As a teacher, I studied and pondered the effects of mindset on our behaviors a lot, hoping to help my students see challenges and learning opportunities as chances to grow, rather than obstacles they might not be able to overcome. Now, as a parent raising two girls to approach challenges and new endeavors with optimism, perseverance, and a positive mind, I find research into growth and fixed mindsets even more fascinating and compelling (which I didn’t think was possible!).
So, what are growth and fixed mindsets? In a fixed mindset, one believes that qualities such as intelligence, personality, and moral character are set in stone, or fixed; he believes he cannot change these aspects of his lives and therefore feels he must prove himself or fear failure. A person with a growth mindset, however, believes that his intelligence, personality, and character can be changed through hard work, perseverance, dedication, and support from others; they believe that their potentials are unknown and unknowable (from chapter 1 of Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential)).
For more information, I highly suggest reading Dweck’s Mindset. While I had read snippets of her research through my education and professional development, I figured her actual book would be heavy and hard to read. Boy, was I wrong! I am so glad I finally picked it up, because I don’t want to put it down!
So, to help with the important goal of raising growth-mindset-oriented children, I’ve compiled a HUGE (25+!) list of picture books to encourage growth mindsets with children of all ages, to help them understand that challenges are learning opportunities, failures chances to try again, and potential unimaginable! I’ve got fiction, biographies, and what I’ve called “direct instruction” books, books written explicitly to teach children about growth mindset.
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Picture Books to Foster Growth Mindsets
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds — Sometimes, changing one’s mind from a fixed “I can’t do that” mindset to a growth “I’ll give it a try and see what happens” mindset requires a little encouragement from people around you. Vashti’s art teacher in The Dot is one of my favorite fictional teachers, and Vashti in turn takes the lessons she learns from that teacher and becomes a teacher herself. Where will you let your mark, artistic or otherwise, take you? Ages 0 and up (yes, that’s what Candlewick Press really recommends, and I agree… We’ve read this one with our girls since they were tiny babies!).
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg — Feeling free to think creatively and seeing mistakes as opportunities to learn greatly help people stay focused on growth and learning new things when they set goals. Beautiful Oops introduces even the youngest audiences to this flexible and positive thinking required to grow. Saltzberg uses art, depicted with clever cut-outs, peek-throughs, and interactive pieces to send his important message about creating something new from a mistake. Ages 3 and up, but we received this as a gift when our older daughter was born and have been loving it ever since!
Max and Marla by Alexandra Boiger — Meet Max and Marla. A boy and his owl. Best friends, and also Winter Olympians! And if you don’t believe them, they’ll prove you wrong. Except that they can’t get their sled to go, crash into a tree, and noseplant into a pile of snow. They certainly have Olympic attitudes, though, and their mantras are worth integrating into your own. After all, wouldn’t we all be better off if we believed that “Tomorrow will be a new day” and “Obstacles are turned into victories” and more? Ages 3-5, but perfect for slightly older too.
How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers — The girls received this one for Christmas, and it’s been on repeat ever since! They absolutely adore this story of a boy who loves stars and desperately wants to have one of his own. He tries and tries and tries again to catch one, never giving up when his efforts fail. Even when he was sad, “in his heart, the wish just wouldn’t give up.” What a wonderful message for kids! We are big fans of Oliver Jeffers (you can read my review of Stuck here), and I’m excited to have this in our permanent collection. Ages 3-7. Read my full review here.
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats — You all likely know Peter from Keats’s The Snowy Day, but did you know Keats wrote a handful of books about Peter? In Whistle for Willie, first published in 1964, Peter desperately wants to whistle in order to call his dog to him. When he tries to whistle, time and time again, nothing happens (except that his cheeks get tired!). Peter refuses to give up, though, and instead continues to practice. Keats’s illustrations are, of course, simple yet beautifully relatable, and Peter’s cheering section inspiring. Ages 3-7.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires — This girl loves to make things, makes things all the time, and finds making things easy. One day, she decides she is going to make the “most MAGNIFICENT thing,” which she knows she can do, because “all she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy peasy!” Easy peasy, that is, until her creation turns out all wrong. But, she’s determined and tries again. And again. And again and again and again… Until she gets mad! And this reaction is my favorite part of this book and one that sets it apart from others on this list, because this is so real! Kids need to know it’s okay to get frustrated or mad when learning or trying something new… As long as they do what the girl does — release steam (in some productive ways and some very unproductive ways, but that’s real, too) until she can think clearly, and then try again! Teaching points about in this one! Ages 3-7.
