to do is protect that essential element of their childhood and teach them how to be resilient well into adulthood. Make sure that resilience muscle doesn’t atrophy with time.
Written and Illustrated by Michael Hall
Recommended Ages: 2-5 years old
The simplicity of this book is perhaps what makes it so evocative. What starts as a regular square—a happy one, mind you—is transformed when cut and torn apart. But then the pieces are rearranged into a fountain. When it’s shredded, it becomes a garden. And so the square undergoes a multitude of mutations until one day, it doesn’t. And the square waits and waits and then finally makes over itself and bridges a story between all its transformations. To the adult mind, it’s symbolic of our evolution as we grow and mature. With each challenge and change, we see our narratives reforming and shaping around us. Of course, for a young child, it’s a vibrantly colorful book with plain text and simple illustrations about a square’s journey—and the start of a conversation about how the square chooses to embrace change and adapt itself to new situations. An elegant read that teaches a profound lesson in a beguiling, simple way.
🛍️ Buy now*
Written and Illustrated by Oge Mora
Recommended Ages: 3-6 years old
Saturdays are sacred to Ava and her mom. It’s the only day her mom has off which means it’s the only day they have to spend together. Filled with fun things like getting their hair done and picnicking in the park, the upcoming Saturday is extra special because the pair have tickets to a puppet show. But when Saturday arrives, everything goes wrong.
As you read this loving story by Oge Mora, you know how high the stakes are for this mom-daughter duo. Each Saturday is precious and needs to be savored so when things start to go wrong, you feel it in your gut. And as the setbacks start to pile on, you begin to wonder that surely, the puppet show will be their saving grace! I won’t spoil the ending but what I loved the most in this beautifully vibrant collage-illustrated book was the mutual distress of the adult and child. It wasn’t just Ava who was devastated; her mom was too. And yet, it’s Ava who steps back and recalls that Saturday isn’t about the activities but about their togetherness.
The perfect book to remind kids that even when things go wrong, we need to look for what went right. And it’s the perfect book for adults plagued by guilt when things—so carefully planned—go sideways.
🛍️ Buy now*
The Blue House
Written and Illustrated by Phoebe Wahl
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years old
If you love Little Witch Hazel, you’ll love this book written and illustrated by the same author. Leo, a young boy, and his dad are living their best life in The Blue House. Even though it’s crumbling around them, it’s their house (as you’ll see from the exquisite details peppered into Wahl’s illustrations). So when their landlord sells the house for it to be torn down to build a new apartment building (a nod to the effects of gentrification), Leo and his dad are heartbroken. After rage-dancing and grief-painting, they slowly pack up their belongings and move into the new home that Leo hates. But, bit by bit, they remember their old house warmly and slowly begin to fill their new home with memories. The watercolor and gouache illustrations are jaw-dropping in their deep, vivid coloring and details. What especially moved me was the anger and grief shared by both son and dad and how began their new chapter together.
🛍️ Buy now*
Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!
Written and Illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years old
The soft ink illustrations in this story ooze coziness and nostalgia and are the perfect invitation into this delightful book. Stella befriends her classmate, Charlie, and the two embark on many adventures together. Through lilting text, the duo’s adventures are linked by goodbyes to fun things that glide into hellos to even more fun things.
That is until a more permanent goodbye disrupts their friendship: Charlie moves away. Suddenly, this goodbye is heavy with heartache. Slowly, with time, Stella recovers and this now bittersweet goodbye gives way to a promising new hello.
What this book does incredibly well is the power of reframing. How good flows into bad flows into good. At the height of their friendship, Stella and Charlie’s goodbyes and hellos are all centered around happy things:
“Goodbye to snowmen… is hello to puddles!”
But Doerrfeld does a masterful job of showing that while some goodbyes and hellos are easy, some are not and, even then, the same principle applies: all goodbyes (even painful ones), lead to bright new hellos.
🛍️ Buy now*
I hope you and the kids in your life enjoy these books! Thank you for letting me share my love of reading with you.
Happy reading! 📖
*Thank you for using (at no additional cost to you) the affiliate links in this post! 😊