*This post contains affiliate links.
"I think I can, I think I can."
It's amazing how much power those four little words hold, and how absolutely beautiful they sound coming out of the mouths of babes. Instilling confidence in a child is no easy feat, but through story, we can all help our little ones believe in themselves as they tackle new -- and often challenging -- tasks. Picture books provide such ripe teaching opportunities in safe and engaging ways. Giving children a story in which they can identify themselves and their own personal obstacles is priceless. And sharing books in which protagonists stop at nothing to achieve their goals may just turn your child's "I can't" into an "I can." What more can you ask for?
The list that follows contains our top ten favorite books on perseverance. Well, in full disclosure, it actually contains eleven titles, simply because we had a hard time narrowing it down. Consider this the "Baker's Dozen" ("Baker's Eleven"?!) of Happily Ever Elephants' top ten lists. We hope you love them as much as we do:
The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper: The famous phrase, "I think I can, I think I can," originated from this brilliant book. What a perfect mantra to instill in every child, every person, no matter their age. This classic children's story, first published in 1930, is timeless for a reason. It's perfect. No further explanation needed... but if you want to read our full review of the book, click here!
Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, illus. by David Roberts: Quiet by day, brilliant inventor by night, little Rosie dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her aunt (based on the great Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a goal of flying, Rosie sets out to make her aunt's dream a reality. Though she initially suffers a crash landing, Rosie doesn't give up. As the book so brilliantly explains, you can only truly fail if you quit. Fabulous illustrations and perfect rhyming couplets make this story a read aloud hit, every single time. Make sure to also check out Iggy Peck, Architecht, and pre-order your copy of the third book in this marvelous trio, Ada Twist, Scientist! Read our full review of Rosie Revere, Engineer here!
The Girl and the Bicycle, by Mark Pett: This is a beautiful, wordless picture book, another wonder that reads like a silent movie. In this story, a young girl sees a bicycle in a store window, and she knows she has to have it. So she works hard, picking up odd jobs around her neighborhood, all in the hopes of earning enough money to buy that special bike. But what happens when she finally has the money and the bike is gone? You have to read it to find out.
Bike on, Bear, by Cynthea Liu, illus. by Kristyna Litten: Bear can do many things well-- except for the one thing he desires most of all: he cannot ride a bike. He stops at nothing to help him learn this skill and eventually finds a "how-to" book which he devours. Nothing seems to help though, and when a young goat is suddenly viewed getting carried away by the wind, Bear knows there is only one way he can save the baby animal - by riding a bike. Will he succeed? We love Liu's take on perseverance and the Bear's dedication to learning a new skill. And the beautiful color palette in which the illustrations are rendered makes the story even more special.
Brave Irene, by William Steig: Steig's sweet story from the 1980s is such a wonderful testament to the power of perseverance and the things we do for love. When Irene's mother, a dressmaker, falls ill, she is unable to deliver a dress she made for the duchess before an important ball. So Irene takes it upon herself to deliver this dress, but she must battle the bitter cold, tons of snow and howling winds to get there. She almost gives up- almost. But Irene braves the elements and her perseverance is rewarded greatly.
The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires: In this sweet story, a young girl and her pup try their darnedest to make the most magnificent thing. But as much as they keep trying, they just can't seem to get it right, and their inventions simply don't pass the child's rigorous tests. Though the child gets quite mad and wants to give up after all of her hard work, she eventually steps away from her work, calms herself down after a walk, and then magic happens. I love the realistic manner in which anger is treated here, and how the reader sees how the protagonist works through the anger to get herself back on task and on point. Such a winner!
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafael Lopez: This is a beautiful story of a young girl living in Cuba. It is the epitome of turning a "can't" into a "you better believe I can"! Who says girls can't play drums? We love the protagonist's no holds barred attitude, and her determination to turn her dream into a reality. And aside from the fabulous narrative, the illustrations are simply breathtaking.
The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, illus. by Crockett Johnson: A young boy plants a carrot seed and, despite warnings that the seed will not grow, he tends to it carefully, believing in his heart that it will flourish. I love this story of a child's steadfast conviction, his dedication, and the manner in which he stands his ground, despite the naysayers and opponents whispering in his ear. This book was first published in 1943 and has allegedly never been out of print since. That's the best testament to this quiet and tender story. Such a gem!
Max and Marla, by Alexandra Boiger: A boy and his owl are on a mission to become the next winter Olympic sledding champions! They understand the rules of the game and have taken all the preparations they need to succeed. But when things don't go their way- when they take some unexpected stumbles- they learn that true success might not always be measured by a medal at the end of the contest. We love this sweet and engaging story of practice, perseverance, and, above all, friendship. For our full review of Max and Marla, click here!
Ursa's Light, by Deborah Marcero: How we love the story of Ursa, a bear who dreams big-- and then even bigger! Ursa wants to fly, but her initial attempts at soaring all fail. Bears, after all, don't fly! But when Ursa auditions for a role in a show as a shooting star, her performance might just allow her dreams to take flight. We love this story and its message of always believing in your self, even when others might try to steer you in a different direction.
The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown: What a quietly beautiful story about a boy in a dreary town who discovers a straggling garden while out on a walk one day. He decides to care for it, nurturing it with love and patience and perseverance, even after it is harmed by the elements. This book is stunning both in story and illustration, with themes that transcend perseverance alone and also include creativity, environmental activism, and community improvement. Just gorgeous.
Happy reading! We hope these books get two trunks up in your home, too.