Empowering Picture Books for Children (and the Grown-Ups Who Love Them)

by Katy Tessman, New School Services Project Manager and Makerspace Specialist at Mackin

When I was growing up, I was the only person I knew who spelled their name “Katy” with a Y. Often times, people squeezed in an H and called me “Kathy” — this usually happened at the dentist’s office, where I only visited twice a year. Soon after I started kindergarten, I had my fifth birthday; my Auntie Lois gave me the book Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton. It was a scary time in my life with starting school and the pressure I put on myself to learn how to read. But this book empowered me! Not only was the story about a character who spelled their name the same way I did, but the character was also strong, courageous, and wanted to help people. As a new kindergartener, I identified with this big snowplow and I was motivated to be the best “Kindergartener Katy” I could be. I strive to have these same characteristics today. This book, originally published in 1943 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has been republished over the years in several different formats giving more and more children (some of them named “Katy”) the same feeling of empowerment as I had.

Giving children the opportunity to feel courageous, secure, and confident through picture books is empowering. Ten years ago this October, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and my sons were three and six years old at the time. Uplifting stories became a priority in our household. During the time of my cancer diagnosis, I read Katy and the Big Snow to my sons repeatedly. It became my mission to find stories with characters who overcame fears; stories about hope and peace and love. I became so passionate about this theme, I wrote a book for children about our family’s cancer journey to help others get through a time that can be so dark.

Recently, I have come across four new books for children (and grown-ups) that have a positive message about how to cope during difficult times in life. These books help prepare us for future challenges and “bumps in the road.” Because life can be hard and, no matter your age, there will always be difficult obstacles to overcome. Read the publishers’ book summaries of these four empowering books and be inspired to help children find courage during scary times.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Recommended by parenting blogs, bereavement support groups, hospice centers, foster care and social service agencies, military library services, church groups, and educators, The Invisible String offers a very simple approach to overcoming loneliness, separation, or loss with an imaginative twist that children easily understand and embrace. It delivers a particularly compelling message in today’s uncertain times. This special paperback edition includes vibrant new illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and an introduction from the author. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018)

The Big Book About Being Big by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

Follow three young friends as they figure out that being BIG isn’t measured by years, weight, or inches. It’s being healthy. Being imaginative. Being kind and helpful. It’s being a friend to others, and a friend to the Earth. It’s being the biggest YOU you can be! Every day, in lots of little ways, readers will discover we all have the chance to be BIG! (Little Pickle Press, 2019)


The Don’t Worry Book by Todd Parr

Todd Parr brings his trademark bright colors and bold lines to his new book about things that might make kids worry—from loud noises to a big day at school. With his signature humor and instantly recognizable style, Parr speaks to kids who are feeling the weight of their world, offering solutions and comfort, as well as giggles. (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019)


Love by Matt de la Pena

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Pena and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age. (Putnam Publishing, 2018)