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Building on strengths

11 Books to Help Kids Learn to Take On Challenges

By Lexi Walters Wright

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What type of books help kids with learning and attention issues the most? Ones that promote a “growth mindset,” says Ellen Galinsky, best-selling author of Mind in the Making. These 11 titles, chosen by Galinsky for the nonprofit First Book, can help kids feel like they can grow and succeed despite their challenges.

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

31Found this helpful
My Truck Is Stuck!
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“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. Guide your child to think about times when someone else helped him figure out something that was hard to do.

Llama Llama Red Pajama
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“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. Help your child think about what he does to feel better when he’s sad, lonely or afraid.

Owen
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“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
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“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. Guide your child to think about what he could say in a situation that’s hard for him, like when he’s trying something new.

Brontorina
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“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. Remind your child of a time when he overcame an obstacle to do something he really wanted to do.

Knuffle Bunny
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“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. Ask your child if he’s ever had trouble getting someone to understand something. Talk about how that made him feel and how he could approach it next time.

Horton Hears a Who!
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“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. Ask your child if he’s ever felt that way. Talk about what he can learn from Horton—such as respect, kindness and sticking to your goals.

The Empty Pot
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“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.” Ask your child if he ever wished he’d worked harder at something. Talk about how he felt afterwards. Then talk about a time when he gave his best effort, and how that felt.

Jingle Dancer
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“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 your child can express thanks to the people who help him.

Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of NIMH
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“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 your child about times when he felt brave, and why.

Stone Fox
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“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 inspiration—to Willy.

Consider pointing out: Many people doubt Willy can win. Talk about what that might feel like for Willy. Ask your child what motivates him to keep trying when he faces obstacles.

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About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Ellen Galinsky

Ellen Galinsky, M.S., is president of Families and Work Institute (FWI). She is a child development expert and work-family researcher.

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