“Growth mindset” is a buzzword that’s been thrown around a lot. But what does it really mean? Simply put, it means that you believe your abilities aren’t fixed, and can be improved with time and practice. Someone with a “fixed” mindset believes that our skills are innate, and if we don’t already have them, we probably aren’t going to be able to develop them. Is one mindset better than another? All I can see is one mindset allows more room for improvement and hope, and I’m always team hope!
Growing up, I had a combination of both mindsets. I had a fixed mindset when I realised I had no natural inclination towards sports, and assumed I was destined to suck at them forever. Newsflash: I still do. But in the past few years, I’ve allowed myself to enjoy activities involving movement. While I might still not win the race, I no longer hold myself back from participating. My growth mindset found its way in activities I loved and received initial praise for. Every time someone praised me for my ability to use words and paints, remember random facts, or make someone smile, it made me want to get better at each of those things.
Having a fixed mindset made me avoid trying out any new athletic avenues for years. On the other hand, having a growth mindset led me to building a life around things that bring me joy. I wish someone had told me sooner than I can still learn and get slightly better at things I’m not good at. And even if I don’t get better, I wish I knew that it’s okay to be bad at something and do it anyway. So here’s a list of books that helps teach kids just that. I hope you know it sooner and it opens you up to a world of trying, failing, and hoping.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
This gorgeous picture book is an illustrated version of a poem by Margarita Engle about the Drum Dream Girl. The poem is inspired by the childhood of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl Millo Castro Zaldarriaga who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo and became the first female drummers.
At age 10, she performed with her older sisters as a part of an amazing all-girl dance band. She even played her bongó drums at a New York birthday celebration for U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her love, courage and skill has led to a lot more female drummers in Cuba. The illustrations are as bright as her dreams, urging us to go after ours.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari Jumps is the story of a young Black boy learning to dive from a height. The first time he tries, he looks down to the water, and is filled with fear. He climbs down the ladder and heads home. Later, with his father’s encouraging words and renewed hope, he tries again and really enjoys it. The story is inspired by the Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones and the author’s childhood memories of conquering the diving board.
Bella’s Recipe for Success by Ana Siqueira and Geraldine Rodríguez
This picture book is warm, inviting, and relatable. Bella, our young protagonist, goes around her house and admires her siblings for what they are good at. She thinks about how she doesn’t try much because she’s a disaster at everything anyway. Her abuela notices this and decides to bake a dulce de leche with her. Little Bella gets it wrong a few times but continues trying till she finally gets it right. Soothing illustrations that explore the self-doubt, confusion, and joy of learning something new are this book’s recipe for success.
A Walk in the Words by Hudson Talbott
In this picture book, the author shares his own story about his struggle with words. As a little boy, he loved drawing, but reading didn’t come naturally to him. He could manage to read one word at a time, but things got harder as the sentences got longer. He started to feel lost and alone in the world of too many words.
So he did what he calls “painting with words.” He drew the words on a paper to make himself a path to follow. He also learnt that a lot of great people were slow readers as well. Hudson honoured the act of taking his time, and became the fabulous storyteller he is today!
There Must Be More Than That by Shinsuke Yoshitake
There Must Be More Than That shows us exactly what the title suggests. A young girl is told by her brother that humanity is doomed. She reaches out to her grandma in confusion and panic. Her wise grandma tells her that no one can accurately predict what the future holds, and that adults don’t always have the right answers. The rest of the book explores the randomness of the universe in fun and vibrant illustrations. Pick up this book for a good laugh and an important reminder.
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Gary Rubinstein and Mark Pett
Beatrice Bottomwell is a 9-year-old girl who has never made a mistake. She wakes up with paparazzi outside her window. She is constantly admired by everyone at home and at school. She’s the girl who never makes mistakes.
Until one time, at the school talent show, she makes a huge mess on stage during her juggling act. Her audience and her go quiet in absolute shock. But Beatrice bursts into laughter and everyone laughs along with her. Her life goes back to normal and no one is in awe of her anymore. But she is free to live, learn, fail, laugh and start over. As she lets go of her perfectionism, she rediscovers her humour and joy. This wonderful story is captured in illustrations that do it justice.
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Gerald the giraffe wants to dance, but his legs are too skinny and his neck is too long. At the Jungle Dance, all other animals showcase their awesome moves. But when it’s Gerald’s turn, they sneer “Giraffes Can’t Dance.” He heads back home all sad and meets a cricket on the way. The cricket urges him to find his sound in the way the leaves sway. Gerald listens close and his body moves in ways it never has before. All the other animals gather around and cheer him on. The illustrations are rich with color and we are left with the message: We all can dance when we find music that we love.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López
The illustrations in this picture book are beyond stunning. You can pick it up for the art alone, though the story is heartwarming as well. It’s about a little girl who enters a classroom where no one seems to be quite like her. She finds it hard to fit in. She shares something about herself and finds that she has it in common with another student. We go on to explore the inner conflicts of children who don’t look like or act like the majority of the class. We also see how we still come together and bond, while still celebrating our unique differences. So the day you begin to share your story is the day you invite connection. I love the message the book ends with (and it’s also one I want to leave you with):
“every new friend has something a little like you
and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all.”
For more awesome picture book recs, check out 11 of The Best Picture Books For Social Emotional Learning and our picture book archives.