It’s OK to be Different! Books to Help Your Child Embrace Individuality
Pack mentality. To some degree, we all want and need to be a part of a group and know we are like the people around us; that, in some basic way, we fit into the puzzle.
At the same time, we also know and are taught from a young age that everyone is unique and special. Finding the balance between these two conflicting concepts often is difficult for adults and sometimes even more so for children and teens. Learning to embrace differences and celebrate individuality is vital for people of all ages. Children’s literature always has been a place where individuality is celebrated and encouraged.
Over the last few years, several new books have expertly showcased unique characters that celebrate and embrace their differences and those of others. These books range from a picture book about a naked mole rat who prefers wearing fancy clothing, to a teenage boy who attends middle school after growing up on an isolated hippy commune. This theme touches all age groups, ethnicities and backgrounds, and is important for all young readers.
Mo Willems, award-winning author and illustrator of the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie books, has made magic again with his newest book Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. In this vibrant picture book, Wilbur is set apart from the group because of his love for clothing. He likes the way clothes make him feel — fancy, adventurous, funny, cool. But the other mole rats tell him, “NAKED MOLE RATS DON’T WEAR CLOTHES!” But Wilbur’s question to them is, “Why not?” This excellent and funny picture book will teach young readers that it is OK to ask questions about things that are different.
Other inspiring picture books about individuality include Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Little Oink, Sean Bryan’s A Boy and His Bunny and the classic book about being unique, It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr.
Juvenile Chapter Books
Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan is one of my favorite new children’s books. Emmaline lives in a town where everything is tidy and orderly. Even nature has been driven away because it is deemed “too messy.” But Emmaline does not like to be orderly. She likes to jump, play, hop and dig in the dirt. Her one desire is to have a wild bunny as her friend. Eventually, she chooses to explore beyond her too-tidy town to find one. In this book, Emmaline teaches her family that it is normal to be different and maybe a little bit messy!
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, Lost and Found by Andrew Clements and Billy Hooten: Owlboy by Tom Sniegoski also explore themes of individuality.
Tween and Teen Books
Gordon Korman is perhaps one of the best authors currently writing for middle-school readers. His book Schooled is on the 2010 Sequoyah Book Award list for middle-school readers. Schooled is the story of Capricorn Anderson. After being raised by his grandmother on a commune, Capricorn attends a public middle school for the first time. Cap experiences what only can be described as massive culture shock. However, he refuses to change himself to fit into middle-school conventions of cool. Instead, he teaches his hippy ways to the students of Claverage (known to students as C-Average) Middle School and has a positive impact in their lives.
Happenstance Found: The First Book of Umber by P.W. Catanese, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis are excellent examples of teen/tween books focusing on unique characters who embrace their individuality.
Several of the books discussed in this column are nominated for 2010 Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Awards. These awards honor books of excellence for children, and middle-school and high-school readers. For more information on the Sequoyah Book Award, visit https://www.oklibs.org/ or speak to a librarian at any Tulsa City-County Library location.
All of the books discussed in this column are available at the Tulsa City-County Library. You can access the library catalog online at http://opac.tulsalibrary.org/.