In these instances, we let him make his own choices, but we also gently remind him that he needs to be true to himself. What Sprout wants is a theme we return to again and again -- as in, is this what Best Friend of the Moment likes, or what Sprout likes? Sometimes he clings to the choice he's made, but sometimes he does rethink and select something we know is more "him". It's an ongoing discussion, and we know it's by no means going to reduce, quite the opposite. But we feel it's important to reinforce that his own identity is pretty awesome.
Naturally books that we share together are a great way to stress this idea with Sprout. One in particular that we recently checked out, Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, presents a character who's very confident and comfortable in her own skin, even after she has some brief doubts. Suki's determined to wear her favorite outfit on the first day of school. The outfit just happens to be her kimono, which her grandmother gave her on a very special outing over the summer. The outfit brings back warm memories of a wonderful day with someone she loves. Her sisters caution Suki that other kids will tease her, but Suki's unconcerned, even when her friend Penny tells her she's dressed funny ("I'm not dressed funny," Suki replies). She even shares about her kimono in front of the class, and does a little dance like the festival dancers she saw with her grandmother. But then Suki feels a little awkward -- will the other kids laugh, like her sisters warned her?
Delicate illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch are the perfect accompaniment to this tale (we've loved his previous work, especially Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake). The scenes where Suki and her grandmother attend the street festival draw young readers right into the moment, as you can just about hear the beat of the drums and smell the delicious treats too. Most of all, I love Suki's confidence throughout the story. Uegaki could easily have written Suki as embarrassed or slinking off to change her clothes at some point during the day. But she didn't. Instead Uegaki gave Suki the determination to share one of her favorite memories through the clothes she wears. Even when she is faced by a silent classroom after she dances for them, Suki's never willing to hide who she is -- and fortunately, the class all applauds her performance for the wonderful experience it was.
If we want our kids to be themselves, we need to surround them with examples of confidence and self-assurance to inspire them. Suki's Kimono is a terrific instance where a character believes in herself, even when others aren't so sure. And that's exactly who I want Sprout to be, no matter what comes his way.
Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, published by Kids Can Press
Sample: "But Suki shook her head. She didn't care for new. She didn't care for cool. She wanted to wear her favorite thing. And her favorite thing was her kimono."
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