Books That Celebrate Differences

As a teacher, and a mother of a petite with special needs, I find myself looking for books and ways to help build confidence and self esteem.  These books can be simple stories that have a special meaning, or perhaps a character that is relatable; but I have found that there are a few books that have been highly beneficial both in the classroom and at home.

When you’re little being different is so hard, when I was small I had tons of freckles and for some reason there was a little kid in my class who called me “Freckle Fred” and I was devastated every single time he said it.  Now I look back and sort of laugh, because it’s a weak put down and freckles are awesome, but my eight year old self was crushed.  During this time, I remember my mom reading Ferdinand to me and thinking about how he was different and how it was amazing that he was cool being who he was just sitting under that cork tree smelling flowers.  I also remember being mad that people tried to make him into something he wasn’t.

When Zoe was diagnosed with epilepsy, we quickly found that the world could be a cruel place and that many people, adults included, could be incredibly insensitive and probably not even think about it.  Her seizures made her special and different and made a lot of things really difficult.  We spent a lot of time reading books with strong female characters and messages about being yourself and not letting others get you down.  These are books about differences and celebrating those differences, which I think casts a wider net and allows for petites and families to use the books to talk about feelings and have really thoughtful conversations about the characters and how we might relate to them or their situation creating empathy.

Here is a list of some of our favorites that I hope will have the same impact they did for me and my petites.

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Ferdinand Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson (Grosset and Dunlap, 2011/ 75th aniversary edition) this is a classic and deserves a place on every petites’ bookshelf.  If you haven’t read it, it is all about Ferdinand who is a bull who loves to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers.  He has no desire in being in the bull fights and prefers to stop and smell the flowers – going against all the other bulls and ideas about what bulls are supposed to be like.

Calvin Can’t Fly by Jennifer Berne and Keith Bendis (Sterling Children’s Books, 2015).  This is a lovely story about a starling named Calvin who prefers to read instead of learning how to fly.  His siblings and friends call him names and he doesn’t let it bother him, he continues to read and read.  When it does come time for him to migrate he encounters struggles, but what he has learned through his reading helps him to save the day.

Elmer by David McKee (Harper Collins, 1989) this is a classic.  Elmer is an elephant who isn’t like other elephants, he is a patchwork rainbow colored elephant.  This book is so special because it is about finding joy and laughter and Elmer is the elephant that brings that to his group of friends.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant (Groundwood Books, 2014).  This is one of my favorite books.  In this book Morris loves to wear the tangerine dress in his classroom dress-up box.  His classmates do not understand why Morris loves the dress so much and tease him for wearing a dress – since boys aren’t supposed to wear dresses or like girl things.  This is a touching story that celebrates little ones who are imaginative and love what they love regardless of if it has been traditionally for girls or boys.  We reviewed this book a while back, here.

Francis Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif (Candlewick, 2014).  This is another favorite book of ours, my oldest is what I call a sensitive soul.  What we loved the most about this little petite is that she loves to dance, but she is worried about dancing in front of others.  In the end she realizes that dancing makes her happy and that is what is important.  This book is one of our all time favorites!  Read more about of love of this book, here.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (Mulberry Books, 2008)  This book is another that bolsters confidence in petites.  Chrysanthemum is a story of a little mouse who has a lovely name that she adores, until she goes to school and kids make fun of her.  This book is one that is highly relatable and has sold more than a million copies, because it is so poignant and such a fantastic way to talk about teasing and confidence.

The Pirate of Kindergarten by Georgia Ella Ryan and Lynne Avril (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2010)  Ginny is a kindergartener who has double vision and she has an amazing solution to her problem – an eye patch!  The stunning before and after illustrations are wonderful.  I love this story and think it is perfect for petites.  It builds empathy and helps little ones to see that they are not alone when it comes to struggling and differences.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Little Brown, 2013) is about Mr. Tiger who is tired of being proper and bored with his daily life hindering who he wants to be.  He wants to be who he really is, he wants to roar, to walk on all fours and to wear clothes that he likes.  It is a great book about not feeling compelled to conform to everyone else’s idea of normal and to be true to who you are.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001)  Is it a darling story about a little girl who has buck teeth a voice that sounds like a toad.  She is fortunate to have an incredibly lovely grandmother who tells her “to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud”.  The petites love this story.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees (Orchard Books, 2001).  Gerald wants nothing more to dance and dance, but he has two left feet, or rather four!  His friends tease him for wanting to dance when he is so terrible.  This book is all about building self confidence and being cool with being you.

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and Jose Arugeo (Harper Collins, 1994).  Leo is a a late bloomer, he is not meeting traditional benchmarks and his father is worried, however his mom knows that Leo will get there in his own time.  A wonderful read that needs to be in the hands of petites to reassure them that we all grow, learn and develop on our own timeline.

It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009) is an ode to acceptance and understanding.  This book celebrates needing help, being who you are and loving it, with trademark bright cheery colorful illustrations.