Five picture books that celebrate making mistakes and being yourself

Published on: 29 August 2023

Author-illustrator Kim Hillyard shares her favourite books about being true to yourself.

Author-illustrator Kim Hillyard and the cover of Flora and Nora Hunt for TreasureAuthor-illustrator Kim Hillyard and the cover of Flora and Nora Hunt for Treasure

Being a kid is brilliant, a whole universe of newness and possibility! But sometimes it feels like being stuck in a huge washing machine of emotions. A tiny sock whooshed from one side to the other, lost in the bubbles.

Mistakes are an inevitable part of growing up, of life. But it’s hard to feel good about them. What a knock to our confidence and courage they can be.

Of course, when children are very small they couldn’t care less about getting it wrong, toppling over and getting back up, wearing their trousers on their heads and trying to eat the mud kitchen. What a wonder of colour and chaos and uninhibited self-expression those early years are!

But gradually the world creeps in. Self-awareness brings with it the gift of empathy. But as our world expands to include those around us, we start noticing, for better or for worse, our differences. It’s easy as adults to expect children to love their uniqueness as much as we do. But it’s hard to understand why someone finds something easy that you find hard. It’s hard to explain why you feel shy and why, all of a sudden, you don’t want to join in.

Stories and drawing and drama have always lifted me up and kept me afloat. It is my hugest joy and excitement to be able to create picture books with characters that, I hope, make talking about how we feel or how we’d like to feel that bit easier. 

Here are five wonderful picture books for navigating the brilliant, bumpy road of growing up.

Each of these books offers a reassuring perspective for engaging with the world, from embracing your unique artistic flair to accepting that where you are and who you are right now, is always, always enough.

Leila, The Perfect Witch by Flavia Z. Drago

Illustration from Leila, the Perfect WitchIllustration from Leila, the Perfect Witch

Leila is an extraordinary witch who excels at everything, except, she discovers, baking. As she tries and fails to bake the perfect cake for The Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off we see how stifling (and exhausting!) perfectionism can be. I adore the folklore inspired illustrations and particularly love the giant focus this story gives to losing, even when we've worked really hard. How wonderful it is that we are all good at different things!

Ish by Peter H Reynolds

After giving up on his beloved artwork Ramon discovers all his discarded, crumpled drawings stuck to his sister's bedroom wall. A beautiful story about finding your creative voice and how all artistic expression is valid, inspiring and wonderfully unique. I wish the concept of "ish" upon creators everywhere, young and old!

What If, Pig? by Linzie Hunter

Illustration from What If, Pig?Illustration from What If, Pig?

Everyone loves their brilliant pal Pig! So Pig plans a brilliant party. But then the worrying "What Ifs" creep in. A very simple, funny demonstration of how self-doubt and anxiety can overcome us all. How much easier life would be if we could tune in to our "self-talk" and turn the voice inside us saying, "What if I fail?" to one that cheers, "What if I fly!"

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Red is a blue crayon wrapped in a red wrapper. Everyone wants Red to do red things but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot. Is he lazy or just not trying hard enough? Does he need more time? When a new friend asks him to draw an ocean for a boat, his hesitation turns into relief, then realisation, “I’m blue!” A triumphant, simple explanation of how easy it feels to truly be ourselves and how hurtful it can be when those around us expect anything different.

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys

Illustration from The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade
Illustration from The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade

Alfie has practised wearing his Captain Starfish costume at home but the day before The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade he gets “that feeling”. His mum takes him to the aquarium where he finds solace in a tiny clownfish who also needs to hide away sometimes. A tender story that accepts shyness where it is without trying to “fix” it. 

Flora and Nora Hunt for Treasure by Kim Hillyard is out now. 

Topics: Features, Feelings

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