Top 10 Picture Books to Cultivate Resilience

Posted: August 15, 2020 | Updated: September 14, 2020
Created by: Ms. Sylvia

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Why We Need Resilience Now (and Why We Always Need It)

These are challenging times.

Of course, each of us is experiencing the changes and the challenges in different ways and to different degrees.

Still, we are undeniably in uncharted waters.

Children find these changes and uncertainties as unsettling as we adults do, if not more. You might see their discomfort show up in the form of new fears, more clinginess, anxiety, or a desire for more independence. It also might be showing up in more subtle ways. Children are feeling the challenges of these times as deeply, and sometimes even more intensely, than adults.

One way we can support children in this time is through stories.

Stories have the power to stretch our world view, build empathy and imagination. Storytelling is the most nourishing and the most effective way for children to learn. Telling stories that we create ourselves and tailor to the needs of the children we’re speaking to is my favorite way to connect young learners to their emotions and to the world, but reading stories together can do this beautifully, too.

The stories listed below are some of my favorite picture books to start discussions around facing our fears, overcoming obstacles, and generally becoming more resilient.

Resilience is in Nature

  1. Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
    In the Tiny Seed, Eric Carle illustrates the struggle of a seed to be planted and grow. Many of us have found comfort in the outdoors lately and some of us have even been able to start (or expand) gardens. Mine is small and struggling, but each seed brings me joy! For children who have been helping in the garden, this story can help connect the gardening they do to the process in the wild. For children who don’t have much access to nature, this story can be a wonderful start.
  2. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
    Ruth Krauss is joined by her husband, illustrator Crockett Johnson (who wrote and illustrated Harold and the Purple Crayon) for this 1945 classic picture book. The little boy in this story is sure that his purple carrot seed will grow one day into a carrot, and though everyone around him disagrees, he takes care of the seed. This is a wonderful, sweet story.

Resilience is Persistence

  1. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
    Whistle for Willie is one of my favorite books to support students who are learning a new skill-- and aren’t we all flooded with new skills to master these days?
  2. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
    Ada Twist doesn’t speak until she is three years old. Her first words are a flood of questions about how everything around her works and why it is the way it is. Chaos and questions follow her, but the explorations of this are celebrated. Written in clever verse, I’ve seen this story become an instant classic for children, who giggle with (and are inspired by) Ada. Ada doesn’t find the answers to her questions in the book, but models how to ask new questions and to keep searching for answers.
  3. The Dot by Peter H Reynolds
    Everything Peter H. Reynolds has written or illustrated so far is wonderful. The Dot is a particular favorite of mine, because it shows a girl, Vashti, finding her inner artist and making her mark, but it is one of many great choices from this author. I have had many students like Vashti, who are so convinced that they can’t draw that they have trouble getting started, but I love seeing her acknowledge her inner artist and help a little boy who admires her work find his own creativity. This is a wonderful book! Hear me read it and share a little about it here.
  4. Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
    It’s Carmela’s birthday, so she’s finally old enough to follow her brother as he does the errands around town. Her joy infuses every page, even though her brother is initially less than thrilled to have her tagging along as they move through her migrant worker community. Carmela thinks carefully about what to wish on a dandelion she finds growing in concrete, only to have it crushed when she falls on her scooter. Her brother helps her make and spread her wish. This is a story of hopes, family, sibling love, and resilience. I love all three picture books this writer and illustrator team have written and would also recommend their other works. They are both extremely talented, thoughtful storytellers!

Resilience is Overcoming Fears and Learning New Skills

  1. Saturday Is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum
    Saturday Is Swimming Day tells the story of a young, unnamed girl who fears her weekly swimming lessons. She makes every excuse, but is slowly reassured and coaxed into the water by her excellent swimming teacher. I have lived a version of this story with a young swim-lesson-resistant three-year old, and found that it perfectly captured the spectrum of emotions we worked through. This book is relatable for children and adults.
  2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen
    The dark is personified in this book about a child’s fears of the dark. When the child befriends the darkness one night, he no longer fears it. This is a phenomenal, allegorical tale, which children take deep meanings from.

Resilience is Science: A Non-Fiction Approach

  1. What Do You Do With a Problem? By Kobi Yamada
    Brought to you by the creators of What Do You Do With An Idea?, this book of practical advice is heart-warming and inspiring without being cloying. Each idea is beautifully illustrated. The authors acknowledge the emotional struggles of having problem with beautifully illustrated pages, and offer hope through practical suggestions and the promise that we are not alone in our problems. A wonderful read!
  2. Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak
    In the education world, the concept of growth mindset has become very popular. The science behind the idea that our brains are built to grow and change is made accessible in this book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape it.

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