Unwavering Self-Worth Inside and Outside the Box

April 26th, 2007

Odd VelvetSoup du Jour:

Today we look at a “clump” of four books about independent thinkers who, without fanfare or animosity, disregard the judgements of others and are simply happy being who they are.

Ingredients (books discussed):

Jump into Today’s Soup (feedback):

Join the conversation by clicking the Comments link below or sending an email to justonemorebook@gmail.com.

Second Helpings (transcript of podcast):

In a society where the media, schools and, sadly, even parents often expect us to conform to prescribed, Suki's Kimonocookie-cutter ways of being, a common challenge for adults and children alike is to understand and appreciate out-of-the-box thinking or behavior in ourselves and others. With so much emphasis on conforming, being or even befriending a person who is viewed as different can be a scary and isolating experience.It’s not surprising, then, that we sometimes go to great lengths to reject or hide our unique selves — and to avoid those who don’t.

Many children’s books and, to a greater extent, movies attempt to reduce the social stigma against being different through boisterous victory-of-the-underdog themed stories in which the independent thinker saves the day and, to the rousing cheers of once-distant peers, instantly becomes the poster child of popularity. There is no denying that such victories feel great but I believe stories which present quiet appreciation, improved understanding or simply congenial co-existence go further to help children deal with different ways of being.

Before looking at the books, let me explain that I like to read to my two daughters in clumps. That is, I like to read in one sitting several books that are completely parallel in certain ways – offering similar characters, situations, or themes – but are different enough to make the clumped reading interesting. I clump by activity (riding a bike, say), by storyline (several variations on the Frog Prince story, for example) or, as in the case today, by explorations of a similar “type” of character (a girl that is viewed as being “different”). There are many books that deal with differences in, what I believe are, very constructive ways. Today we look at a “clump” of four books about independent thinkers who, without fanfare or animosity, disregard the judgements of others and are simply happy being who they are.

Odd VelvetOdd Velvet (Mary Whitcomb Illustrated by Tara Calahan King; 1998 Chronicle Books) tells the story of a happily independent school girl who has bypassed the consumer mentality of her peers and finds beauty and entertainment in the world around her. What I love about this story is that Violet’s unimposing enjoyment of life remains steadfast throughout: her self esteem easily withstands the taunts of her classmates and she remains true to her nature as she gradually gains the respect of her peers. Violet’s self worth is clearly not tied to her judgment by others.

The Recess Queen The Recess Queen (Alexis O’Neill Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith; 2002 Scholastic Press) relays, in snappy, what is it? Hip hop beat? the story of a school yard bully effortlessly felled by the teeny tiny independently minded Katie Sue, “a kid you might scare with a jump and a boo!”. Here again, the beauty of the story — for me — is in Katie Sue’s unwavering sense of self worth regardless of her noticeably different approach to life and in the fact that she takes in stride both the bullying and her offhanded deflation of the bully.

Suki's Kimono Suki’s Kimono ( Chieri Uegaki Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch; 2003 Kids Can Press) is a refreshing celebration of individuality and joie de vivre. This first-day-of-school story contrasts the uninhibited and happily independent six year old Suki with her self-conscious, stiff and validation-seeking sisters – and their complete embarrassment that their little sister is wearing a kimono to school. Although I think Suki could do without the applause of her classmates, Suki’s sunny self-assurance remains constant throughout and she gains no satisfaction from the fact that her sisters’ preparation and preening brought them nothing but exasperation.
Annie Bizzanni Annie Bizzanni (Frances Halle Illustrated by Fil et Julie; 2006 Bayard Canada Books) introduces us to a creative, multi-tasking and impulsive free-spirit who lives life in large slices which she feels no pressure to complete. Although her friends are obviously amused, inconvenienced and, sometimes, scared by Annie’s quirky behavior what I love about this book is that Annie’s way of being is simply portrayed as being different — not better or worse — than that of her peers, that her friends love her for who she is and that she is very happy being herself.

Although society may expect it, we’re not cookie cutouts and we all fall inside and outside various different boxes. We might as well enjoy ourselves!

Thanks for listening. I’m Andrea Ross from the Just One More Book! Podcast and we’ve been Swimming in Literary Soup.

icon for podpress  Unwavering Self-Worth Inside and Outside the Box [5:58m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download (4437)


  1. Barb says

    This is a wonderful list of books! I want to do whatever I can to help my kids be – and stay – who they truly are and have high self-worth, and it sounds as though reading these books with and to my kids will be very useful in that regard. If you know of more books that fit in this “clump”, I’d love to know about them!

    Thanks for sharing!

    April 26th, 2007 | #

  2. andrea says


    Thanks so much for wading in!

    I agree. Understanding others and accepting them as they really are is such an important — and often overlooked — step towards understanding and staying true to ourselves.

    The Tacky the Penguin series (Helen Lester and Lynn M. Munsinger) and the Rotten Ralph series (Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel) also deal with accepting the off-beat behavior of others — these in a wild, crazy and extremely entertaining way.

    April 26th, 2007 | #

  3. Meg says

    I love the Helen Lester books, too. The Tacky ones are fun, as are the other ones.


    I love the way you group these books together. I also really love the length of the podcast, it’s perfect!



    April 27th, 2007 | #

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  5. andrea says

    Thank you, Megin!

    It’s so challenging to be brief (and to keep the booklist as short) so I’m really glad to hear that you think it works.

    April 27th, 2007 | #

  6. Barb says

    Thanks so much, Andrea. Every single book listed (including the series you posted about in the comments) are on my library list now. :D

    April 27th, 2007 | #

  7. Whitney says

    This is awesome!

    I love the idea of reading to children in clumps and related books- how to translate this into kids hooked on chapter books is a challenge- any ideas?

    April 27th, 2007 | #

  8. andrea says


    Thanks for listening!

    I’m not a good one to ask about chapter books because my fantasy is that I’ll be able to keep my girls excited about picture books until university (afterall, I’m well past university and I never stopped being excited about them)


    April 27th, 2007 | #

  9. MC Milker says

    Great list and something I have been pondering recently!

    April 27th, 2007 | #

  10. slouching mom says

    Ah, we love the Rotten Ralph books at our house.

    April 29th, 2007 | #

  11. The Lazy Organizer says

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’m going to come back for more!

    May 3rd, 2007 | #

  12. Brenda says

    Two more books to think about…Horace and Morris but MOstly Dolores by James Howe. In this book a group of fifth graders discussed why it was okay for a girl to act like a boy but would it be okay for a boy to act like a girl??? Tomboys are accepted but what about boys who are not “all boy”. Really great discussion! Second book…The Worm Family by Tony Johnston. This is a humerous look at being in a family that is different than the neighbors. My question is how you get kids to talk for real – not what they expect us to hear so we can begin to break down barriers.

    May 3rd, 2007 | #

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