10 fiction books to help kids develop growth mindset

This post first appeared on Allison Tait’s website. You can find it here

Growth mindset: why we need to see it in children’s fiction

By now I expect you’ve heard of growth mindset. To be honest, I was a sceptic when the topic was first introduced to me: I thought it was just resilience re-branded. And to a certain degree, it is.

However, through my work with children and discussions with teachers and parents over the last decade, I have come to realise how important this mindset is for the future of our children.

We all approach everything with a mindset. Put simply, this is our attitude with which we approach different situations in life. The opposite of growth mindset is fixed mindset.

What is fixed mindset?

A fixed mindset is becoming increasingly common in the younger generations and there are plenty of theories as to why (helicopter parents, snowplough parents, social media).

In the classroom, a fixed mindset rears its ugly head in children across all age groups and ability levels.

There are students in prep, who will refuse to dance, because “I don’t dance.”

Students who “aren’t good at maths,” and therefore refuse to try.

The increased appetite and expectation for instant gratification means that children often just want to find the right answer, regardless of how they come about it. Students are willing to simply correct their answer without question or without discussion. Without learning.

To combat the limiting impact of fixed mindset, we can teach growth mindset.

What is growth mindset?

It gives students the skills to overcome their problems. Growth-mindset gives us confidence and the courage to try, fail and try again. Students learn that challenges are exciting because we are learning and bettering ourselves.  We teach students not to pigeon-hole themselves. We teach them to say ‘yet’.

So what does this have to do with fiction?

As both an author and a teacher, I strongly feel that we can turn toward fiction as a guide for teaching a growth mindset in our children.

The good news is we don’t need to look for a specialised series on growth mindset when we want to introduce this concept to children at home or in the classroom. Many of our favourite children’s books portray characters with growth mindset.

You don’t have to turn far in the fiction world to see characters who encounter a problem, struggle, grow and then overcome their problem. It’s formulaic.

But when children read fiction where the characters make mistakes, or where bad things happen – it’s a reflection of real life. This is where we learn the life skills of grit and determination.

Reading with children and discussing the story is the best way for young children to learn about and manifest these qualities in their own lives.

For older readers, strong characters can make a lasting impression that they can take with them into adulthood.

10 fiction books to help kids develop a growth mindset

I’ve put together a list of children’s fiction books that show characters with a growth mindset. These are characters with a love of learning, curiosity, the ability to learn from their mistakes, and creativity.

Tashi by Anna Fienberg (ill Kim Gamble)

The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins (ill Eric Gurney)

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

Superworm by Julia Donaldson (ill Axel Scheffler)

Koala Lou by Mem Fox (ill Pamela Lofts)

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (ill David Roberts)

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

The Cow Tripped Over The Moon by Tony Wilson

Annabel and Turtle by Tahnee McShane (ill Mary-Ann Orchard)

Why growth mindset in fiction matters

Mem Fox’s character Koala Lou is a great example of growth mindset. Koala Lou is absolutely determined to win the tree climbing event in the Bush Olympics. She practices her skills daily and enters the games. Of course, Koala Lou is devastated when she doesn’t win the tree climbing event.

This is reflective of real life. We don’t always win everything even when we try our best.

And I think it’s a message that’s necessary in today’s culture. Being proud of growth, whilst also understanding that failure is more than okay – it’s necessary for growth.

Using strong characters who display growth mindset as role models for children will help them to develop skills in resilience, and an appreciation for lifelong learning, both of which will enable our next generation to confidently conquer whatever challenges crop up for them in the years to come.

Working in collaboration

First published by Children’s Book Council of Australia – Tasmania on July 6, 2019  

Tasmanian author and illustrator team, Tahnee McShane and Mary-Ann Orchard, share their creative collaborations to bring Annabel and Turtle to life.

Our process in creating Annabel and Turtle was an unusual one; we were both new to publishing a children’s book and we learnt a lot of new things along the way. We knew each other prior to making the book together, and were aware of each other’s talents and our joint passion for working with children. During our initial discussion things gelled and we were excited to get started. We met (almost) monthly in early 2018, at our favourite local café, The Wooden Spoon, in Oatlands, perfecting our art.

Author’s recollection

After wanting to write children’s fiction for so long, Annabel and Turtle is finally here. The story evolved from one I used to tell my children at night to a persistent idea that would not me alone. Driving in the car one afternoon (where I often have my best thinking time) I was struck with the inspiration to seek out Mary-Ann to help bring my words to life on the page, and the project took off at an almighty pace soon after.

What came next was a creative and collaborative process, in which Mary-Ann and I built on each other’s knowledge and ideas. Mary-Ann regularly sent me pictures of her sketches. It was an incredible feeling to see my stories come to life visually in a way that I never could have imagined.


Illustrator’s recollection
Working with Tahnee’s words has been an enjoyable challenge. She had a clear idea on how Annabel should look, which was extremely helpful when it came to creating her. Apart from Annabel, I was given free rein to create. Tahnee was very encouraging during my experimentation period. After I had the characters and the treehouse created, it was time to experiment with colour. Tahnee got to see how water-colour, pencil and acrylic looked, before we settled on pencil, which strongly reflects the soft nature of the text. A pencil is usually a child’s first encounter with creating colour and I felt this would be familiar to the little readers of this book.

Knowing Tahnee was working hard behind the scenes on the promotional and business side of publishing was comforting. Annabel and Turtle have their own website, Facebook page and Tahnee’s whole family have embraced these characters with their entertaining podcasts.

Tahnee and Mary-Ann are looking forward to collaborating further with more tales from Annabel and Turtle in the near future.

