Something We Forget When Children Go Back to School

Prepare children with positive examples found in books
August 16, 2015 Updated: August 18, 2015

School is rapidly approaching and most children have mixed emotions about returning. They may feel excited, scared, nervous, and so on. A good number of children might be fearful about how they will act if they encounter difficult situations. 

Here is where children’s literature can really help. Many children’s books show characters responding to difficult situations in a positive way. As Dr. Seuss said, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Below are a few books that give children the tools to practice positive self-talk.

(Random House)
(Random House Books for Young Readers)

‘Horton Hatches the Egg’ by Dr. Seuss

Horton is a good-natured elephant that agrees to sit on the egg of Mayzie, a very lazy bird, while Mayzie takes a short rest. Little does Horton know that a casual promise can demand so much of him.

Mayzie does not keep her word to come right back. Horton must face dire circumstances such as braving the elements, teasing from other animals, being stalked by hunters and forced to travel on a boat to the United States where he finds himself sold to the circus.

But through all Horton’s travails, he never gives up on his promise. He says to himself over and over, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. … An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent!” Things look bad at the end of the book when Mayzie wants her egg back, but then a miracle occurs.

‘Belinda the Ballerina’ by Amy Young

Belinda dreams about being a dancer. But when she tries out for ballet, the so-called experts tell her that she doesn’t fit the image of what a good ballerina should look like: She has two huge feet. 

Belinda doesn’t even get to audition. So she abandons her dream and takes a job as a waitress, but her passion remains. One day, a band comes to play outside the restaurant where she works. Belinda follows her heart and starts dancing as they play.

From that point on, there is no stopping Belinda as she begins dancing for more and more people. When the maestro from the grand Metropolitan Ballet hears about her, he asks her to perform. She does and is a huge success.

Belinda realizes then that she shouldn’t have let doubters stand in her way of doing what she loves.

 (Orchard Books)
(Orchard Books)

‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ by Giles Andreae

This story is also about an unusual physical feature. Gerald, the giraffe, wants to dance on the dance floor like the other animals, but his knees are awfully crooked and his legs are rather thin. He tries his best but is called clumsy. So he leaves the dance floor and feels quite useless.

A cricket stops Gerald and encourages him to dance. The cricket says that all Gerald needs is a different tune (the sounds of nature) to motivate him. Gerald listens and starts dancing in a most unusual way. His friends admire his moves. At the end of the story, Gerald realizes that there is more than one way to reach a goal and it is OK to be different.

‘A Chair for My Mother’ by Vera Wang

A young girl, her mother, and her grandmother have lost all their possessions in a fire. The entire neighborhood and all their relatives pitch in to help them furnish a new place. But they are missing one thing—a comfortable chair for the mother to sit in after work.  

The family decides to work together to save coins for this purchase. It takes lots of patience and hard work; but at the end of the story, the three-generation family is able to buy the chair. The book also shows the joy they feel at achieving a difficult goal.

‘The Little Engine That Could’ by Watty Piper

A stranded train carrying good things for boys and girls breaks down and needs to be pulled over the other side of the mountain. Two engines come by that can do the job, but they think that they are too important for such a trivial task. Another engine thinks that it is too old to do the job and gives up before it even tries.   

This reaction is in stark contrast to the next engine that comes along: a small, inexperienced blue engine. The engine is willing to give the task a try even though it is doubtful that it can succeed. But the engine begins pulling, repeating the mantra “I think I can, I think I can,” as it goes along. The engine overcomes a seemingly impossible task.

(Maria Dismondy Inc.)
(Making Spirits Bright: One Books at a Time)

‘Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are’ by Maria Dismondy

Papa Gino tells his granddaughter that people are all different and that this prevents the world from being a boring place. Then he has Lucy recite the following: “Even if you are different from others on the outside, we all have a heart with feelings on the inside.”

When Lucy goes to school, she is teased constantly by Ralph, including about how she eats spaghetti. One day at recess, Ralph gets stuck at the top of the monkey bars. Lucy is tempted to forget her grandfather’s teachings and to treat him in an unkind way. But she see tears in Ralph’s eyes and helps him instead. 

Later, Lucy feels that she did the right thing when Ralph thanks her by giving her a picture. Lucy has earned the respect of a bully.

These are a few of the many books about positive self-talk. They contain great role models, which children can copy to enrich their lives.

Linda Wiegenfeld is a veteran teacher in Somerville, Mass. She may be contacted at