When Sophie Thinks She Can’t… by Molly Bang, illustrated with Anna Stern — While I have known and loved When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry… for a long time, I didn’t realize Bang has written and illustrated more Sophie books until I was pulling this list together! I have to admit that I almost didn’t include this one because Sophie’s older sister tells her, “Too bad you’re not smart,” when Sophie is struggling to complete a puzzle. And I almost closed the book without finishing because of that snide sibling remark. But, I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, because through the influence of an important lesson from her teacher, Sophie changes her self-talk from “I CAN’T do PUZZLES, and I’m NEVER smart at MATH” to “[I] have to use the Most Important Word. [I] can’t figure it out… YET.” Ages 3-7.
Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi — Though this book isn’t exactly about learning new things or setting goals, Accident! is worth including here because it so importantly teaches a message of fixing accident and mistakes when they happen, and then moving on. These types of accidents and mistakes often hold both children and adults alike back from moving on or learning from them, and those skills are incredibly important when mustering the courage to try something new. You can read my full instagram review here. Ages 4-7.
Bike On, Bear! by Cynthea Liu, illustrated by Kristyna Litten — Bear can do most things pretty easily… except ride a bike. With the help of his family and friends, he tries and tries to learn, but eventually he stops believing in himself and gives up. Turns out, when given an opportunity to ride without thinking about it, Bear discovers his abilities! This one is adorably illustrated, and I love Bear’s support system througout. Be sure to read the short dedication in this one, and share it with your children! Ages 4-7.
The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Lorena Alvarez — just trust me that this book is the perfect way to start something new, whether a new calendar year, a new school year, or a new class or hobby. Teachers commonly talk with students about using the phrase “I can’t do that *yet*,” rather than saying “I can’t do that!” @angeladiterlizzi has personified “Yet” as a magical creature that comes alongside all of us (in a different form for each unique person…), stays with us, and grows with us as we grow and change. And in every situation, our Yets remind us that “if you keep leaping / dreaming, wishing — / waiting, learning, / trying, missing… / with the Yet as your guide, along the way, / you’ll do all the things you can’t do today.” And the enticing cover, surprise under the dust cover, and immaculately detailed endpapers. This delightful, inviting work continues in every illustration throughout the book. My girls love finding the extra hidden details with each new reading, and I can’t get over how wonderfully inclusive they are! (I mean, I love the fact that the ballet class includes two boys!). Ages 4-8. Read my full review here.
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat — Oh man, I could go on and on and on about how much we love this book in our house. Santat cleverly extends the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty to share what happens to Humpty after that fall, after he gets put back together again. Though told and illustrated with touches of humor, Santat gently introduces children to the fear that can come after a fall, or a failure. We watch Humpty avoid things that used to make him happy because of that fear, and we see him make accomodations to try to enjoy his past passions. In the end, he does get back up again, in a way more magnificent than you could imagine. We read After the Fall for fun, but we also pull it out when the girls are preparing to do something that scares them. We’ve had so many delightful conversations about our “Humpty moments” and what happens when we overcome those fears to try something new, or something that has previously gone wrong and scared us. Definitely read this one if you haven’t read it yet! Ages 4-8.
The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald — While people tend to think about growth and fixed mindsets in terms of actual physical or intellectual skills, we also have these mindsets in terms of our social skills and emotional selves. The Bad Seed earns an important place on this list as a book that helps children reevaluate how they think of their behavior and self-image. John and Oswald make light of a serious transformation from a bad (“baaaaaaaaaaad”) seed to making the decision and putting in the hard work to be a happy seed instead. I also love that John and Oswald do aknowledge that changing your self-image is indeed hard work. Ages 4-8.
Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka — Another book about learning to ride a bike, this time with a human protagonist. My girls and I love Raschka’s style of illustration (when I brought this one home from the library, our older daughter grabbed it immediately, saying, “Hey, this looks like The Hello, Goodbye Window!”), and this book remarkably captures the emotional roller coaster we experience when trying something new. The text is simple enough that younger audiences might enjoy this, too, though the abstract illustrations might be too much. Ages 4-8.
Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Sophie Blackall — Inspired by true events from Bridges’s grandmother’s life, Ruby’s Wish is bound to motivate readers, boys and girls, young and old, to dream big, regardless of what those around them believe. Growing up at a time when society believed women not worthy of education, Ruby believed differently. Using the education she had received, Ruby creatively impresses on her grandfather that all is not as equitable as he believes in his household. Learning his lesson, Ruby’s grandfather responds with one of the biggest surprises Ruby could imagine! Ages 4-8.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng — When little Hana sets her heart on playing the violin in the school talent show, her brothers laugh so hard at her that they almost fall out of a tree! Indeed, she is just beginning to learn to play, but she desires to follow her grandfather’s footsteps, not only to play beautifully but also to create her own melodies. You’ll never guess what she actually does in the talent show, but she’d make her grandfather Ojiichan proud! Ages 4-8. Read my full review here.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall — You might remember Jabari Jumps from my list of books to help children overcome fear and worry. It can take a lot of courage to try something new, so Jabari has rightfully earned a place on both lists! This endearing story of overcoming fear to try something new is made even more wonderful by the loving father who patiently understands Jabari’s hesitations. You might also check out the sequel, Jabari Tries, for another delightful growth mindset experience, though I honsetly prefer Jabari Jumps! Ages 4-8.
What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Chance? both by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom — You’ve likely seen this trio of books around (the third in the series is What Do You Do With a Problem? and could also easily be placed on this list, as persevering through a growth mindset often involves overcoming problems…), and they’re perfect for helping children find the courage to follow through with an idea or grab onto a chance with it comes there way… Even when they think they’re not quite ready! Ages 5-8. Read my full review here.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts — While this whole series is also wonderful, Rosie Revere, Engineer earns a place on my growth mindset list thanks to Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose. A young girl full of ideas, Rosie always loved inventing new gadgets and gizmos, until one day, one of her inventions was received with laughter. Worried about future failures, Rosie vows that she’ll never create again, until Aunt Rose shows up for a visit and an idea lodges in Rosie’s head. Aunt Rose’s response to Rosie’s failure is worth memorizing and repeating endlessly to both ourselves and our young ones: “You did it! Hooray! It’s the perfect first try! / This great flop is over. It’s time for the next! // Yes!” said her great aunt. “It crashed. That is true. / But first it did just what it needed to do. / Before it crashed, Rosie… before that… it flew! Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!” May we all have our own great-great-aunt Roses in our corner to remind us of our learning opportunities that come through failures! Ages 5-8.
Little People, Big Dreams: Wilma Rudolph by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Amelia Flower — As a Tennessee native, I have long found Wilma Rudolph fascinating! This picture book biography of her is a perfect introduction to her story. When you think about developing a mindset where your abilities can change instead of stay fixed, Wilma is an incredible inspiration. Stricken with polio at age four, Wilma was told she’d never walk again without using leg braces. Not only did she walk without her braces, she became an Olympic gold medalist in track and field. Growth mindset at its best! Ages 4-7.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora — Y’all, this one is so inspiring! Born into slavery, Mary was freed at age 15 but chose to stay in the South. After outliving her family at age 114, Mary Walker decided to learn to read! According to Hubbard, every year on her birthday, Mary would read out loud to her gathering of friends, and then proclaim, “You’re never too old to learn.” Thank you, Mary! Ages 4-8.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls — When Emmanuel was born in Ghana, he appeared very healthy, except that he only had one strong leg. Many people believed he was cursed or would be useless in life, but his mother believed in him. More importantly, she didn’t pity him because of his one weak leg; rather, she taught him to get things for himself and to work hard. Essentially, she taught him to live like any other boy in Ghana would. He even learned how to play soccer and ride a bike, so that he could play with his friends! When his beloved mother did, he wanted to honor her “by showing everyone that being disabled does not mean being unable.” So, at age 24, he biked AROUND GHANA, to spread his message! Be sure to check out the Author’s Note about the influence that Emmanuel continues to have, in Ghana and around the world. Ages 4-8.
