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When Making Friends Is Hard – Books For Kids Who Feel Left Out
[Image Description: Interior image from ‘Not Quite Narwhal‘ by Jessie Sima, featuring a small unicorn underwater, wearing an underwater breathing helmet and arm swimmies. His eyebrows are furrowed in concern. Three large, smiling Narwhals and three smiling colorful fish encircle him.]
Getting left-out hurts. In this post, find 10 reassuring types of stories that make kids proud to be who they are.
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At some point – your kid is going to come home crying.
They’re going to get picked on. They won’t fit in.
10 Reassuring Revelations For Kids Who Don’t Fit In
Captioned age ranges are for when my sons were able to understand and enjoy each story. The rest of the images in this post are book covers of titles referenced alongside the images.
1. ‘Different’ does not mean ‘less’
Reminding kids that ‘fitting in’ isn’t the goal – we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We don’t have to all match and do things the same way. We don’t have to contort ourselves into traditional roles. Being ourselves, being different – it’s not worse, it’s just different.
2. It’s okay to be afraid of sticking out
It’s dangerous to stick out in a community – humans are social animals, and we’re not particularly kind to outsiders. These stories validate anxious feelings about being different and show kids that contorting ourselves to fit in can cause more trouble than it’s worth. It’s healthier to accept ourselves the way we are and focus on more important things.
3. Being the first takes courage
When we’re the first to break out of the pack, we’re going to get questioned, picked on, and bullied. We can make it easier on our kids by explaining why difference makes humans feel uncomfortable, showing them that people like them have done this before, and arming them with what they need to resolve conflicts and stay brave.
When he found an awesome Batman dress at the store, we were able to discuss the risks and negative comments he’d get at school. He could make an educated decision.
Armed with this knowledge, he insisted he should get this dress because, “If I wear a dress to school, then the other boys who want to wear dresses will know it’s okay.” (This dude knows how to push my proud-mom buttons.)
4. Haters gonna hate
Bullies happen. It doens’t matter what’s it is, whether being different is a choice or our immutable identity, insecure jerkwads are going to pick on us. By showing our kids confident stories of people who manage to get through bullying with confidence, they can feel less alone.
Spaghetti In A Hot Dog Bun raises issues of self-doubt, and then ultimately self-acceptance when faced with a bully.
Molly Lou Melon gives no shits about what her bully thinks of her. She’s too busy being a boss.
Amelia Bedelia (who clearly codes as autistic) is constantly picked on in the early books for misunderstanding figurative language. Doesn’t matter, because she’s freaking amazing at baking, and fine with who she is.
5. Lovers gonna hate, too
We usually don’t realize that we’re hating on our own kids, but it turns out that the people who can be most critical and the least accepting of our differences are the people who love us the most. This is a thing, particularly for children of color with unintentionally white supremacist parents, disabled kids with ignorantly ableist parents, and of course LGBTQ+ kids living in transphobic and homophobic families.
Not all of these stories end in acceptance, but that’s reality. The point of these books is to validate that frustration of being shamed and ridiculed for being different. They show kids that they’re not alone.
- In Katie Loves The Kittens, Katie is shamed and ostracized for the excited way she shows love. She eventually changes her behavior to conform.
- The Umbrella Queen insists on creating unique art that inspires her, to the consternation of her family and village, until she wins a contest and suddenly they’re okay with it.
- In Ada Twist, Scientist, her family wishes she could just like boring normal stuff and stop being so high-maintenance. They eventually come around.
- In One Word From Sophia, her family ignores her logical, eloquent reasoning to insist she simplify her speech to a simple ‘Please.’ We disagree with the premise of this book, and use it as an example of bad parenting.
- ‘Natsumi‘ is chastised by her family for being too loud, too fast, too much. Only her grandfather is able to see the upsides, and help her channel her intensity into something great.
6. There’s only one way to find your people
We all learn, at some point, that those who reject us aren’t very much fun to hang out with anyway. We can try to contort ourselves to fit in – but it’s going to make us miserable. If we spend our energy trying to pass as normal, we’ll have no energy left to find what makes us awesome.
The only way to find a community that accepts us is to just let our weird out. The louder we get, the more likely our people will find a safe place alongside us.
You kind of owe it to them, actually. Get loud! Your people are searching for you!
7. You can find strength in history
Weirdos have been reviled, detested, and shamed since forever. Read stories of real people who were rejected, over and over, only to rise above and open new possibilities for humanity.
Oh – and don’t think I’m not noticing how white this list is. I’m still searching for books on oddballs of color, but for now, it makes sense that being ‘weird’ and still allowed to function in society is a privilege afforded exclusively to white folks. Let’s change that by fighting for inclusive classrooms, supporting affirmative action, and taking a good hard look at how we view and punish ‘problem’ behavior in kids of color.
8. You don’t have to apologize or justify your existence
We can’t be what we can’t see. If we want to teach our kids to be unapologetically themselves, that they have value and are worthy of respect, safety, and confidence exactly as they are – they need to see more shameless weirdos.
The following girls follow their special interests no matter now many snide comments they get. We’ve had books about boys going on big adventures and pursing their dreams for decades, so today we’re focusing on the ladies.
9. The world needs your flavor of weird
Whether you’re lining up train cars, designing a cure for cancer, or building mud pies, the world needs the innovative ideas that come from out-of-the-box thinkers and doers. No matter how big or small (or non-existent) our impact, the world needs us to do what we do.
We can make a difference, but we won’t know until we’ve tried (for years. And years. Maybe even not in our lifetime.)
10. You deserve unconditional acceptance
This bears repeating – our kids have value and are worthy of respect, safety, and confidence exactly as they are.
We can be extraordinary, ordinary, or just kinda hanging out and picking our noses all day. We still belong here. We are still worthy, still a part of humanity. No matter what we look like. No matter what we do. Unconditionally.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Let Your Weird Out
When classrooms and playgrounds are fraught with uncertainty and confusion – make story time a sanctuary.
It’s okay to go slow. These books are tools to be used slowly. Read one book each month, and give them time to absorb, reflect, and talk about feelings of identity and self-acceptance.
What will you tonight, now that you know these principles of self-acceptance and now have the tools to change the world?