Growing Reader

Books That Help Kids Know and Love Themselves

by Melissa Taylor

Photo credit: Hero Images, Hero Collection/ Getty Images

If you ask most parents, we’ll probably tell you that we want our kids to know who they are and to love themselves. Because it’s both, right? We want them to know their strengths and understand their uniqueness and embrace both, loving and accepting every bit. This develops as children come of age, but it can also be nurtured by the daily life lessons we share and the books we read together. I hope these books prompt rich discussion and valuable life lessons about knowing and loving all of who we are.

  • Be Who You Are!

    by Todd Parr

    Celebrate whatever makes you unique! Parr’s encouraging text, paired with his vibrant pop-art illustrations, make embracing your individuality silly, cool, and fun. It’s a great message packaged in a must-own book.

  • The Things I Love About Me

    by Trace Moroney

    For the youngest readers comes a self-love board book featuring an adorable bunny who lists all the things she loves about herself such as being a good friend, her fluffy ears, her big smile that makes other people smiley, and doing things like drawing, basketball, and reading. Read it and then try to list all the things you love about yourself, too.

  • I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem

    by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell

    Charming from the start, this whimsically illustrated story highlights all the ways the girl and boy like themselves throughout their days: when he bravely gets on the school bus, when she gets an answer wrong, when he tries something new, or when she makes a get-well card. The book finishes by asking you to reflect on how you like yourself, too.

  • Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

    by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

    I love this book so much. Molly Lou Melon’s grandmother gives her cheer and support for all the tough things in her life and Molly Lou Melon takes this advice to heart. She’s short and walks proudly, she has buck teeth and smiles big, she has a croaky voice and sings loudly, even when Ronald Durkin bullies her. She’s proud of who she is and we don’t just love her for it, we want to be like her.

  • Mixed Me!

    by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

    Mike’s a joyful, energetic boy whose loving family helps him embrace and understand being mixed-race. Illustrations in vibrant colors perfectly match this celebration of self-love and acceptance.

  • Elmer

    by David McKee

    My kindergarten students wore this book out with so many readings! It’s an endearing tale about a colorful patchwork elephant who eventually learns that being himself is better than blending in with the herd.

  • Giraffes Can’t Dance

    by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

    The yearly jungle dance reminds Gerald that he can’t dance but a wise cricket advises him that sometimes you just need a different song. Which turns out to be true. Kids will love this reminder to embrace who they are and look for their unique place in the world.

  • The Sneetches and Other Stories

    by Dr. Seuss

    Both little and big kids need to read the Sneetches story. It provides a framework for talking about racism, tolerance, diversity, and acceptance using the Sneetches, creatures who are divided because some have stars on their bellies and some do not. It takes discrimination and a mess with a machine who puts or erases stars for the Sneetches to learn the lesson that everyone belongs, stars or no stars.

  • You’re Here for a Reason

    by Nancy Tillman

    This sweet picture book reinforces that all of us are here for a reason, even if we don’t always know what it is. “Thank goodness you’re here! Thank goodness times two! / I just can’t imagine a world without you.” Grown-ups can benefit from these gentle reminders, too. Because we can never have too much self-acceptance and love.

  • Red: A Crayon’s Story

    by Michael Hall

    Here’s a case of not knowing yourself and feeling like a failure because of it. Red (and all those around him) expect him to be what his label says, the color red. When his friend, Berry, asks Red to draw a blue ocean for him, Red discovers the truth — he is actually BLUE! This turn of events shows us that knowing who you are, apart from any labels, makes all the difference in the world.

  • The Colors of Us

    by Karen Katz

    When Lena wonders what color brown to paint her self-portrait, she and her mom notice the many diverse brown skin colors in the world — from Lena’s cinnamon to Isabella’s chocolate brown. This important book showcases the beauty of different skin colors through an artist’s lens and with delicious metaphors.

  • Me: A Compendium

    by Wee Society

    Kids will get to know themselves better with this fill-in, draw-in journal of prompts that captures them at this particular moment in time — their favorite weather, socks, and book; their imagined flag for a pretend castle; what kind of shop they would like have; their favorite thing to do outside and inside; and much more. This lovely journal can lead to self-discovery and self-love.

  • Stephanie’s Ponytail

    by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

    This is a touchstone story for my kids; we often refer back to Stephanie when we need to remember that doing your own thing might be hard at first but it’s important. Stephanie wants to be different, so she tries different hairstyles which her classmates first mock, then copy. The hilarious ending perfectly captures the message of individualism vs. following the crowd.

  • The Name Jar

    by Yangsook Choi

    This book contains such an important lesson — that names are important and should be valued, even if they are foreign or difficult to pronounce. When Unhei arrives in America from Korea, she tells her class to pick her a new, easier name. Fortunately, her new friends help Unhei value her given name, which she keeps.

  • Exclamation Mark

    by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

    What a cool metaphor for being yourself, one that I adore! This clever story follows an exclamation mark’s desire to be like everyone else (and fit in). He learns that standing out is who he is, which is actually amazing, fun, and wonderful.

  • I Like Me!

    by Nancy Carlson

    This exuberant pig is filled with self-confidence and optimism. Not only does she appreciate all the great things about herself, she understands that mistakes are a part of life. Rather than getting down on herself for making them, she tries and tries again. A easy-to-understand story for young readers with engaging illustrations and an important message about resilience.

  • When I Feel Good About Myself

    by Cornelia Maude Spelman, illustrated by Kathy Parkinson

    All of the picture books in this emotional intelligence series are excellent. This one focuses on a little guinea pig’s confidence and self-acceptance. The simple examples are relatable situations and experiences, like when she’s feeling good about herself when she’s loved or when she can help someone.