Build Your Stack: Fostering Self-Acceptance - National Council of Teachers of English
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Build Your Stack: Fostering Self-Acceptance

This blog post is part of Build Your Stack,® a new initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. It was written by NCTE members Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan.


When students read fiction, they pay close attention to the characters. They notice their small actions, what they say, and sometimes they even hear the characters’ internal dialogue. Readers also pay attention to how the setting impacts their characters’ lives and the ways characters interact. As students notice these details, they understand how characters’ internal feelings and external actions may or may not match, they see characters change their thinking, and they ponder the life lessons characters learn.

While students are appreciating the craft moves authors make to bring their stories to life, we also want students to see how characters can become their mentors and friends. Memorable characters can help students solve difficult situations, understand life from a new perspective, and develop a greater appreciation of their own unique qualities. We can promote these connections by teaching students that memorable characters are always with us, even when we finish reading their stories. We can think about these characters at any moment and bring them to life again whenever we need them.

  • What did this character learn that I can learn too?
  • How might _____________ (character’s name) handle this situation?
  • What did __________(character’s name) do to celebrate her unique qualities? How can I do that?
  • How am I like ___________(character’s name) and how am I different?
  • What did __________ (character’s name) teach me that can help me understand myself and others?


Here are three new picture books with strong characters that can help students grow academically, socially, and emotionally:


Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth; illustrated by Jessica Blank

Always Anjali is a beautiful book about celebrating who you are and a good book to talk about ways we can respond to other people’s critical statements. The main character, Anjali, loves her name until she tries to purchase a personalized license plate for her new bike. When Anjali can’t find a license plate with her name like her friends do, she wants to change her name. Then Anjali learns the meaning of her name in Sanskrit and hears her mom’s words, “To be different is to be marvelous.”

Many readers in grades 1–3 will connect with this story and will enjoy thinking about how Anjali’s internal feelings change as she becomes more self-confident. Don’t miss the end pages of this book—actors, activists, CEOs, musicians, and writers all share experiences about when they were teased about their names. We hope Sheetal Sheth and Jessica Blank turn this book into a series.


I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont; illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

This is a sweet book with a big message. Charlie, the main character, can’t find anything he likes in his closet except his bright red purse. As he goes through his day, many people ask why he is wearing a purse. Charlie simply responds, “Cause I want to” and “I love my purse.” His responses inspire others to branch out to make their own decisions without worrying about what other people think.

We hope kids see how the main character did not read into people’s comments. Instead of viewing comments as judgmental, Charlie took the comments at face value and continued to believe in himself. His conviction and strength inspired others to make their own decisions, worry less, and be their true selves. When students hear comments from others, we hope they can remember Charlie’s self-conviction and how his sense of self impacted others.


Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

It is hard to find words to describe the beauty inside this picture book. Julián Is a Mermaid is a story about a boy who wants to dress as a mermaid and his Abuela who accepts how Julián wants to dress. There are many powerful messages about self-acceptance, identity, and love throughout this book. If you are looking for a new book to read aloud or for book clubs in K–2 classrooms, don’t miss this one! Julián and his Abuela might just be the friends your readers need for a bit of inspiration to follow their own path.


These three books are in our stack in hopes that a character in one of these stories will connect with our readers.



Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan are staff developers who are still teachers at heart. They are authors of It’s All About the Books, published by Heinemann, and Assessment in Perspective, published by Stenhouse. You can find them online at Teachers for Teachers, where they blog about books and the art of teaching, and on Twitter at @ClaireandTammy.