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Books to Empower Kids' Self-Reliance 💪🏼

Whether your kids are poised to take their first steps in the wider world, or just looking to brush up on some adulting skills, these books may give them just the tools they need.

by Pam Martin

This time of year, many of us are considering how to tackle those areas that have gotten out of hand in recent months, like our closets, or screen time, or self-care routines. In addition to our bursting in-boxes, there may be whole skill sets we want to improve in order to step more fully into our lives with greater confidence.

This is particularly important for kids getting ready to leave home for the first time. It’s for them that owner of Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe, Lynne Milot, makes buying choices with the goal of turning out the next crop of “cultural creatives”—kids who’ll eventually become society’s next change agents. Nurturing them requires plenty of unstructured time, according to Milot, as well as exposure to books, games and toys that inspire big thoughts, creativity and open-ended role play.

The following books may help ease the process toward adulthood:

How to Be a Person by Catherine Newman tackles a laundry list of tools youngsters can take with them into the wider world (including laundry itself). Newman’s advice includes some basic rules of etiquette (such as how to write a thank you note, with helpful prompts). And college-worthy survival skills teach readers how to tie a necktie, how to save money (and spend it wisely), and for the cook on a budget, how to turn a 33-cent package of ramen into dinner (just add a beaten egg, some veggies, and several cubes of tofu).

For any child looking to learn their way around the kitchen, Grandrabbit’s offers a host of resources, including Williams Sonoma’s The Healthy Junior Chef Cookbook. Inside are more than 70 recipes to tempt most taste buds (young and old(er)), and helpful techniques such as a handy knife skills reference page. Hungry readers will find a smorgasbord of enticing breakfast, snack, entrée, and dessert recipes, including sophisticated (but still simple-to-prepare) açaí smoothie bowls, and a pesto drizzled vegetable-pasta soup. Recipes range from the more basic (think pumpkin bread, smoothies, and muffins) to the more advanced, such as a gooey-cheesy zucchini lasagna, which requires both a Béchamel and a Bolognese sauce. To finish the meal, there’s plenty of kid-friendly desserts, from fruit roll-ups to a refreshing kiwi sorbet.

In The Art of Showing Up, author Rachel Wilkerson Miller outlines another recipe of sorts—one for creating strong and meaningful bonds with family members and friends. In today’s world, or what Miller describes as the Age of Flakiness, showing up doesn’t simply happen by itself. Showing up requires effort. “Becoming masterful at creating support networks is often hit or miss,” Milot said. “It’s an intentionally developed skill, and while adolescence emerging into adulthood can pose a jungle full of obstacles, filled with fear and trepidation—this book can be a map to help them find their way.”

Last but certainly not least, The Girls Garage is a book inspired by a 3,600-square-foot workshop space in Berkeley, California with the same name—a place where teens and tweens come together to weld, frame walls, pick locks, and otherwise build stuff. Founded by the author Emily Pilloton, the book is a warehouse of information that provides context and useful vocabulary for the detailed lessons inside. When asked, “Why a ‘girls’ garage and not a ‘boys’ [or simply a ‘kids’] garage?” Pilloton notes in the introduction that building “is a powerful experience for all people…[but] access to certain spaces has been historically limited for women.” As a result, she urges girls and women to create these spaces for themselves. It’s with them in mind that she’s put together this cornucopia of valuable life skills, such as how to fix a toilet, patch a hole in the wall, and jump start a car. Women who work as designers, builders, and engineers are showcased in mini, one-page autobiographies throughout the book whose lives share common themes. They started out knowing very little, and with little more than curiosity and determination, eventually grew to become experts in their fields. For Miriam Gee, for example, a pedestrian bridge in Asheville, North Carolina, is the building project she feels most proud of as it represents the work of dozens of artists, designers, volunteers, and kids. Gee and Pilloton both hope to encourage girls to pick up a hammer or grab a T-square and start building something new because, chances are, others will want to share in the fun.

Thank you to Grandrabbits Toy Shoppe for providing this list for us.

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