• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


From Grade School to Grad School: Kid Lit is for Keeps

Lessons graduate students need to learn from some great Kids' Lit books.

April 14, 2019

Regina Sierra Carter earned her Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently serves as a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Virginia.​

Once upon a time…

I bet you thought I was going to tell a story. Didn’t you?


I am not going to tell a story. Instead, I am going to tell you about several stories. It is my sincere hope that this post will help someone, somewhere who is considering, just entering into, or is well into graduate school who may mistakenly believe that they have dared to dream too big or that graduate school is not for them.

You have not dared to dream too big and graduate school is for you.

This post highlights several grade-school books with simple yet profound messages that may serve scholars—no matter which grad program or school they are enrolled in—well. For example, Watty Piper’s The Little Engine that Could is a poignant reminder that perseverance (and patience) pays off, especially in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. That said, I am not feeling very nostalgic right now so don’t expect this post to highlight children’s literature staples that were popping when you and I were tots. That would be boring. Plus, it would not provide you with an incentive to tap into your inner child and explore new children’s literature titles.


Taking a trip down memory lane would be too easy. You would breeze through this article—if you have not already completely blown it off—since it’s about children’s literature. How could it possibly have any relevance to you and your life. That’s absurd right?

Nope again.

This post is aimed at encouraging you [grad school superstar] to take a breather and a break from “dense, scholarly texts” by diving brain first into a children’s book with the hopes that you will re-emerge recharged.

Are you up for the challenge? If so, I sincerely hope that these recommended reads will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next set of challenges (‘cause they are coming) with a fresh pair of eyes and the will power to push the envelope within (and even beyond) your respective discipline(s).

#1: Karen Beaumont’s I Like Myself.

Say it with me “I like myself.” Say it like you mean it, “I like myself!” See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Yet, unfortunately...sometimes it is. Graduate school can work on number on one’s self-image and feelings of self-worth. The protagonist in this story is nameless, which means they could be anyone—including you.

Beaumont begins her book simply enough, with the words “I like myself.” She does not give any explanation for why the protagonist adores their body, skin, clothes, etc. As graduate students, we may battle imposter syndrome, wrestle with feelings of inferiority, and wonder if we are enough. Beaumont reminds us that we are. Illustrator David Catrow skillfully reinforces Beaumont’s message through his wild, wacky watercolor illustrations. I Like Myself is a song of total self-appreciation and acceptance, which is something we could all use as graduate students.

#2: Lysa TerKeurst’s It Will Be Okay

Do you ever wonder if things will work out? Have constant changes left you feeling exhausted, overstretched and stressed? If so, you are not alone. Lysa TerKeurst’s It Will Be Okay is a story about comfort, unlikely friendships, and change. (Full disclosure: This is a Christian book that encourages young readers to trust God through fear and change.) It opens with the Little Seed and Little Fox, the main characters, feeling pretty carefree and confident. After all, they are in their elements—Little Seed lives in a “dusty shed, on a rickety shelf, hidden in a cozy packet,” and Little Fox resides nearby in the woods in a “comfy den.”

Then a storm strikes. Little Fox seeks safety in Little Seed’s warm shed, yet Little Seed is not feeling too hospitable. As time progresses, an unlikely friendship forms between the small Little Seed and the frightened Little Fox. The two get pretty close until Little Seed is plucked from his comfy seed pack and pressed into the dark, dusty, dirty ground. Little Seed freaks out! Can Little Fox rescue his friend or is it the end? Terkeurst takes readers on an unexpected journey of suspenseful unease with the unlikely reassurance that everything will be okay. Yet will it? There’s only one way to find out...

#3: Mo Willems’ Waiting is Not Easy

Are you waiting on word from a fellowship? On your writing group to fork over their feedback? On a faculty member to read your qualifying exam or commit to serving on your committee? On your advisor to finally respond to that email you sent over a week ago?  What’s up with all this waiting?! Gerald the elephant knows a heck of a lot about waiting. Piggie, his friend, has promised him a surprise. Yet there is a catch...he must wait for it. Mo Willems’ Waiting Is Not Easy is a wondrously funny story about the difficult process of waiting and how (if left unchecked) it can wreak havoc on one’s psyche.

#4: Derrick Barnes’s Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Calm. Cool. Collected. Confident. That’s exactly what Derrick Barnes cleverly captures in his children’s book, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Barnes conjures up images of little black and brown boys visiting barbershops across North America. As soon as the pint-sized kings are seated in the barber’s chair, they are draped in capes like royalty while their tresses are magically transformed on the spot.

A new doo = a new you.

Barnes predicts that a fresh cut has the power to bend the arc of the Universe in one’s favor....from acing an exam to being fiercely fly in all the school girls’ eyes. If a fresh cut can catapult a young man from being ordinary to becoming extraordinary, what can proactively engaging in self-care can do for you? Self-care is critical. Gradhackers have written extensively on topics related to mental health, overall well-being, work-life balance, and being kind to and treating oneself. Go treat yourself by snagging a copy of Barne’s book Crown.

Pursuing a graduate degree does not simply require smarts. Patience, pacing, persistence, and pampering (ahem…self-care) are absolute necessities.

Please understand that I am not trying to sidetrack you from your studies by recommending that you connect with children’s literature. Instead, my hope is that by taking a brief break from “the literature” you will have an opportunity to reset. That your belief in yourself as well as your abilities will be rekindled and restored making you virtually unstoppable.

What is the name of your favorite children’s book and why? Please share your recommended read in the comments section.

[Image by Flickr user Pratham Books and used under a Creative Commons License.]


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top