In a world that seems obsessed with chasing perfection, it is refreshing to see messages of self-acceptance and body positivity becoming more mainstream.
One exciting place where these messages are popping up is the world of picture books.
Themes of self-love, bravery and perseverance prevail in the following stories.
“Abigail the Whale” (Owlkids, 2016), by Davide Calì, introduces us to Abigail, a fat little girl who hates swimming at school.
Since she makes a big splash when she jumps into the water, Abigail feels like she is too big and heavy to be a good swimmer. The illustrations by Sonja Bougaeva make Abigail’s feelings clear; her shoulders are slumped, she’s looking down at the ground and the eyes of her smirking classmates glint as they jeer, “Abigail’s a whale!”
Luckily, Abigail’s sadness is short-lived. When the swimming teacher tells her she is a good swimmer, and gives her some advice (“If you want to feel light, think light”). The next time Abigail is in the pool, she thinks sardine, eel, barracuda and shark. She swims so gracefully and has so much fun that she no longer feels afraid to swim her heart out — and even thinks super whale to make a monumental splash as she jumps from the diving board.
Abigail’s story will encourage everyone to don their favorite swimsuit, shed their insecurities and have fun being themselves.
In another summertime story, “Jabari Jumps” (Candlewick, 2017), by Gaia Cornwall, we meet a boy named Jabari who is positive that today is the day that he will jump off the diving board at the pool.
But when Jabari joins the line for the diving board, he starts to get a little nervous. Maybe he will be ready once everyone else gets a turn. Or maybe after he does a few stretches to prepare. And just when Jabari is starting to believe that tomorrow might be a better day for diving after all, his dad gives him a bit of fatherly wisdom: “It’s OK to feel a little scared.”
Knowing that he doesn’t need to be perfectly brave and fear-free, Jabari takes a deep breath and climbs the tall ladder up to the diving board. When he splashes into the water, Jabari’s dad is there to cheer him on. Jabari’s successful splash shows us that all you need to be brave is enough confidence to keep trying.
In “What’s My Superpower?” (Inhabit Media, 2017), by Aviaq Johnston, Nalvana is determined to figure out her superpower.
All around her, Nalvana sees her friends’ superpowers — the kid in her class who can run faster than anyone definitely has super speed; the girl who jumped off the swing and landed really far away could probably end up flying; and the kid who can hold his breath underwater longer than anyone will probably be able to breathe underwater someday.
Nalvana is so happy and proud of her friends, and she cheers all of them on when she realizes how special their talents are. But every time she tries out a superpower, she is unsuccessful.
If she is not super-fast, or a great jumper, or a perfect swimmer, what could her superpower possibly be? Just when Nalvana begins to feel as un-super as can be, her mom decides she knows exactly what Nalvana’s superpower is — she knows how to make other people feel special. Nalvana decides that is the perfect superpower for her to have, showing readers that less-flashy skills are powerful and important.
Everyone, regardless of age, will have moments of insecurity or uncertainty throughout their lives. One way to combat those feelings is to use stories like these to build confidence.
All of these picture books celebrate kids who start out unsure of their abilities to succeed. It just takes time, practice and the support of others for them to realize how capable, confident and special they are.
Share them with any young person who might need a little encouragement to be kinder to themselves.