My daughter Amelia is a quirky kid. When we meet new people, she usually introduces herself as a fictional character. One day she's Pinocchio, the next she's Cinderella, or perhaps Dora or Thomas the Train. Amelia picks out her own clothes now, and her outfits often don't match. She wears cowgirl boots with shorts sometimes and loves pink, but occasionally likes to shop in the boys' section (because I need boy clothes when I'm Diego, mama!, she tells me). She greatly enjoys imaginative play and loves to tell elaborate stories.
Most young children are quirky, aren't they? They're fun to have conversations with because they haven't yet learned to filter. Of course, filtering is a good skill to have as we get older. It certainly would be weird if we all walked around saying exactly what was on our mind. I do hope that, as she gets older, Amelia retains some of her quirkiness and all of her creativity. I hope she will have the courage to be the person she wants to be, and will be accepting of others who are different from her. As a mother, how do I ensure that happens? I'm somewhat new at parenting, but I suppose showing unconditional love, encouraging her to follow her interests, and giving her lots of varied experiences is a good start. We've begun to talk about differences among people, and this theme comes up often in children's literature.
Here are a few of my favorite picture books that place a positive spin on being different.
The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, is one of Amelia's favorite books. The pictures are vibrant, sometimes comical, and the text includes some fun repetition. The story begins with the introduction of the main character, Mr. Plumbean, who lives on a neat street where all of the houses look the same. One night a bird comes along and leaves a big orange splot on the roof of his house, and instead of covering it up he uses it for inspiration to create a house that "looks like all his dreams". At first his neighbors think he is crazy, but one by one they also create houses that represent themselves.
An interesting note about the author: He was recently named #2 on a list of 'the weirdest children's book authors of all time'.
In A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon, Camilla Cream is very worried about what others think of her. She secretly loves lima beans, but won't eat them because it seems like all the other children don't like them. Camilla develops "a bad case of stripes", and her appearance changes based on other people's suggestions. She is finally cured with a big helping of lima beans, when she is able to stop caring about what others think of her.
The artwork in this book is excellent, but it might be a little scary for preschool students. I have not yet read it with my daughter, but it was a hit with a group of third-graders I taught previously.
Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon, is a bit of an ugly duckling friendship story (but better than The Ugly Duckling...really!). In this book, Stellaluna, a baby fruit bat, gets separated from her mother. She finds her way into a bird's nest, where she is taken care of by the mother bird. The mama insists that Stellaluna act like a bird, so she learns to eat insects and sleep at night. However, Stellaluna never really feels at home. When Stellaluna finally reunites with her mother and realizes what kind of animal she is, she's relieved to be able to follow her instincts and act like a bat. Stellaluna does continue her friendship with the birds, though. The book includes some great dialogue between them as they discuss their shared traits and differences.
"How can we be so different and feel so much alike?" one asks. "And how can we feel so different and be so much alike?" asks another. "I agree," Stellaluna responds. "But we're friends. And that's a fact."
It's an all-around beautiful story, and even contains a nonfiction section about fruit bats at the end of the book.