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If you were to ask most parents what their greatest hopes are for their children, I’m sure most of them would say that they hope their children have the courage and determination to follow their dreams. It is certainly at the top of my list for my three little ones at home.
And although we will forever encourage our children to reach for the stars, we also want them to know that simply dreaming isn’t enough. Achieving a goal that you are passionate about also takes hard work, determination, and the willingness to try and fail (sometimes many times) on the way to making that dream a reality. These are things that kiddos need to learn, and books are a beautiful way to introduce them to these lessons.
I have curated a list of my favorite inspiring children’s books that encourage kids to pursue their dreams. All feature characters with unique stories — some based on real-life historical figures and others rooted in fiction. But in every case, there is a lesson to learn and a dreamer to be inspired by.
Me … Jane
On a Beam of Light
The Tree Lady
How to Catch a Star
The Boy Who Loved Math
Giraffes Can’t Dance
Drum Dream Girl
Ada Twist, Scientist
1. Me … Jane | Patrick McDonnell
This illustrated story is about a young Jane Goodall — the world’s most well-known primatologist — who wants to dedicate her life to helping animals. It encourages children to set their sights on a goal and to go after it, unwaveringly.
2. On a Beam of Light | Jennifer Berne
This picture book follows the life of Albert Einstein. It shows that despite how different he was from other children, Einstein didn’t let anything deter him from continuing to wonder and question the world around him.
3. The Tree Lady | H. Joseph Hopkins
The Tree Lady tells the story of innovative trailblazer Kate Sessions (the first woman to graduate from UC Berkeley with a science degree) and her crusade to turn the dry desert of San Diego into a beautiful, green landscape.
4. Dream Big, Princess!
This is a personalized and interactive book that will put little ones right in the story with their favorite Disney Princesses. Children are encouraged to write, draw, and imagine all the things they can be, as they follow the Princesses in pursuit of their greatest dreams.
5. How to Catch a Star | Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers tells the tale of a young boy, a lover of stars, who decides he would like to catch one for himself. He comes up with a variety of plans, and one by one each approach fails. In the end he finds that the plans we have don’t always work out, and that the things we try to achieve sometimes happen in unexpected ways.
6. Ish | Peter H. Reynolds
Ish is about a young boy named Ramon who’s discouraged by his drawings that don’t look real. But he gradually gains confidence in his uniqueness — the “ish” in his drawings. This book shows kids that there is beauty in their unique abilities, and that achieving a dream looks different for each person.
7. Snowflake Bentley | Jacqueline Briggs Martin
This book is based on a true story about Wilson Bentley who loved snow more than anything in the world. Enamored by the fact that no two snowflakes are alike, he dreamed of capturing them on camera for others to see (no easy feat in the late 1800s).
8. The Boy Who Loved Math | Deborah Heiligman
In this tale, Paul Erdos, a boy who is a wiz with numbers, struggles with simple everyday tasks — like buttering his bread. Despite being a little bit different, Erdos blazes his own path to become a brilliant mathematician.
9. Giraffes Can’t Dance | Giles Andreae
A simple children’s story, Giraffes Can’t Dance is about a giraffe named Gerald who just wants to dance. He gets tripped up and the other animals tease him. In the end, Gerald learns that in order to achieve his dreams, he just needs to step outside the box and do his own thing. It’s a wonderful message to follow your heart and not let others get you down on the road to your dream.
10. Drum Dream Girl | Margarita Engle
Drum Dream Girl is inspired by Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl living in 1930s Havana who dreamed of playing the drums, but was told by her father that only boys should play. Millo didn’t give up, practicing until her music could be heard by all. It’s a perfect example for girls, of what it looks like to shatter glass ceilings and to never let anyone stop them from doing what they love.
11. Ada Twist, Scientist | Andrea Beaty
Author Andrea Beaty knows the importance of teaching kids to follow their passions, which is why her three picture books have quickly become beloved by children everywhere. Ada Twist, Scientist is her third, where we meet an endlessly curious scientist named Ada as she embarks on a search to find a very unpleasant smell. Author Beaty’s other great reads include Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect.
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