It’s scary when you don’t fit in but if you want to shine you are going to have to stand out from the crowd. Marching to the beat of your own drummer can be something you were just born to do. Or it’s something you have to work at to feel comfortable with it. This list of great picture books have characters who are comfortable marching to the beat of their own drummer from day one. But it also shows some who have to work on their confidence. Because being different doesn’t always feel awesome. Every book in this list offers wonderful opportunities to talk to your children and students about the importance of being themselves and not always following the crowd.
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Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae is a very sweet story about a giraffe who gets laughed at because he doesn’t know how to dance. A cricket gives him some great advice. And with hisvnew found confidence that different isn’t always bad, he starts to dance! This book has been a favorite in our house for years!
Small Knight and George by Ronda Armitage is a gem! This story is funny and cute. It has a great message about not being what we think we should be. But to be who we truly are. Small Knight is not so sure about being brave and fighting but he does know how to make a friend. When he sets out to slay a dragon he ends up befriending one. A great book for all kids. Even though my son is presently all about battles and weapons, he still likes and relates to this more peaceful story of a knight. As soon as I read it to him, I was searching for the next in the series.
Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty is more than just a book about an engineer who happens to be a young girl; it is about not being afraid to be different, especially when being different is amazing. It’s not always easy to march to the beat of your own drummer, and Rosie has a hard time at first but after a pep talk from a special mentor, everything changes.
Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie by Jennifer Berne is a story about a starling Calvin, who can’t fly and isn’t even interested in learning. Calvin loves books and the library, and while all the other birds are flying in a pack, he is off on his own. There is some teasing, but ultimately the pack helps Calvin and in the end, he saves them all. I love that he doesn’t really try to fit in but that in the end he discovers something new about himself once he’s accepted for being different.
Lily The Unicorn by Dallas Clayton is more than just a book about Lily the unicorn who is 100% herself; it is about her acceptance of Roger the penguin who is nothing like her and her desire for the two of them to be friends. Sometimes marching to the beat of your own drummer means being kind when others are not, and I think that this book teaches that part of friendship is accepting your friend for who they are, especially if they are nothing like you. The illustrations are fun, colorful and fill many of the pages making this an engaging book for all levels.
Cowboy Slim by Julie Danneberg is a touching story about a cowboy who just doesn’t fit in. He writes poetry and is proud of it at first until someone calls it sissy. Then he fails and fails and fails again at all the things that “real cowboy” can do. When the herd is in danger, Slim saves the day with his rhymes! This book’s message about not putting other people’s interests down and why it’s okay to be different even if others don’t get it is an important message for all children.
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein is a lovely book. As a mom, I worry about my children fitting in socially. I don’t want them to ignore who they are to fit in; I want them to be accepted for who they are. That means I need to teach them to accept others for who they are too. This book address that, in a cute but frank way. I especially love how the dad isn’t super happy that his son is into more traditionally girly things. I think that even though we hope that all parents would be immediately supportive, the reality is, that parents are human too, and acceptance can take time even when there is lots of love.
Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke is a fantastic story about a little princess who is different. She is so disgusted with being perfect and pretty that she chucks her crown into the pond. I loved this book and cheered throughout. When she refuses her father’s orders, he punishes her by sending her to the pigsty. But she loves it and feels more at home there than in her royal chambers. I also love that her sisters who are girly, prim and proper aren’t too bully-ish and seem to love their traditional roles. There is room for all sorts of princesses in this family, well eventually there is. Good book.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Micheal Hall is easily one of my favorite books of all time. It made me cry the first time I read it with my children and every single time since. All crayons come with a label but is that label always, right? Red came from the factory with a red outside. But even when he tried, and trust me he tried, all he could do was color blue. It’s not until he is asked by purple to draw him a blue ocean that he finally finds a place where he belongs. Finding his beat isn’t as easy for him as many of the characters in this list. However, once he does, he sees how wonderful being able to be yourself is.
