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Uplifting Picture Books for Young Readers Going Through a Hard Time 📖

by Pam Martin

Given the devastating impacts of the recent Marshall and Middle Fork Fires, we’re focusing this month’s book recommendations on themes of resilience. For those of you who’ve been displaced, who’ve lost cherished possessions and experienced breaks to established routines, the following picture books offer sparks of hope—the hope that springs from the warmth of friendship, for example, or from the act of persistence, from rising up after defeat, and in the healing embrace of the out-of-doors.

Amos McGee Misses the Bus by Philip C. Stead, with illustrations by Erin E. Stead, is a heartwarming sequel to the cherished Caldecott Medal winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Ten years after the original book was released, young readers are reunited with the same lovable cast of characters in a tale that illustrates how kind deeds have a way of multiplying life’s blessings.

When the eternally kind Amos McGee takes an impromptu nap at the breakfast table, he later misses the bus, which puts an end to his plans for taking his friends at the zoo on an outing. After a long walk to work, he’s once again overcome by sleep, and tortoise, penguin, elephant, and others step in, taking care of Amos’s chores, which means (hurrah!) the trip to the beach can happen after all. The small mouse and bird from the first book return, offering their own quiet sup-plot that celebrates how an act of kindness can sometimes lead to fun possibilities for all.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is about a “regular girl” (and her dog, Max), who sets out to create something astounding. But after much planning, hammering, and tinkering, the thing is not so magnificent after all. In fact, it’s not even “kind-of-sort-of okay.” She tries again. And again. But it’s still... bleh. She feels defeated and angry, so Max suggests a walk, and the fresh air and change of scene help our young protagonist see her invention from a new perspective.

Each of the “failures,” it turns out, offers something useful in the magnificent thing’s final version—a sidecar for Max—which she attaches to her scooter, and the two zip away, a fitting conclusion to a story about not giving up, and about how creativity often has a way of finding its own path.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom is a story inspired by recent Indigenous-led movements aimed at protecting North America’s precious water supplies. The story is both a poetic rallying cry and a celebration of Indigenous culture, and Michaela Goade became the first Indigenous person to win the Caldecott Medal in that honor’s 83-year history for her vibrant illustrations.

The story speaks to North American tribes’ resilience in the face of a long history of oppression, as can be felt in the repeating, rhythmic refrain: We stand With our songs And our drums.

We are still here. Because water affects and connects us all, writes the author in the book’s after- ward, “It’s time we all became stewards of our planet.”

A lyrical tribute to Black American triumphs, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, with illustrations by Caldecott medalist Kadir Nelson, is also about standing tall through years of tribulations. The story references Jesse Owens, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks, in language that speaks to their ground-breaking achievements, as the author likewise honors the accomplishments of individuals who are currently thriving/enduring/accomplishing in the present.

The book began its life as a poem Alexander wrote when his daughter was born. According to the afterward, he was inspired, in part, by a Maya Angelou quote about how sometimes a particular defeat might be necessary in order to “know who we are—so that we can see, oh, that happened,” the quote continued, “I did get knocked down in front of the whole world, and I rose.” It’s in the rising afterward that matters, according to the author.

Outside In by Deborah Underwood, with illustrations by Cindy Derby, reminds us that we’re all part of a much wider universe, a lesson that’s re-affirmed every time we step into the vastness of the out-of-doors.

The story’s watercolor illustrations are the star here, providing a lush and colorful counterpoint to the more muted tones depicted in its pages of indoor activities. Even in winter, when Underwood claims “we forget outside is there,” the illustrations point to the brightness of the birds snuggled deep in the tree boughs. Outside nourishes us, young readers learn, as sun, rain, and seeds become warm bread. But more importantly, perhaps, Underwood tells us that outside feeds our need to connect with its quiet stillness, and with the continual re-discovery expressed in its vivid and limitless life.

Pam Martin is the book specialist at Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe in Boulder. For more information, please visit

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