We all want to know the secret to helping our children realize their dreams. One of the ways we can help our kids is to read them inspiring stories! These wonderful picture books will encourage children to pursue their dreams and persevere, even through adversity.
Use these children's books and picture book biographies to start a conversation with your children, helping them find their passions, and overcome obstacles, whether perceived or real. Talk about the steps the books' characters took that helped them achieve their goals.
Your reward will be the joy you see in your children's faces as they take a leap towards fulfilling their dreams!
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Nigel and the Moon by Antwan Eady, illustrated by Gracey Zhang
Nigel loves to look at the moon and imagine the person he could become, but he fears that he might not be able to achieve all that he hopes. With career day on the horizon, Nigel worries that his parents' jobs aren't glamorous enough. However, he is pleasantly surprised when his classmates show a keen interest in his parents' jobs and Nigel gains the confidence to share his own dreams with others. A wonderful, wonderful book! Ages 4 and up.
The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz
Isaac has a dream that he should go and look for treasure under the bridge by the Royal Palace. He feels quite foolish doing so, but cannot ignore the command. The poor, elderly man sets off on the journey only to find a heavily guarded bridge and a guard with his own dream. Isaac's reverse journey has an interesting narrative repetition. The overall story is different than the others on this list, and I encourage you to spend time talking about it with your children. It's a rather quiet tale of trust and faith, with the message "sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near." Ages 5 and up.
The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Lorena Alvarez
As a parent or educator, you may be familiar with the advice to teach kids the power of "yet." The Magical Yet encourages children who might be struggling to find motivation to achieve a goal. They might feel they can't do something. Add a single word, "yet," to an "I can't" sentence and they can transform their attitude and try new things! I love the vivid illustrations and the optimistic, bouncy rhythm of the text. Ages 4 and up.
A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Peggy Collins
Aria, who lives in Afghanistan, has a prosthetic leg which prohibits her from sitting with her peers. But she is determined not to let that stop her from joining school lessons. A bench would allow her to sit comfortably, but since there is no money to purchase a bench, Aria must come up with a creative solution. A wonderful book about having a dream to get an education, and working within the constraints of hardships, community support and perseverance. Ages 4 and up.
Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Emmanuel was born in Ghana with only one leg. Most children with disabilities didn’t go to school, but Emanuel was determined and hopped two miles each way to attend school. After his mother died, he decided to honor her last words by proving “that being disabled does not mean being unable.” He completed the astounding feat of bicycling 400 miles in 10 days. An author’s note describes his continuing work and successes on behalf of disabled persons in Ghana. Ages 5 and up.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
This wonderful picture book is inspired by the life of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl. Millo bucked Cuba's taboo against female drummers and became a famous musician, even playing the bongos at a birthday celebration for FDR. The book is a poem, following a girl's longing to beat on all sorts of drums: congas, bongos, and timbales. She practices secretly until finally she is allowed to share her gift with the world. Rafael López's illustrations are absolutely stunning. Ages 4 and up.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Horace Pippin was a self-taught painter. After being shot in the arm during WWI, he worked steadily to learn how to use his arm again to create art. There are so many things I love about this book, and you come away from it with a strong sense of how Pippin used art to interpret the world. Pippin suffered from poverty, the psychological and physical costs of war, but still, his talent propelled him to create. Ages 5 and up.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington
Not as text heavy as many picture book biographies, this is a wonderful book about the first African-American in space, Mae Jemison. The narrative focuses on the young Mae and her dreams to see the earth from space. When she learns she needs to be an astronaut to go into space, she learns as much as she can about the stars and what it takes to be an astronaut. Her supportive parents encourage her to dream big, even in the face of others' skepticism. Ages 4 and up.
Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
This entertaining book brings to life the story of a woman who persistently followed her goals and broke 19th century barriers. Elizabeth Blackwell refused to be defeated by social definitions, attended medical school, faced the rejection of her fellow students and then her colleagues, all the while proving she was smarter than they were. Ages 5 and up.
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
John James could do a lot of things, but what he loved to do best was watch birds from morning till night. Born in France, his father sent him to America when he was eighteen, where–predictably–he obsessed over birds. Davies describes how Audubon relentlessly observed the habits of birds, making important discoveries about migration. Kids can learn a lot from Audubon's patience, determination and passion for learning. Ages 6 and up.
Dare the Wind by Tracey Fern
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
In the 19th century, women did not navigate ships, but Ellen's father saw his daughter's love of the sea and nurtured it. She grew up, married a sea captain and accompanied him on his merchant voyages. In 1851 the Flying Cloud, in large part due to the navigational skills of Ellen, sailed around Cape Horn from New York to San Francisco in a record-breaking 89 days, 21 hours. Both the text and the illustrations will make your child feel as though he is on the sea, with Ellen and the clipper. Ages 5 and up.
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Asim tells Washington's story in beautiful free verse. Born a slave, Washington was determined to get an education. After Emancipation, he walked 500 miles with a dream of earning a college degree. Washington's persistence is inspiring and doubly so when considering the hardships, hate and obstacles he faced. Collier's illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Ages 4 and up.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
When someone says "inspiring people" you might not immediately think of Peter Roget (or at all), but the boy who loved to make lists and had a passion for words grew up to be not just an accomplished doctor, but an inventor and the man whose name now graces the shelves of every serious wordsmith. The book shows us that you can be a quiet person, but with passion and a love for learning, thinking and tinkering, you can follow your dreams and achieve much. Lovely, lovely artwork by Melissa Sweet and an interesting historical note make this a must read book. Ages 6 and up.
Jim Thorpe's Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson
Thorpe had a traumatic childhood. His parents and brother died, and he was sent to an Indian boarding school. These boarding schools were designed to strip Native Americans of their cultural identity, and the students were expected to enter society as servants and manual laborers. Thorpe avoided this bleak prospect to become one of the greatest athletes of all time. Publisher Lee and Low has an excellent teacher's guide to go along with the book. Ages 7 and up.
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's story will inspire everyone. The book follows Sonia as she grows up in poverty in the Bronx and gets an education. The book has a great, positive message and emphasizes how important it is to be surrounded by supportive friends and family. (Bilingual) ages 4 and up.
Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Jane Goodall's childhood is full of dreams. She spends her days out in the natural world and dreams of helping and living with animals. As she grows up she moves from butterflies to small animals and finally to the chimps for which she is so famous. I particularly like the way McDonnell juxtaposes photographs of Jane Goodall with his illustrations, capturing Jane's hopes in both her childhood dreams and her eventual realization of those dreams. Ages 3 and up.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz
Wilma grew from a 4 pound baby to be one of the fastest women in the world and competing at the Olympics. This is amazing, considering that after a childhood bout with polio, doctors thought her leg was permanently damaged. Wilma worked through her injury as a young girl, earned an athletic scholarship and won three Olympic gold medals. My kids were fascinated with the idea that she won her medals even though she had a twisted ankle! Ages 6 and up.
Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Troy Andrews wrote this autobiographical picture book about how he grew up in a music-rich environment. When he found a broken instrument he started playing the trombone, he earned the nickname, Trombone Shorty. He played and practiced hard and grew up to be a Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist. Ages 4 and up.