It’s been said that if you want to write a book too difficult for grown-ups, then write it for children. Indeed, children possess a kind of supernatural intelligence that we lose as the years go on. We’re hardened by experience, stiffened by logic, closed by our actualization of fear. We find explanations for why things are as they are, and we lose our wonder. We think our bodies do all the growing they need, and so our minds can stop too. Sometimes it takes the simplicity of a story meant for little ones to remind us what’s really important, or to open our eyes to what we forgot we already knew to be true. Here, 15 of the most subtly profound children’s books, and the lessons every adult can learn from them. And if you’re craving yet more, here’s a list of the best baby books for modern moms and dads.
Most of us don’t remember the first time we bottled up our emotions, the first moment the metaphorical wall went up, but it was usually when we were little. The adults that realized the magic of childhood, who encouraged us and gave us love and light and life, sometimes didn’t stick around. That’s the first time we learn that love sometimes goes away. We start to think placing our hearts behind walls will keep them safe from this, but eventually, we realize that bottling them up where no one can reach them only ensures that we never have love at all. We have a choice: we can hide or we can find someone else who sees our magic, and decide to give love to ourselves. Sometimes what we lose is nothing in comparison to what we gain in replacement of it, it’s only a matter of whether or not we have the courage to keep seeking.
In this book, a little circle-shaped animal creature sets out on a journey to find it’s missing piece – a wedge that’s missing from making it fully whole. It sings and plays and enjoys the scenery, and eventually stumbles upon the exact shaped wedge it needs to be complete. At last! But then it realizes, it misses doing the things it used to enjoy while it was searching, like singing and playing outside, enjoying the company of worms and butterflies. It decides that it was happier searching for the missing piece than actually having it. Sometimes, what we find on the journey is more important than where we arrive. Most of the time, the point of the journey of seeking is to discover that we were whole all along.
The love we give to others eventually comes back around to us. Sometimes that’s hard to see, and most of the time, we don’t. This book is the beautiful story of a young mother singing and rocking her baby to sleep, singing the same song to him until he’s a grown up man who moves out on his own, only to return home when his mother is old and frail. He holds and rocks and sings to his mother, just the way she did to him. It’s the story of the love that never leaves us, even when people do. It’s the circle of life, the evolution of true love. Not the kind you hear of in fairy tales, but the kind the people in your life gave to you without you even realizing.
The ways a story isn’t perfect are what makes it a story. The way we’re imperfect is what makes us who we are. “Perfect” isn’t anything but an idea, one that we make up in our heads, one that we strive for when we don’t realize that the joy of searching is more important than being found.
This book is a fable about the core creative spirit in us all, and a lesson that sometimes the most profound journeys have the most unsuspecting beginnings. Vashti finds herself in art class, frustrated and paralyzed, as the teacher instructed to create something that expresses herself, yet she can’t! She’s not an artist! So she just jabs at the paper to make an angry, ugly dot. Her teacher says: “Perfect. Start with that mark. See where it takes you.” The lesson is that anything is beautiful with the right perspective, and that everyone is creative, if only they let go of their preconceived notions about what that means.
Everything we do is a part of who we are. If we want to understand ourselves, we need not do much more than look around at what we’ve created. When we have a thought, an idea, that seems a little too big, a little too different, a little too strange, and yet, we’re only insecure about it because it’s like nothing that we’ve ever heard before, and it’s such a part of who we are, we need not do anything but let it grow as we do. The more confident we become, the bigger our ideas will grow. Sometimes, all we have to do is give them space. Oftentimes, all we have to do is realize that we’re never at a lack for ideas, or creativity, or hope, or joy… but we often need to give ourselves a little space too.
