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Children's Books for Growing Down

Chapter 19 Grow Down with Children’s Books

Growing Down -Tools for

Healing the Inner Child

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D. &

Constance M. Messina, Ph.D.

What is Growing Down with Children’s Books?
Children's books are re-read in light of the need to make contact with one's inner child. The books are read with a different perspective and enjoyed both for their childlike messages and their underlying messages.


Materials needed
The books listed below can be used as well as books you find yourself.


Read the books as an inner child and appreciate them for their enjoyment and their many and varied messages.


The Biggest Sandwich Ever. Gelman, Rita Golden. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1980.
Tammy and her friend are having a quiet picnic when a man arrives. He begins to construct the biggest sandwich ever. Bread, butter, tomatoes, tuna, cheese, chicken, lamb, salami, pastrami, potatoes, ham, and pickles all come together. The only thing left is to eat it.
You can work and work for the big pay-off but you can work so hard that you may never get the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your labor and sacrifice.


The Book of Waves. Kampion, Drew. California: Arpel Graphics, Inc., 1989.
The book presents over one hundred color photographs of the ocean, each depicting the various phases of the ocean. Accompanying texts enhance the pictures and add to the understanding of the life cycle of waves.
Using the metaphor of the sea to represent our lives in which our self-esteem is at sea, we are able to recognize that the appearance of life on the outside often hides the beauty that lies within.


The Clown of God. dePaola, Tomie. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1978.
The story is set in the beginning of the Renaissance. A young boy named Giovanni discovers he has the ability to juggle. He uses his skill to entertain many people. He is dressed as a clown and has a tremendous trick where he juggles six balls. He travels all over Italy and performs for kings and queens. However, age infirms Giovanni and he no longer is able to juggle and therefore needs to seek shelter in a monastery, for no one else will help him. It is here that he performs his most magnificent display of juggling.
Use your talents to the fullest. You can always call on your Higher Power. In your hour of greatest need, your Higher Power is there.


Corduroy. Freeman, Don. New York: Puffin Books, 1976.
Corduroy is a bear in a toy department who though cute and attractive is not purchased. He does have a button missing. In his attempt to locate a new button in the store, he encounters a series of adventures. Though he cannot replace his button, he is purchased by a caring little girl.
Although we may be burdened with a disability, we are still loveable, capable, and desirable. It is simply a matter of our attitude and how we approach life.


The Five Chinese Brothers. Bishop, Claire Huchet. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1938.
The book tells the story of the five Chinese brothers who looked exactly alike. The first Chinese brother is falsely accused of a crime and is sentenced to be executed. There are four different ways the brothers trick the judge and live happily for years.
Things aren't always what they seem. Each one of us has a multifaceted personality which, through growing down, is given a chance to grow. Only when we recognize our talents can we utilize them to the fullest potential.


Frederick. Lionni, Leo. New York: Pantheon Books, 1967.
The family of field mice that lives by a stone wall in the meadow is getting ready for the winter. Frederick, however, is not involving himself in the gathering of food. He gathers the sun, colors, and words to be used for the winter. Both aspects of life are necessary.
We don't all have to conform to the pressures of the world. By venturing to heal our inner child, we step away from the norms of society and open ourselves up to ridicule and misunderstanding. To creatively seek inner healing is a viable, productive enterprise even though it may not result in material gain. Seeking sanity may often make us look as if we are the insane ones in an insane system. It takes tenacity and will power and a well-grounded spirituality to have the fortitude to persist.


The Giving Tree. Silverstein, Shel. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.
A boy and a tree have a profound relationship. At first it is a playful relationship but the boy has material needs. The tree provides its apples so the boy can sell them. The boy then needs wood to make a house. The tree provides its branches. The tree gives its trunk so the boy can make a boat. How much more can the tree give?
Our Higher Power is a constant source of strength to which we can turn at every stage in our life. It is a gift beyond our level of understanding but so easily overlooked and discounted.


