Picture Books that Promote Optimism

When I was a little girl it was the adults’ job to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. I was led to believe that there was always a pot of gold to find at the end of the rainbow. Fast forward thirty years, and the amount of darkness that children are exposed to overflows most of us with disbelief. As teachers we have always celebrated the unique quirks of the children in our classroom, but they need us now, more than ever. Your classroom (virtual or brick and mortar!) may be the only place in their lives that encourages kindness, compassion and hope.

It takes WORK to build character, so let’s get started!

A character trait that I deem most essential to portray and to teach is optimism. This is a vocabulary word that should be included on every classroom word wall!

Specifically students in the upper elementary grades have often outgrown the self-assurance they felt in years past. They are very self conscious of what others are doing and often doubt their own abilities. They look to others for reassurance and lack the ability to believe in themselves. Believing in yourself and staying optimistic when something doesn’t come easily for you is truly a trait that everyone needs .

Here is great video to introduce the word optimistic. It includes some questions at the end to spark a class conversation about this character trait vocabulary word:

Once introduced, spend time showing students good examples of other children who have faced adversity and had an optimistic outlook.

Here are some picture books that I recommend for teaching optimism:

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

In this adorable book Ramon loves to draw, it’s what makes him happy. However, that quickly changes when Ramon’s older brother makes a rude remark about his art. Nevertheless, his little sister sees the world differently. She is able to show him that sometimes life isn’t all about “getting things right.” This is a great book to teach optimism because it is all about believing in yourself and staying positive. It teaches kids that it’s important to notice the beauty in your creative mind and not focus on your mistakes.


Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

In this funny story Jeremy’s dad teaches him how to turn your worst enemy into your best friend. Of course, all one has to do is share some Enemy Pie. The first secret to the recipe is spending a whole day with your enemy! This is the perfect book for teaching kids how to stay hopeful even when they are having issues with their friends. Sometimes by showing kindness and empathy towards someone you don’t get along with, can change everything!


Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud

This book makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is my favorite! Not only does it teach kids (and teachers!) how important it is to be kind to others, it even gives us examples for ways we can do so.  The idea of ones “imaginary bucket” helps kids to realize how rewarding it is to express appreciation for those around them. There is also a whole website of bucket filling ideas and resources!


The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti doesn’t consider herself an artist, so when her art teacher asks her to “make a mark and see where it takes you” she stares blankly at her paper. Her teacher is trying to guide her to express her creative self. With hesitation she makes a mark on her paper. This one little dot becomes the beginning of Vashti’s optimistic thoughts and emotions about herself. This book is perfect for teaching positive self talk. It shows how important it is to just try, you never know what will happen!

After teaching students what it means to be optimistic, offer them opportunities to process this new word learning through practice and conversation. To support you in doing so I created a set of digital vocabulary activities all themed around this character trait word!

Download for FREE from my Teachers Pay Teachers Shop!

I hope that you found a book in this list that you can use to teach optimism! Please comment below with other book ideas! This is a perfect place for us to share ideas for read aloud books and activities.

Published by Liz Siracusa (Vocabulicious)

* Elementary Educator * Instructional Literacy Coach * Vocabulary Lover * The history behind Vocabulicious is simple - I love to help students growth their vocabulary, and I want to help YOU make your classroom a word conscious environment. I’m excited to share all of the vocabulary activities I have had success with throughout the years, plus great mentor texts to use for interactive read alouds. I live in Burlington, Vermont and enjoy hiking, biking and running!

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