Having a positive attitude doesn't come easily to everyone, and in difficult times, even a child with a naturally optimistic outlook can falter. We can help kids cultivate positive thinking skills in two important ways. One, by being good role models and two, by reading picture books that will start conversations about what it means to have a positive attitude, even when things are tough.
These twelve picture books are the perfect inspiration for helping kids to "look on the bright side."
Instead of didactic (aka boring) books with an obvious "message," I've chosen picture books with interesting stories that will spark questions and thoughtful dialogue with children.
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LIFE DOESN'T FRIGHTEN ME by Maya Angelou, illustrations by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Editor, Sara Jane Boyers, has created a marvelous book by pairing Angelou's poem with the neo-expressionist paintings of Basquiat. Angelou's poem invites the reader to defy the frightening things one might encounter in life, drawing upon one's inner strength and a determination to succeed. The succinct and direct text is also a great introduction to poetry. Includes author's notes about the work of Angelou and Basquiat. Ages 3 and up.
For a great picture book biography of the artist read the Caldecott award winning book, Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe.
MORE: Books about Perseverance
DREAM STREET by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Dream Street is a glorious ode to a thriving community on a special street. Each double page spread includes an illustration and story about an individual or group who lives on Dream Street. It reads almost like a collection of very short stories but then you begin to understand how the lives of the adults profiled have paved the way for the children to thrive. Everyone on Dream Street has ambitions and you will be swept up in the optimism of the community. Ages 4 and up.
ROOM FOR EVERYONE by Naaz Khan, illustrated by Mercè López
This is a really, really fun rhyming book, perfect for story time. In East Africa, siblings Musa and Dada are headed to the beach in a daladala. The driver keeps picking up all sorts of passengers, making the minibus more and more crowded. Musa protests each new addition but Dada insists there is always room for more. The lively illustrations and bouncy text make this a real treat. Not to be missed! Ages 3 and up.
TERRIFIC by Jon Agee
Eugene has a bad attitude. He's just won a cruise but declares, "Terrific. I'll probably get a really nasty sunburn." After the boat sinks and Eugene finds himself stranded on an island, he meets a parrot. The parrot acts as a foil for Eugene's negativity. In a humorous back and forth in which Eugene utters his trademark deadpan, "Terrific," many times, the parrot convinces him to build a boat and get off the island. They are rescued by fishermen who know the parrot and Eugene finds himself defending the bird. Very funny and a great conversation starter about what helps turn negative attitudes around. Ages 4 and up.
THE FLOATING FIELD by Scott Riley, illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien
Here's a great addition to your STEM books reading list. Based on a true story, the book tells the story of Prasit and the other boys in Koh Panyee, a small Thai fishing village on stilts. The boys love to play soccer but can only do so at low tide. They want to form a team to play in tournaments but can't do so unless they have a permanent field. To solve the problem, the boys harness their ingenuity to build a floating soccer field. Endnotes include photos, maps and further information about the real individuals and events in the book. Ages 6 and up.
DANIEL'S GOOD DAY by Micha Archer
Oh, how I adore this optimistic, feel good picture book! Daniel gets outside and asks his diverse friends and neighbors what it means for them to have a good day. A gardener tells him it's a good day when the bees visit. His friend Emma has a good day when the wind is sufficient for kite flying. The book has such a positive message and after reading your kids will love discussing what it means for them to have a good day. Maybe they will even start to poll their friends, too! Ages 3 and up.
MEL FELL by Corey R. Tabor
Mel has decided today is the day she is going to fly! She leaps from the nest and starts torpedoing at full speed downwards. As she passes by, a host of creatures offer advice. Mel finally enters the water, and then shoots back skyward, with a fish in her beak. As she ascends, the same animals cheer her on. The vertical format of the book enhances the joyful atmosphere. Ages 3 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 harness their determination. They might feel they can't do something, but add a single word, "yet" to an "I can't" sentence and they can transform their attitude! I love the vivid illustrations and the optimistic, bouncy rhythm of the text. Ages 4 and up.
RAIN! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This delightful story contrasts a positive attitude with a grumpy one. An elderly man complains as the rain comes down, yet a boy enthusiastically gets ready to go out and enjoy the splashes and puddles. The two meet and in a fun exchange, the boy manages to turn the man's frown upside down. It's a bit of a cliché to have a "grumpy old man" so it's worth chatting with kids that certain attitudes are not limited to specific age groups! Ages 3 and up.
ONE WORD FROM FROM SOPHIA by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Sophia’s one true desire is to get a giraffe for her birthday. She prepares elaborate, individualized presentations to argue her case before each family member: a judge, businessperson, lawyer and disciplinarian (grandma!). Can she win her case, and will she find just the right word to convince the jury? This book will make you smile and Sophia's positive outlook and determination is infectious. Ages 4 and up.
TOMORROW MOST LIKELY by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Lane Smith
Here's a subtle take on encouraging children to take the optimistic road and the story demonstrates how mindfulness is one way to keep spirits up. The gentle text and illustrations convey the message that even though we don't exactly what tomorrow will bring, it's likely the events are predictable from the routine to the unique. There will likely be birds in the sky, a door to go through, a stone to be examined and picked up, a bug to watch. The text ends on the note, "Tomorrow, most likely, will be a great day because you are in it." Ages 3 and up.
THE BIG ORANGE SPLOT by Daniel Pinkwater
Pinkwater's classic picture book shows us how a little mistake can change one's life and even the outlook of one's neighbors. Mr. Plumbean lives on a street where every house is exactly the same. One day a seagull drops a can of orange paint on his roof. This act sets in motion a series of events in which Mr. Plumbean ends up with a marvelously unique abode. At first, his neighbors are aghast, but as they talk to Mr. Plumbean, the street transforms into a visual representation of everyone's dreams. This is a delightful book about changing one's mind, having a positive attitude, and learning to express oneself.