The Gorilla Did It. Hazen, Barbara Shook. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1974.
A young boy discovers a gorilla in his room and they both proceed to play. Unfortunately they make a mess. The boy is blamed though he protests that the gorilla did it.
Through self-pity and blaming others, we fail to accept personal responsibility for our own lives. We must rid ourselves of real or perceived monsters in our lives in order to take control of our lives.


Harold and the Purple Crayon. Johnson, Crockett. United States: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1955.
Harold takes his purple crayon and draws unique adventures. They range from climbing trees to scary dragons to exciting balloon rides. And he proceeds to return to his own window.
Creative use of visualization has a healing effect on us because we are able to emotionally rehearse realities which we have the capacity to accomplish through our self-growth and self-healing efforts.


Hope for the Flowers. Paulus, Trina. New York: Paulist Press, 1972.
A caterpillar named Stripe, dissatisfied with his state in life, goes in search of something better. He finds a column of caterpillars trying to reach the top and joins in the climb. Even a sojourn with a female caterpillar named Yellow cannot lessen his desire to reach the top. Once he reaches the top, he discovers the mistake that he has made and tries to rectify it.
We can get caught up with the newest self-help book and program but there is only one tried and true path to inner peace and healing which is to accept ourselves unconditionally and to depend only on ourselves for approval and recognition and focus our efforts to control and change only ourselves while letting go of the need to fix other people, places and things which are the uncontrollables and unchangeables in our lives.


How to Get Rid of Bad Dreams. Hazbry, Nancy and Condy, Roy. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1983.
This book gives you the secret for surviving bad dreams. The scary ghosts, the ugly monsters, the huge dragon, the billion scary, hairy bugs, the warty troll, the quicksand, the fierce wind and the dark inside a giant's nose can all be handled. This book tells you how.
There is no hurt, no injustice, no abusive situation from our past that we cannot prevail against. It requires a great deal of effort, energy, and emotional release work.


I'll Always Love You. Wilheim, Hans. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1985.
This story tells about the relationship that exists between a boy and his dog, Eltie. Eltie and the boy grow up together and experience both good times and bad times. Throughout it all Eltie was always loved, even after his death.
We fear the death of our loved ones. This fear can often immobilize and prevent us from appreciating our current circumstances. To protect ourselves from potential loss, we build barriers that are so high they keep us from giving and receiving love and experiences we are so afraid of losing to death.


Imogine's Antlers. Small, David. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1985.
Imogine wakes up with a pair of antlers. Normal everyday activities become difficult to impossible. Positive and negative aspects are explored. However, Imogene's mom still responds negatively. The antlers disappear but what's to replace them?
Our real or perceived disabilities do not necessarily hinder our personal growth. What hinders it is how well we accept who we are. Turning our perceived limitations into assets for personal growth is one of the goals of a self-recovery model.


Just My Friend and Me. Mayer, Mercer. Racine, Wisconsin: Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1988.
A little boy invites his friend over to play. Throughout the day they enjoy fun times and together times. They climb apple trees, play basketball, hit baseballs, swing, ride bikes, and read comics.
Our inner child can be our best friend. There are so many things we can do with our best friend in order to grow, heal and enjoy life to the fullest.


The Little Drummer Boy. Keats, Ezra Jack. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1968.
The gentle story of the Little Drummer Boy who plays for the Christ Child.
Take a risk to expose your attributes and you can make a difference in your life. We tend to underestimate our capabilities, skills, and knowledge but we are all special in the sight of our Higher Power.


The Little Engine That Could. Piper, Wally. New York: Platt and Munk, 1961.
The little train is loaded with happy things for boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. However, the engine stops. Many engines are asked to assist but each refuses with fairly legitimate reasons. No engine appears willing to pull the train. A little blue engine volunteers, though she has never been over the mountain. Filled with positive affirmations she attains her goal
Pessimism and negative self-talk are self-defeating. Optimism and daily positive self-affirmation are keys to overcoming the challenges that lie before us in our lifelong process of healing and growing in self-esteem.
Impossible thinking derails our recovery process where possibility thinking always keeps us on track.