Salt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan, illustrated by Kadir Nelson — We all know Michael Jordan, and we all know what an incredible athlete he is. But, did you know that as a child he almost gave up playing basketball altogether? Fortunately for Jordan and all of his fans, he had thoughtful parents who persuaded him to be patience, keep his determination up, and work hard, rather than quit. And, add to the wonderful lessons the fact that Kadir Nelson illustrated this one and you know you’ve got a real winner! Ages 4-8.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet — I must admit that I didn’t know Horace Pippin before reading this book, but his story is incredibly inspirational! An African-American artist, Pippin began creating as a small child, making artwork even during his service in World War I. But, during that service, he took a bullet to his right shoulder, injuring his drawing arm so badly that he couldn’t draw or paint anymore. Does he give up? For a while, he does. But, determination takes over, he finds a way to paint again, and these post-war, post-injury works garner him world-wide fame and recognition! I love that Pippin’s story highlights the perseverance and determination that it takes to re-learn a skill, rather than learning something new… Growth mindset at its finest! Ages 5-8.
Nadia, the Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray, illustrated by Christine Davenier — You might know the name Nadia Comaneci, and you might remember that she was the first person ever to receive a perfect score in gymnastics in the Olympics! But you probably didn’t realize that in her first National Junior Championships meet, she fell off of the balance beam… three times! “Disappointed but determined… Nadia kept improving and competing, practicing and perfecting,” refusing to quit or keep trying just because of those falls! Ages 6-9.
Direct Instruction Books
I Think, I Am! Teaching Kids the Power of Positive Affirmations by Louise Hay and Kristina Tracy, illustrated by Manuela Schwarz — Though not explicitly about growth and fixed mindsets, Hay and Tracy address the broader concept of positive affirmations and negative thoughts. I love that they give children concrete examples of negative thoughts that creep easily into our minds and offer specific phrases children can say to themselves to switch those negative thoughts to positive affirmations. A few examples do touch on growth mindset affirmations, but the broader skill of changing our thoughts and affirmations is extremely applicable when helping children move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Ages 4-10.
My Strong Mind: A Story About Developing Mental Strength by Niels Van Hove — Part of a larger series of books about positive mindsets, Hove introduces us to Kate, a girl for whom a lot goes well, but who also faces a lot of challenges. One day, Kate discovers the idea that she can teach her mind to “tackle any challenge with a positive attitude.” Easy to read, brightly illustrated, and full of easy-to-remember takeaways for both children and adults (such as “It’s ok to try and fail. Because every time I try, I get a little bit better”), Hove also includes two pages of Notes for Parents at the back. Ages 5-8.
Mindset Matters by Bryan Smith, illustrated by Lisa Griffin — Lengthier than My Strong Mind and more directly didactical in approach, Mindset Matters reveals the power of having a “Gonna Get It Done” attitude versus a “Down in the Dumps” attitude. I particularly like how Smith addresses thinking not about “if” you can accomplish or learn something new, but “when,” helping children gently change their mindset to know that they can indeed do hard things, as long as they keep trying and learning. Amelia practices her “Gonna Get It Done” attitude when learning to use building tools, working through tricky math problems, and trying to catch fish, becoming confident enough in the mindset to even teach her little brother about it! Ages 5-10.
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak, illustrated by Sarah Ackerley — When we talk to our girls about growth mindset, we talk about needed to exercise and strengthen our brains to do new things, just like we have to do with our bodies… And I absolutely love this book for teaching children about how exactly their brain works, and how you truly can make your brain “stronger” to do hard things! Ages 5 and up, maybe younger with the right audience.
Whew! Happy reading, everyone! Do you and your children set resolutions or goals for the new year? This year, our family each set a goal of something new we wanted to learn to do in 2020… So these books fit perfectly with those endeavors! Stay tuned tomorrow for more information on how that conversation went, and what our goals are.