Re-Defining Genius

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein (Maybe)

In honor of Autism Awareness month, April’s book bin is for those who think differently.

Few books encourage kids to disregard our expectations and focus on the unusual things they do spectacularly. After all – that is not the thinking that gets our kids nominated to the honor society and secures a Phi Beta Kappa key. You know – the stuff that proves we’re raising our kids right.

2016 parenting requires doing it all  – empathizing during tantrums, packing organic lunches, instagramming seasonal sensory bins, ‘helping’ with homework and college applications, basically becoming the perfect role model. We beat the clock, transcend expectations, and compete (and win) the game of grades, social media, and making our bodies as small as possible.

We expect ourselves to do it all. We show our kids that this is what our energy is best spent on.

That works for some kids – the ones naturally gifted in all the things that matter in our culture right now.

But what about the rest of us? Are we doomed to fail?

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You’re not failing – you’re winning differently

Some of us are just playing the wrong game. Pinterest exhausts us, we don’t have a nuclear family, we want to sit home and watch 30 Rock re-runs instead of joining the stroller-jogging meetup. Our family portraits don’t look like stock images.

What if we modeled something essential – controversially – what if we did less than the family next door?

What if we showed our kids what it looks like when we’re not great at everything, that life is not a competition to be the best [whatever] in the [wherever].

What if awards didn’t matter? What if we didn’t need the ego-boost of 50 likes and shares? What if we stopped, looking sideways to see how everyone else is doing and started focusing on what makes us different? What if we taught them these differences are not impairments, but gifts?

How would our kids respond to that?

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We’re Different – Not Less

A book bin for those who must create a new path

For Ages 6 months through adulthood

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Red: A Crayon’s Story (Hall)

Rated in The Books for Littles Top #10 of 2015

Ages 3+

Growing up with undiagnosed autism, I’ve never read a book that captures what it’s like to fail repeatedly on ordinary tasks that come naturally to everyone else. Of the thousands of children’s books we’ve read, this is the only book that captures the confusion and pervasive feeling of failure from trying to play a game without knowing all the rules.

Red captures a crayon’s story as it fails to do even the simplest tasks any red crayon should be able to do. When Red finally learns to ignore the paper label and try something different, it realizes that it’s not a failure, it’s not lazy, wrong, or dumb – it’s just different.

I highly recommend this book for every bookshelf – while this story is an amazing way to introduce a complex concept in a simple story for preschoolers, it sparks discussion for growing up LGBQT, on the autism spectrum, ADD/ADHD, sensory impaired, and pretty much everyone. Every child will have invisible strengths and obstacles, and this story is universal.

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I Am Albert Einsein (Meltzer)

Ages 3+

Growing up Albert Einstein was considered dumb. He fixated on compasses, and daydreamed about riding on a beam of light.

Turns out – he wasn’t dumb – his brain just worked differently. As the poster-boy for genius, for alternative thinking, the world we know today wouldn’t be possible without someone whose unusual daydreams and fixations weren’t weaknesses – they were gifts.

 

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The Red Lemon (Staake)

Ages 2.5+

A farmer finds a red lemon in his perfect yellow grove and throws it away with disdain. That red lemon breeds an island of red lemon trees that turn out to be fantastically popular. The Red Lemon illustrates how the same differences that inspire people to reject us can be the same thing that makes us amazing.

Every story we’ve read by Bob Staake has been a huge hit, and The Red Lemon met our high expectations. The stories, rhyme, and images are all simple, cute, and appealing – with enough complexity to make my 3.5 year old feel mega-smart as he catches small details with each subsequent read. Reading them alone, I’d never guess how much my son would adore them, but Staake knows what makes a great kids story much more than I do.

Staake understands that less is better, and kids love him for it.

 
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Zero (Otoshi)

Also great for body image book bins – Ages 3.5+

We loved ‘One,’ Otoshi’s abstract, number-play story about how to handle bullies, and were delighted to find that ‘Zero’ is another complex social story about trying to fit in.

After failing to distort herself in an attempt to have value like the other numbers, she learns that she still counts the way she is – and ends up teaching the rest of the numbers how to work together to create something even more valuable.

 
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All Together Now (Jeram)

Also great for sibling/adoptive family book bins

Ages 6+ months

For the littlest readers, All Together Now is the deeper sequel to the inexplicably more popular Bunny My Honey.

Mommy Bunny has adopted Little Duckling and Miss Mouse in addition to her biological baby bunny. The animals play various games highlighting the strengths of each animal, accepting that not everyone is going to be the best at everything all the time.

Mommy bunny loves each of her littles for their unique qualities – not more, not less – but differently. It’s a beautiful story that works for all families – even biological siblings would need to know they are loved in a unique way, with a parent’s full heart.

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Giraffes Can’t Dance (Andreae & Parker-Rees)

Ages 2.5+

Unlike the rest of the animals, Giraffe is just not built for dancing – he’s just too awkward. Things change when Cricket finds the right tune – and suddenly Giraffe can jam along with the best of them.

This book is popular at my sons’ school, and it fits in the theme of this book bin – but I can’t fully endorse it. I love the concept of finding a way to be great once you’ve got the right tune, but this story makes me cringe a little.

Sometimes we just have to accept that dancing (or whatever) isn’t our calling – so we can put our energy into something that we do truly well. I’m also a big fan of hard work over natural talent. Telling kids we have to wait for our white knight (or musical cricket) to play the right tune so they can be like everyone else strikes the wrong chord for me.

 

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Pooh’s Cleanup  (Cecil & Grey)

Ages 2.5+

All the friends pitch in to help Pooh clean up after his party. Each character plays to his or her strength, showing that even the little, the weak, and the destructive can find a way to help.

Also highly recommended (but hard to find): How Do You Hop So High?  This story investigates the different strengths of each animal and has a sweet ending when Pooh’s friends brainstorm strengths Pooh has when he’s feeling sad. Even if he can’t hop, run, swim or fly, they point out his many unique talents. (Ages 3.5+) It’s volume 1 in the Pooh’s Thinking Spot series about natural science. I love this series for preschoolers and if we home-schooled, I’d design an entire curriculum around them.

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If you enjoyed this post, you can find more Books for Littles Book Bins here.
Join Books for Littles on Facebook  (Facebook group link), where the group is still going strong with other contributors.
Outside link disclosure: All Amazon Associate links in this post are affiliate links. I will use the trillions of dollars ($7 so far!) in profit to fund Big Ideas and Experiments in Do-Goodery.
Join the Awesomesauce Club to find out if they succeed – or fail spectacularly!

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Leave a comment below – tell me about your favorite book that celebrates our differences.

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