Brontorina by James Howe is another favorite. My daughter loved it! And while the lesson about creating inclusive environments went over her head the lesson about being true to yourself and doing something that has never been done before didn’t. The story is about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina and while a studio initially allows her to dance it’s clear that she is just too big. The story doesn’t end there. With some help from friends who support her dream, they find a way to include everyone.
Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus is a childhood favorite. I think as the youngest child in my family I always felt behind the curve, always playing catch up. I think this book is more for parents. It’s a great reminder to chill out and let our kids bloom in their own time and in their own way. If you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s a simple story about Leo who isn’t doing what all the other animals his age are doing. His dad is more than a little anxious but Leo blooms in his own good time.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is a classic tale about doing your own thing and not letting any amount of pressure change you. Ferdinand is a bull but just because he is a bull doesn’t mean he wants to fight in the bull ring. I love the message this book has about being who you are no matter what environment you are in. Kids love this book because it’s funny, the text is just the right length, and the illustrations are so expressive.
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester is such a cute and funny story; your kids will love it! Tacky is an odd bird but when hunters come to get some pretty penguins his odd ways of doing things turn off the hunters and saves Tacky and his perfectly not odd companions. This is a sweet look at being different and being happy as pie about being different. My son loves this book and will often point out that Tacky is proud to sing just the way he wants. I love that it can preach to kids without preaching at all.
Have Fun Molly Lou Lemon by Patty Lovell is all about how Molly Lou Mellon uses her imagination when other children use toys that do all the playing for them. When a new neighbor Gertie moves in Molly Lou Mellon stays true to herself. Even with Gertie’s super cool toys and shows her new friend how to use her imagination.
Stephanie’s Ponytail is my favorite Munsch book. I feel a little like I am cheating on The Paper Bag Princess, but I love Stephanie’s confidence. The story is about Stephanie whose friends, and even teachers start copying how she wears her ponytail. She moves it to the side, to the top of her head even right in front of her face and they keep copying her. So she outsmarts them all with shocking results. I like this book and while reading it to a class, I would re-arrange my hair to match Stephanie’s and have the class in hysterics when my ponytail ended up block my view of the book. The message though is about being your own person, a powerful one for kids today.
The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat is all about an imaginary friend who never gets picked by a child. So he decides to take matters into his own hands and travels to the real world all on his own. I love Beekle’s spirit. He was sick of seeing all the other imaginary friends getting picked and knew his life was supposed to be more than just waiting around, and he was right.
Duck on a Bike by David Shannon tickles my funny bone. I love this book; the message is awesome too. Just because something has never been done before doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try! Also, how cute is a duck riding a bike? I am sure most of the other animals rolled their eyes and scoffed at the duck. But he just kept on marching to his own beat. Kids get the message loud and clear as well! The illustrations are amazing, and your child will love the farm animals and the tractor at the end. Oh, and please tell me I am not the only one waiting for “Duck on a Tractor”? I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki has been on my shelf for years. I really like this book; the message is fantastic! Suki loves her Kimono; she doesn’t care that her sisters think it’s not cool to wear it to school; her grandma gave it to her, and she likes it. I love that she is depicted as confident but not 100% sure of herself. It allows readers to connect with the story. Recognizing those times when we are putting up a brave face even if inside we aren’t so sure. Being yourself is hard, and the author connects to that while still creating a lovely strong heroine.
I Want to be a Cowgirl by Jeanne Willis is a story about a little city girl who doesn’t want to grow up to have tea parties, cook, clean, or sew. She doesn’t want to be a girly girl at all; she wants to be a cowgirl. I love the sentiment in this book. How adamant she is about knowing what she wants and the lengths she goes to be a cowgirl using bananas as six shooters. Then turning her dad’s rug into chaps! I like the message about following your dreams. And not what society tells us we should be, and the rhyming text is perfectly suited for this sassy tale.
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For more quick tips on helping your child learn to read check out my book; Raising A Rock-Star Reader. It is packed with fun ideas for families, book lists, and advice for parents.