Top 10 picture books on purpose, passion, and perseverance

Published on: 06 February 2024

Snail in Space author Rachel Bright shares her favourite stories that celebrate resilience. 

Author Rachel Bright and the cover of Snail in SpaceAuthor Rachel Bright and the cover of Snail in Space 

When I was at school, I knew which classes I loved the most. English (specifically when we got to write stories and poems) and Art. Oh… how I held out for double art! When I was in that class, I felt the most me. I didn’t really look further ahead than that. I just liked to draw. And write.

That was ok when I was small, but as I grew… well… the advice began to come thick and fast: ‘Better start getting serious – focus on your career – not hobbies.   

I’m actually grateful for this. Because it strengthened my resolve that this was just something I wanted to do. Something I had to do. It wasn’t a straight line kind of path (straight lines are easier to measure) but boy, was it an interesting one. I followed my pen. And now – here I am – writing stories about it! 

Every child should be made to feel like their vision for their future - even their day - is possible. At least that’s what I’d like my children to believe and all the children I’m lucky enough to write stories for. I wrote Snail in Space to tell this story with a whole heap of silly and funny thrown in, since laughing our way to what we want is even better! Finding our inner Gail is fun! 

It has been a pleasure to be able to choose 10 picture books about purpose, passion, persistence and creating your own story. Any one of them would be an amazing addition to a bookshelf. 

My girls love this book. The story telling is wonderful and perfectly captures how important it can be how we talk to children about their dreams and goals. Rosie has a drive inside that she just naturally follows – taking other peoples trash and turning it into engineering treasures. She wants to help. But when one of her quirky inventions is laughed at by an even quirkier uncle, she thinks she ought to shut up shop on that particular dream. Luckily, an extremely accomplished great aunt is on her way with some mentoring up her sleeve. A tale of embracing ‘failure’ as but a stepping stone to success with utterly wonderful and unique illustrations. 

 Illustration: David Roberts

This is just such a classic tale told with such quirky imagination. So classic it almost always ends up in my top 10 book selections for MOST things! It is a fable and a guide for a life well lived and as much for small ones as grown-ups. It beautifully captures the up-and-down nature of life and how, ultimately, as long as you keep moving on your journey, then you are doing very well indeed! I have gifted this book so many times and we have no less than three copies in our house which have been gifted to me and my girls! 

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson 

Another deceptively simple stroke of genius in picture book form. All about perseverance and believing in your own dreams, no matter what anyone else has to say on the subject (they may be simply projecting their own doubts and fears), this book has so few words but so much power. I wish I’d known it as a child. I revisit it regularly now. 

Today I Will Fly! by Mo Willems 

This is like the Carrot seed but with more shouting and laughs. The wonderful well-known characters of Elephant and Piggie, created by Mo Willems, are debating the likelihood of Piggie flying. I like that it has a whole heap of silly but has the big idea ofthe importance of mindset and keeping on trying in the backgroundas well as talking yourself up along the way. Piggie is the optimist to Elephant’s cynic – but optimism and perseverance are kind of contagious and soon Elephant is trying some dreaming big on for himself. 

Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems 

I love Mo Willems' books so much that I just had to put two of them in here! This is another Elephant and Piggie tale that has you chuckling. Can Piggie, the ultimate find-a-way-arounder, come up with a way for their friend Snake to join in a game of catch? Surely not?! Well... not so! Where there’s a will there’s a way...

Illustration: Mo Willems

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen 

I love that in this story the two friends set out with a simple and focused goal – to dig for something spectacular. Isn’t that what we’re all digging for in life?! They dig and dig and get so tired they take a nap – which is when the (extremely unexpected) magic happens. I won’t put in spoilers, but needless to say this is classic Barnett and Klassen in that you get beauty, humour, quirk and funny all in one, perfectly formed package.  

Harold and The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson 

What if you could create your own adventure line by line? What if you could draw all your dreams out in front of you and then play in the dream? Well, that’s exactly what Harold in the story does. It’s timeless philosophy for being the hero of your own story – rather than supporting cast in someone else’s! It’s also just super fun. 

I’m straying a little from the picture book format here but I believe this is one is such a great story when transitioning from picture books to something a bit longer. Matilda is the poster child for passion and purpose and of course, perseverance. She is not defined by the circumstances she is born into but completely and utterly her own person, finding a way – against all odds – out of that circumstance and into the person she is supposed to be. 

Illustration: Quentin Blake

Ish by Peter H Reynolds 

"And Ramon lived ishfully ever after" – this is the last line of Ish. And gosh, what a beautiful story it is. A bit like Rosie Revere, it shows how some unthinking words from someone whose opinion you hold in esteem, can stop an adventure – an exploration of ideas and talent – in its tracks. Ramon loves to draw, but when his big brother makes fun of his drawing one day, he loses his spark (his inner critic is turned on) and he can’t seem to get it back. Until, that is, he realises he’s been a huge inspiration to someone even smaller than him and then he picks up his pencil again. A tale about howit’s not about perfection, it’s about the joy of creating. A gorgeous story in every way. 

So Few Of Me by Peter H Reynolds 

I love this author/illustrator so much I chose another one of his books (there were many more I could have included). Thkernel at the heart of this brilliant book is about ‘less is more’, and sometimes allowing yourself to play and dream and create (a purpose in itself) is really where the sweet spot of life is – the joy. When we become overburdened by ‘getting things done’ we sometimes miss the ONE THING we’d like to get done most. To spend as much time as possible doing the things we love with the people we love (which might include ourselves!). Poetry in picture book form. 

Snail in Spaceby Rachel Bright and illustrated by Nadia Shireen, is out now.  

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