What if everybody broke the little rule you broke today, even though nobody else knew, and even though one person doing so doesn’t make a difference? What if everybody dropped a soda can like you did today, or splashed too much at the pool? The point is that the little things are the pieces of any one big thing. We must change the parts if we desire a different whole. This is a book that makes a call for personal ethics in a remarkably simple, cute way, leaving kids – and grown ups too – wondering: what are the consequences of thoughtless behavior? And maybe more importantly, what would be the result of the opposite? If everybody was kind, and if everybody took it upon themselves to be helpful, or heal… what kind of world would we be living in then?
Sam and Dave have a dream – to find something spectacular. So they dig and keep digging and keep digging some more, but don’t find anything. At the end of the day, they didn’t achieve what they set out to… yet they had a pretty great day anyway. Sometimes, when you’re seeking the extraordinary, it’s not about what you find, but what you do on the journey to it, that matters. Sometimes it’s not about what you do, but who you’re with. And most of the time, it doesn’t matter where you end up, but how you learn to travel along the journey.
If the world were a village of 100 people, 22 would speak a Chinese dialect. 17 could not read or write. 32 are Christian. 50 don’t have a reliable source of food, and are left hungry for a portion of their lives. Seven have computers. 93 don’t.
It’s hard to imagine the reality of the world, when all we see and hear outside our tiny circles are soundbites, reports and articles that spew out numbers we can’t quite grasp. But we can imagine 100 people. And we can imagine what it means for half of them to be hungry all the time. This classic book is a lesson is privilege, gratitude, awareness, and humbling reality. After all, we must understand the world we live in if we want any hope of changing it.
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it’s stupid.” This book is a beautiful lesson in remembering that everybody is smart in their own way. Ultimately, it’s not about being good at everything, but finding what it is you were born to do best. Great minds don’t always think alike, and more importantly, it’s often – if not always – impossible to measure what it means to have a great mind anyway.
We heard the words dozens of times growing up: “it’s okay to make a mistake.” But what does that mean in adulthood? We’re often so pressed to sweep our mistakes under the rug that we overlook all the ways they’re crucial, how they serve as portals for discovery, and creativity. In this book, a spill doesn’t ruin a drawing, it becomes the shape of a new, goofy animal. Sometimes mistakes are the way to the things we always wanted, just not a way we thought of going in the first place.
Zero is the only number that’s round. When she looks at herself, she sees a hole right in her center. She’s the only number that doesn’t add up to something… how can she be a number at all? She doesn’t have any value. When it comes to body image – and everybody’s favorite past time, obsessive comparison – it can be hard to think we’re worthwhile when we feel empty inside. When we don’t add up as high as the other numbers naturally do. But when we stay in a mindset of thinking we can only be as good as we’re better than others, we miss out on all the things that we uniquely can do. Learning to find your own value is seeing what you’re made for, even if nobody else is, and realizing that’s what makes you remarkable.
In this book, a child is swept away following a feather, into a magical, fantastical world in which he can see the grain that makes a cake and the rain that makes the ocean. This gorgeous inquiry into our evolution begs the question: “What will you remember?” Does the feather remember being a bird? Does the book remember being a word? Will I remember being a child? If so, what parts will I know? It’s a glance into the heavy unknownness of our impermanence, done with the whimsical grace only a child (and a beautiful illustrator) could create.
In this book, a lonely, invisible bird believes that dressing himself in obnoxious feathers and flowers will make him beautiful, and outstanding, so he can find friends and love. His plan works, until he attracts the attention of everyone – even a fox! – and has to run to safety, losing all his dressings in the process. Without his adornments, he’s lonely and invisible again, and learns that it’s not how we appear that earns us friends, but how we love, and focus, on people other than ourselves.
This book of timeless, classic poetry includes one of the most profound and simple messages in an age of identity loss: “Masks.” It is the story of a girl with blue skin who hid behind an orange mask, in an effort to get other orange-skinned people to like her. At the same time, a boy with blue skin does the same. They pass each other by, and the entire time, never realize that what they’re looking for is right in front of them. It is a lesson in being oneself, but more importantly, it’s about the love that we miss when we fail to be who we are.