11 books to help kids build a growth mindset

What type of books help kids learn to take on challenges? Ones that promote a growth mindset, says Ellen Galinsky, best-selling author of Mind in the Making. These 11 growth mindset books, chosen by Galinsky for the nonprofit First Book, can help kids who learn and think differently feel like they can grow and thrive.

Understood does not endorse or receive financial compensation for the sale of any of these products.

My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk

Ideal for: Preschoolers and younger

Two dogs driving a dump truck full of bones get stuck in a pothole. Through silly pictures and rhymes, they try different solutions to get out of a sticky situation.

Consider pointing out: When you’re stuck, you can ask for help. You can guide kids to think about times when someone else helped them figure out something that was hard.

Llama Llama Red Pajama, by Anna Dewdney

Ideal for: Preschoolers and younger

In this bedtime tale, Baby Llama gets more and more upset about going to sleep without his mother by his side. She teaches him an important lesson: “Mama Llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here.”

Consider pointing out: Baby Llama snuggles with his comfort toy when he’s upset and feeling alone. You can help kids think about what they do to feel better when they’re sad, lonely, or afraid.

Owen, by Kevin Henkes

Ideal for: Preschoolers and younger

Owen the mouse and his blanket, Fuzzy, are always together. But then the neighbor, Mrs. Tweezers, suggests that Owen is getting too old for Fuzzy. What to do? Owen and his mother turn Fuzzy into handkerchiefs that Owen carries with him.

Consider pointing out: Sometimes people have ideas that create a challenge for others. Talk about how it made Owen feel when Mrs. Tweezers said that he was getting too old for Fuzzy. Point out how Owen and his mom use their imagination to find a solution that works for him.

The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper

Ideal for: Preschoolers and younger

“I think I can!” the Little Engine famously puffs as she pulls a string of boxcars up a hill. It’s her first time trying and nobody believes she can do it. But the Little Engine thinks she can — and she does!

Consider pointing out: Just thinking that she could pull the cars helped the Little Engine. You can guide kids to think about what they could say in a situation that’s hard for them, like when they’re trying something new.

Brontorina, by James Howe

Ideal for: Preschoolers and younger

Brontorina the dinosaur dreams of being a dancer. But in dance class, there’s not enough room for her to move. Everyone laughs at her. Still, she convinces her teacher to help. Brontorina eventually finds a place to dance that fits her size — and she makes new friends in the process.

Consider pointing out: Despite what others say, Brontorina holds on to her dream. In her heart, she knows she’s a dancer. You can remind kids of times when they overcame obstacles to do something they really wanted to do.

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems

Ideal for: Preschoolers and early grade-schoolers

On a trip to the laundromat, Trixie’s favorite stuffed bunny goes missing. But Trixie can’t talk, so she has to find a way to tell her dad what happened without speaking.

Consider pointing out: Trixie finds different ways to get her dad’s attention. Talk about how Trixie might feel when her dad doesn’t understand what she’s trying to tell him. You can ask kids if they’ve ever had trouble getting someone to understand something. Talk about how that made them feel and how they could approach it next time.

Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss

Ideal for: Preschoolers and early grade-schoolers

Horton the elephant hears a cry coming from a piece of dust. In it, he finds a tiny town of people who need help. No one believes Horton, but he doesn’t give up. He works hard to prove that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Consider pointing out: Horton gets made fun of for what he believes. Talk about what that might feel like for Horton. You can ask kids if they’ve ever felt that way. Talk about what they can learn from Horton — such as respect, kindness, and sticking to your goals.

The Empty Pot, by Demi

Ideal for: Preschoolers and early grade-schoolers

Ping is excited! Each child has one royal seed to plant, and the child with the best flower becomes the next Emperor. Ping cares for his seed, but it doesn’t grow. Still, Ping stands out for trying hard to grow his seed, even though he has an empty pot.

Consider pointing out: Ping’s father says, “You did your best, and your best is good enough to present to the Emperor.” You can ask kids if they’ve ever wished that they’d worked harder at something. Talk about how they felt afterwards. Then talk about a time when they gave their best effort, and how that felt.

Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Ideal for: Preschoolers and early grade-schoolers

Jenna wants to dance at the next powwow, but she doesn’t have enough tin jingles on her dress to make noise. So Jenna borrows jingles — and honors the women who help her.

Consider pointing out: Jenna’s culture helps her find a solution that works for everyone. She takes enough jingles for her dress but makes sure the other women’s voices can be heard. Talk about how Jenna gives back to the women. Brainstorm ways that kids can express thanks to the people who help them.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien

Ideal for: Middle-schoolers and older grade-schoolers

Mrs. Frisby is a dedicated mouse mom who needs help for her sick son. She gets it from a group of smart laboratory rats. Together they have adventures. Their journey to safety is scary — but fun to follow!

Consider pointing out: Mrs. Frisby does many brave things to save her family. Talk with kids about times when they felt brave, and why.

Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner

Ideal for: Middle-schoolers and older grade-schoolers

Willy’s grandfather can’t work on their farm, and they may lose it. So Willy enters a dogsled race for prize money to keep the farm. He has to compete with Stone Fox, who’s never lost a race. Stone Fox becomes a challenge — and an inspiration — to Willy.

Consider pointing out: Many people doubt Willy can win. Talk about what that might feel like for Willy. You can ask kids what motivates them to keep trying when they face obstacles.


Read next