10 Picture Books that Teach Grit

As a parent of a preschooler, I read a lot about the importance of grit.

I am often told that it is the "key ingredient" to my kid's success. When I let her fail, I am giving her the greatest gift I can give. After a generation of "helicopter parenting" as the model, I am now being encouraged to let my child fail so she knows how to get back up.

Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania defines grit as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.”

For a child, this means learning to take the long view and understanding that collapsing after failure does not lead to success. In her TED talk on the same subject, Duckworth argues that grit is just as important as smarts when it comes to success in the classroom. And reading stories and books can be a great way to encourage your kids to develop grit.

These books introduce children to characters who demonstrate perseverance, who rebound after the first try doesn't work, and who try again instead of collapsing at the thought of failing.

1. Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss

As my daughter and I read this book, I realized that it’s truly about the importance of staying determined. The reader is told that she is will fall on her journey, and the book directly challenges her to get back up. Understanding that failure is inevitable is a key to cultivating resilience. With rhymes and illustrations, Dr. Seuss teaches readers that what really matters is how you respond to those failures.

2. The Hugging Tree: A Story About Resilience by Jill Neimark

Though the book’s tree is alone on a cliff, it figures out how to work through challenges and stand tall. Using the tree's struggle as a metaphor for maintaining one's solid foundation even through difficulty, this book illustrates resoluteness for the reader — and includes a note for parents at the end by an education professor who offers tips on teaching grit.

3. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

Celebrating 30 years in print, this Caldecott Honor book tells the story of a family recovering after they lose their home to a fire. By saving money and working together, the child, mother, and grandmother find ways to reassemble their household.

4. Sheila Rae, the Brave by Kevin Henkes

This story is all about facing fears. Sheila Rae isn’t afraid of anything and she wants those around her to know that. But one day, that bravado puts her in a tricky situation, and she finds herself relying on others for help. My daughter adores the mouse illustrations in Henkes's work.

5. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum loves her name but is devastated when her classmates use it to tease her. She learns to cope with the name-calling and approaches her identity in ways that overcome the mocking she endures. She is able to get back to a place where she loves her name that uses "half the alphabet."

6. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

When kids are young, having a unique name can become fodder for teasing. How does a child learn to be resilient in the face of taunts that stem from the most basic element of her identity? Afraid of what others may say about her Korean name, Unhei tries to change her identity — until she realizes that her name is not something to hide from. Instead it’s something to be celebrated.

7. The Short Tree and the Bird That Could Not Sing by Dennis Foon

Neither of the main characters in this book fits the standard ideal of their world — the tree in the book doesn’t tower over all, and the bird cannot belt out a beautiful tune. Together, the two find ways to bounce back from feeling less-than.

8. The Name of the Tree: A Bantu Tale Retold by Celia Barker Lottridge

This group of animals needs to find food, and their only option is the fruit of a tree with branches that are too high for them to reach! They must work together and persevere as they explore ways to get the food they need. This one is fun to read aloud thanks to its repetition.

9. The Empty Pot by Demi

The emperor calls on all the children of the kingdom to grow the most beautiful flowers they can. Ping wants to impress him, but even though he cares for his seed every day, nothing grows. Ping must face the emperor, embarrassed by his “failure.” Ultimately, he is rewarded when his persistence and tenacity are recognized more than his lack of production.

10. Princesses Are Not Perfect by Kate Lum

"Perfection" and "princess" often go hand in hand, which is why I struggle so much with the idea of presenting my daughter with princess images. But she loves them. So why not offer her this book, which shows her that even princesses fail and need each other sometimes?

Reaching IN … Reaching OUT offers many more suggestions for parents on how to support a child as she develops grit.

Happy reading!

Looking for more books that will teach your child important lessons? Check out our articles 7 Picture Books that Illustrate the Complexity of Diversity and 14 Picture Books that Counteract Gender Stereotypes.