Stories with Character: A Mom’s Eye View of Children’s Books

Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are a love of reading and a strong sense of self.

In my house, the stories that continue to find their way onto my daughter’s bookshelf use charming characters, wit, and wisdom to teach kids (and remind their parents) to celebrate creativity, embrace individuality, and just roll with the punches. Our favorites? Pete the Cat and Olivia.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes (by Eric Litwin and James Dean) follows the cool and kind Pete as he accidentally steps in large piles of unavoidable messes—a giant pile of blueberries, then strawberries, mud, and a bucket of water—but, as the story goes, “Did Pete cry? Goodness no! He kept on walking along and singing his song.” Pete gives kids permission to misstep, and the confidence to keep moving forward.

Olivia (by Ian Falconer) follows a precocious young pig as she marches boldly into new experiences and challenges clichés (like why everyone suddenly wants to be a princess, in Olivia and the Fairy Princesses). Olivia is limited only by her imagination (and sometimes, her parents’ patience). The author, Ian Falconer, brilliantly incorporates fine art and cultural images into Olivia’s adventures—from a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt, which hangs over her bed, to Olivia imagining herself among the U.S. Supreme Court Justices. The point? Dream big. The subtler point? Story time can cover a lot of ground, so embrace the teachable moments.

When we read with our children, we nurture their literacy skills and their self-esteem. Books like Pete the Cat and Olivia empower kids to be playful, imaginative, active learners. Whether our children “read” these characters as their mirror or their peers, we as parents read the messages that our children need to hear.

Meg Ross is a Business Development Director, writer, and mom.

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