It begins with an idea

Backstory: I have the privilege of being a teacher as well as an author. My colleagues, both locally and abroad have expressed interest in my writing “journey” (to borrow the popular reality TV expression) to share with their students. It’s good for students to see how they can make their dreams a reality, and for many their dream might be to see their stories in print. So here begins this series of blogs to share with them.

I have always wanted to be an author. When my mother and I first visited my local kindergarten when I was four, the first question I asked was “will I learn to read and write?” It was because I wanted to be an Arthur [sic], I told her.

Since then, I progressed through primary school happily writing stories whenever I got the chance. I handwrote stories, of course – but also enjoyed typing on my Grandmother’s old typewriter. Writing has always been an important tool for me; I studied creative writing throughout my school career and onto university – I journal regularly and as I became a parent, I enjoyed making up stories to tell my children at bedtime.

This is where Annabel and Turtle began. As my readers and listeners would know, Annabel and Turtle live in a treehouse – I can’t even remember if it was my idea that they lived in a treehouse, or Annabel’s. We told variations on the story every night for weeks – months even (actually, this is where the theme song for the podcast also began). My older two children also seemed to like the story. We liked discussing what Annabel and Turtle would do each day, and I would add it to the story.

I have considered writing lots of things before, and I have many half-started stories. But this one seemed to have a life to it – because I had shared it. The idea wouldn’t leave me alone. At bedtime, the children would request Annabel and Turtle. I was always thinking about it. It would come to me when I was in the shower – anytime I had time to think.  And I didn’t know what to do with the idea. Previously when I’d looked to begin a children’s picture book, I’d drawn blanks. I didn’t know where to start, and after one knock-back, I’d stop looking.

I do a lot of driving, and a lot of my thinking time comes in the car. One day, while driving, it dawned on me to ask my friend, Mary-Ann if she would be interested in illustrating a book, because I felt that this story would have more appeal to a publisher if it was already illustrated (I later found out, this is not preferred by publishers – more on this in a later post!). I was delighted that she said yes, and we immediately began work.

Next blog: The collaborative process. What I put together to show the illustrator for the first time.

Thank you

On Sunday just past, I had the pleasure of officially launching my first book – a children’s picture book called Annabel and Turtle. The book was illustrated by my friend and colleague, Mary-Ann Orchard and the Australian edition was co-published by 40 South Publishing. Lucinda Sharp, from 40 South MC’d the event that was held at Fullers Bookshop.

My thank you speech on the day was a shortened version of what follows – as we had over thirty children in attendance who did their best to listen to the adults talking!

Today really is a Dream come true. Before I read Annabel and Turtle to you, I have a list of “thank-yous” to make. I can’t get through them all – there will be a long and comprehensive list on the web!

Firstly, Thank you to my Grandmother Shirley, who’s here today. She taught me how to read, and here began my life’s love of books and story. Ever since I learned how to read I declared my life’s ambition was to be an author.

Thank you to my children, who were undoubtedly the inspiration behind this story and who encouraged my ideas and help me come up with new ones.

Thank you to Mary-Ann Orchard. Mary-Ann was the first illustrator I asked to be involved in this project and I’m so happy she said yes. The book has become so much more than I could have ever imagined because of your fabulous work. Mary-Ann has also put in a lot of work for this launch, creating our special seagull who is hiding in store and putting together special activity books for the children to complete today. Mary-Ann’s husband Neil has also been fantastic support of this project – and today we also celebrate his birthday!

Mandy Byers and her Mum, Colleen have also contributed to today’s launch by creating crotcheted turtles that form part of our display today. My long-time bestie, Kate Bendall has helped me organise myself today, with constant reminders about what to do, and coming up with the idea that my husband James could build a treehouse. She also craftily adapted the finger puppets of Annabel and Turtle that are currently with the treehouse.

I truly feel Tasmania is the most wonderful place to be an author. The inter-connectedness of our state means that we all know someone who’s had something to do with making a book, and it’s through these networks that I was able to get this whole publishing gig done.

Thank you to Katherine Scholes. Katherine is a long-time family friend, and her many works of fiction have been successful both nationally and abroad. Katherine read my story, listened to my ideas and helped me steer the story in a way that is both entertaining and educational.

Thank you to Lucinda and her team at 40 South. They have been amazing at helping me do all the other things. From having the book printed, and all the logistics to do with selling and distribution. Lucinda has also been an amazing advocate for the book. Every time I’ve stepped into a Hobart shop to tell them about my book, Lucinda already has!

Thank you to author Lindsy Little. Not only for coming here today to launch the book and all her kind words, but also for meeting with me early last year, and talking me through the ins and outs of publishing.

In putting the book together prior to publishing, Marcus Bendall worked with me as graphic designer. It’s his first time putting a book together, and he’s done a fabulous job. Together we discovered the restrictions around scanning large works of art in high resolution in Tasmania. And after much to and fro-ing – we’ve made it this far!

My grandmother may have taught me how to read – but she didn’t teach me how to spell. For my poor spelling, I am shamelessly unapologetic and am so happy to say that I had not one, but two editors help me with this short 150 words! ABM for the story text, and Susan Scott for the blurb.

Other champions of this project have been Polly McGee, who has given me excellent marketing advice and encouraged me to dream big.

Hayley Jones has designed my two websites and keeps my social media on track!

Thank you to Fullers for hosting us today and your support in selling Annabel and Turtle.

Thank you to my husband James, for his mighty effort building our display tree house and his undying faith in me.

And of course, what is a thank you speech without thanking my own mother, Peta who has listened to many a crazy idea from me, and supported every single one of them.

Now, on with the story!….