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How to nurture kids' natural grit with great books

by Meghan Fitzgerald

At Tinkergarten, we design our program to support kids in building 12 essential skills—including persistence + grit. Why grit? Although grit alone will not level the playing field, the ability to persist in pursuit of long-term goals correlates with success in school, in life, and even in relationships. We just know down to our toes that our little ones will need to persevere as they navigate an ever-changing and increasingly challenging world.

The good news is, humans are born pretty darn persistent. Undaunted, babies keep at it until they roll over, take that first step, and overcome a whole host of challenges to reach a seemingly endless list of milestones. Unfortunately, life has a way of knocking the natural grit out of us—we learn to fear failure and learn to please the adults and others around us, losing that drive to stick with things and welcome the inevitable lumps and bumps to get to our goals. 

So, as parents and educators, it’s our work to nurture that natural grit. And it’s imperative we start early so kids can keep building on it. This Winter at Tinkergarten, our play lessons will help kids develop different aspects of persistence and grit—all while being inspired by the super survival skills of animals. For the adults who join us, we’ll learn together about how to support grit in kids, and even in ourselves.

Our 14 Favorite Books for Nurturing Grit

One way to support persistence and grit is through the books and stories we share with our kids. Compelling narratives that help reinforce their natural persistence and that highlight some of the nuances behind that super skill are incredible resources to lean on. To follow are some of our all-time favorites:

Stick With It

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of grit is simply the ability to stick with something over time. Enjoy these select keep-at-it stories:

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Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty—The Iggy Peck/Rosie Revere team does it again! This time, Sofia notices a problem that impacts not only her family, but her whole community, and she keeps working to help solve it. Inspiring!

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Salt in His Shoes by Delores and Roslyn Jordan—What basketball fan can forget the fruits of Michael Jordan’s persistence? We’ve loved being able to share that story with our kids—a story of a rocky start, dedication to practice, and passion that led to greatness. 

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Brave Irene by William Steig—This “when there’s a will, there’s a way” story of Brave Irene is a great example of sticking with something to surmount obstacles and reach your goal.

Courage to Try

Much of persisting boils down to facing our fears and working up the courage to keep trying. The following stories give kids wonderful models and give us opportunities to talk with kids about fear and how to bravely take it on.

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Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall—Jabari can’t wait to jump off the diving board...just as soon as he can muster up the courage. This appealing story of facing fears speaks to kids and parents alike.

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If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade—This sweet, lilting story helps celebrate the leap it takes to face our fears and test our wings.

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Brave Charlotte by Anu Stonher—Charlotte loves to explore, climb up trees, and roam, much to the chagrin of her elders. But, only Charlotte is bold enough to save the day when courage is needed.

Embracing Failure as Part of the Process

We likely all remember The Little Engine That Could, and we give that book and its “I think I can” mantra three big cheers. That said, we really like the following stories that help kids learn to approach challenges with both confidence and the okay to not make it over the mountain each time they try. Understanding how to “be” with failure, see that failure as an opportunity to learn, and leverage that failure to get where you want to go is a key part of the secret sauce we brew at Tinkergarten.

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The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires—Lou is a brave adventurer...until she has to climb up a tree to join in the fun. This book does a wonderful job of helping kids reflect on how to think flexibly about how we persist in the face of fears.

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The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld—This sweet book reminds kidsand usto bring extra patience when we comfort children, allowing them time to fully experience the feelings that setbacks trigger and being there when they are ready to try again.

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After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat—Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat follows Humpty Dumpty after his famous fall and helps us think through how to get up, put together the pieces, and keep going!

Interests, Passions and Flexible Pathways

A key component of persistence and grit is passion—honing genuine interests over time. If we find our passions and interests, they naturally drive us to persist. It’s also important to stay flexible as we work around obstacles that pop up in our pursuit of passions. The following books show characters who do just that!

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Flight School by Lita Judge—Even though penguin was not built like an eagle that soars effortlessly on the wind, he is passionate about flying and is determined to pursue his dream.

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Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman—Grace loves to act out her favorite stories, but when the class is doing Peter Pan, some classmates tell her she can’t play a “boy part.” Grace’s love for acting and willingness to push ahead are inspiring!

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The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock— Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first and most celebrated abstract artists, followed his passions and special talents, even when the world around him wanted him to act and paint like a “proper artist.” 

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Rainbow Weaver written by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri—Ixchel wants badly to learn and to participate in her family’s weaving tradition, but mom is too busy to teach her. Undaunted, she uses what she has around her, overcoming challenges, and even reusing plastic bags to weave a rainbow. 

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Little Wolf’s First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee—Little Wolf is learning how to howl, but he is finding the joy and wildness of doing it his way.

Books about OUR interests

It’s also wonderful for us to dust off our own passions, big and small, to share with our kids. Whether you love to garden, bake bread, play an instrument, downward dog—whatever it is, build in time for it and talk with kids about your love for it. Go to the library and take out a book or two that is full of pictures of whatever you love, and flip through it under a cozy blanket with your kiddos—you’ll be nurturing grit as you do!

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