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Growing Reader

Children’s Books That Celebrate Strength and Resilience in the Face of Life’s Challenges

by Jessica Reid Sliwerski

Image credit: Cancer Hates Kisses by Jessica Reid Silwerski, illustrated by Mika Song

With the recent release of my children’s book Cancer Hates Kisses, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of building strength and resilience in young children. Pictures books are a simple, yet powerful tool for not only discussing myriad difficult topics, but also providing models for coping with tough situations that youngsters will inevitably face. Though our instinct as parents is to shield our children from ugliness and pain in the world, emotional intelligence is fostered through the act of embracing both the beauty and the difficulty of real life through gentle, honest discussion.

Below is a list of seven stories celebrating strength and resilience. Each of these stories provides parents with an entry point for more in-depth conversations about otherwise complicated subjects.

  • Cancer Hates Kisses

    by Jessica Reid Sliwerski, illustrated by Mika Song

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    This empowering book follows a mother and her family through all the stages of her cancer — diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation — and provides an honest and encouraging tool for talking with kids about serious illness. Inspired by my family’s personal experience, Cancer Hates Kisses demystifies cancer treatment with simple language and through this story children learn that their family member is not a victim of cancer; she or he is a brave warrior who draws strength from the loving support children can provide.
    (Ages 3 - 5)

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  • The Goodbye Book

    by Todd Parr

    Parr tackles loss and grief in simple, straightforward language that young children can comprehend. This book starts with the line “It’s hard to say goodbye to someone,” then normalizes all the feelings that come with grief — being sad, mad, confused, in denial. But Parr reminds children that eventually, they will recall happy memories, which will provide the courage to move forward in life.
    (Ages 5 - 6)

  • It’s Okay to Be Different

    by Todd Parr

    This is a lovely story celebrating all the ways in which we are different and honoring the notion that it’s not only okay to be different, it’s good because it makes you special and important. Parr celebrates diversity, the importance of talking about feelings, having gay parents, being adopted, and even having an imaginary friend in language that is simple and playful. The illustrations perfectly complement the topics Parr bravely tackles. For example, a picture of a little boy in a wheelchair is paired with the text, “It’s okay to have wheels.”
    (Ages 4 - 7)

  • I’ll Always Love You

    by Hans Wilhelm

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    “This is a story about Elfie, the best dog in the world.” A throwback to my own childhood, this tender story helps children cope with the loss of a pet. As happens in life, our pets age faster than we do. In the story, Elfie has a joyful life and is beloved by the family. She passes in the middle of the night of old age, but the little boy in the story is comforted by remembering that he told her every night, “I’ll always love you.”
    (Ages 3 - 7)

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  • My Friend Maggie

    by Hannah E. Harrison

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    This gorgeous picture book gracefully preempts early elementary school meanness with concise prose and heartfelt illustrations. Maggie the elephant and Paula the beaver are best friends until a bully points out that “Maggie’s too big.” Suddenly, Paula sees all the things that make Maggie a less than desirable friend — she’s clumsy, she’s chubby, and she’s terrible at hide-and-seek. Deep down Paula knows she should stick up for her friend, but she succumbs to peer pressure until one day Veronica points out Paula’s buck teeth and begins teasing her. Maggie comes to the rescue, sticking up for Paula and their friendship is not only renewed, but stronger than ever before.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • Those Shoes

    by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

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    This story elegantly addresses poverty and the shame a little boy feels because his family cannot afford those shoes — fancy high-top sneakers — that his classmates all have. Then one day he finds the shoes at a thrift shop and though they are too small, he is determined to make them fit. While willing the precious shoes to stretch and hobbling around uncomfortably for days, he notices a classmate’s shoes are held together with tape. With heartbreaking kindness, he gives the fancy too-small shoes to the other child and ultimately makes a new friend.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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  • Come With Me

    by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître

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    In this thoughtful story, a little girl is concerned by the stories of anger and hatred she sees on the news. Her parents take her around the neighborhood, modeling friendship, bravery, and compassion until she feels empowered to go out into the neighborhood on her own and model these same powerful traits to other children. A salient reminder to parents and children of the important role we each play in making our world a better place.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

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