All the recent news about bullying the the schools has made me think a lot about the role literature can play to help kids with self-esteem issues. There are many wonderful, moving examples of kids’ books where characters learn their own strength, and come to love how special they are.
Particularly poignant are stories about kids with troubled home lives, who overcome daily struggles to find happiness. I think the most powerful examples are those flooded the with humor and joy, making the character’s pain bittersweet rather than depressing. In Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect, a girl learns to celebrate her own gifts, and not to compare herself so much to others. Leslie Connor’s Waiting for Normal shows the power of a positive personality to find light in circumstances many would find impossible dark. These are both joyful books, despite the pain they describe.
And then there is the cartoonish, or fantastical, or metaphorical lesson in self-esteem. A classic is George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square. Lost little cricket, tiny and alone at the Crossroads of the World, manages to make friends and even be a hero. Or how about Jeff Brown and Macky Pamintuan’s Flat Stanley series? Stanley gets flattened to half an inch thick. Does he give up? No! He saves the day in his special, flat way.
Some of the most affecting lessons in self-love come in the form of picture books. An extraordinary recent example of this is Claudine Gueh Yanting’s beautiful My Clearest Me, which shows a very shy child taking flight and freeing himself through poetic imagery and richly colored paintings. And then there’s Shel Silverstein, who contributed so many illustrated poems on the topic of finding strength in what the world perceives to be our weaknesses.
I’m sure that one of the major reasons many of us write for kids is to have an impact on their lives. The impact can be huge, and it can be very positive, and need not be preachy. It can even be fun! Stories have magical potential.