Little Toot. Gramatky, Hardie. New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1939.
Little Toot is a tugboat living in the shadow of his father's and grandfather's reputations. He dislikes work and stormy seas. Belittled and teased by other tugboats, Little Toot wanders despairingly into a brewing storm. There he discovers an ocean liner in severe danger and acting on his inborn strengths responds to the situation.
We need to let go of the resentment, revenge, hatred, and rage toward our family of origin and begin to live and enjoy our lives for ourselves rather than in spite of our past. Only through release of anger can we grow in self-esteem and forgiveness for those who have hurt us in the past.


Love You Forever. Munsch, Robert. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books, Ltd., 1986.
This story details a relationship between a mom and her son. From the terrible twos, through adolescence, and to maturity, mom states “I'll love you forever”
By unconditionally accepting ourselves we are always there for ourselves throughout the life cycle. We are the only one we can count on to be there whenever we are alone, feel abandoned, isolated, or forgotten. Self-loving is a lifetime process with no limits.


The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes. Krasilovsky, Phyllis. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1950.
A man, faced with washing dishes after a big meal, decides to not wash his dishes. He decides not to wash his dishes each night. There are no clean dishes in the house and no place to sit. Dirty dishes are everywhere. Nature provides a viable solution and now the man not only has clean dishes but also a place to sit.
Procrastination is a form of resistance to our personal growth and healing. In cooperation with our Higher Power, there are a variety of solutions to our problems.


The Missing Piece. Silverstein, Shel. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.
A piece is missing. And a search is needed. That search goes through swamps, jungles, up and down mountains. The piece is found. But is it?
We often seek the answer for self-growth and healing outside of ourselves when in fact the solutions to self-growth and healing are within us. Appreciating ourselves for who we are and what we are capable of being for ourselves makes us our own solution.


The Missing Piece Meets The Big O. Silverstein, Shel. New York: Harper and Row, 1981.
The missing piece was waiting for someone to come along and take it somewhere. He tries everything and exhausts just about every possibility. He succeeds, but he grows and changes. Now he is faced with finding a solution for himself.
Self-healing is the only way to grow and recover from low self-esteem. To become dependent on others as the answer is to limit our potential. To rescue others from themselves is only to hinder and inhibit our own personal growth. The best we can be for ourselves and others is self-nurturing, self-healing, and self-directed.


The Mountain That Loved A Bird. McLenan, Alice. Saxonville, MA: Picture Book Studio, 1985.
A bird named Joy has stopped on several mountains to rest but only one asked her to stay. The mountain has an inhospitable environment, but Joy promises to return each spring and sends her children and her children's children to visit the mountain. Over a great deal of time, the mountain undergoes many changes.
Persistence, tenacity, and faithfulness to the commitment to personal growth and self-healing are rewarded. Patience is a necessary component of self-recovery.


The Moose Is Loose. Thaler, Mike. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1980.
A moose escapes from the zoo and uses a number of disguises to avoid re-capture by Inspector Spot-A-Moose. He checks the subway, a parade, a series of stores, the opera, the ball game, and the Roller Disco. It takes Christmas to provide the opportunity for the Moose to be found.
In the desire to escape from the prison of our past we often fake wellness by putting on masks which over time do not withstand the pressures of reality. Only through honest self-analysis and the development of a healthy spirituality do we ensure that our wellness is not a mask or faked but rather grounded in solid realistic principles.


Oh, The Places You'll Go! Seuss, Dr. New York: Random House, 1990.
In his own unique style, Dr. Seuss has given us a picture of life. He includes the negative and the positive aspects of living and the balance we can maintain. He absolutely guarantees (98+ 3/4%) that we will make it.
Life is for living not for regretting. To keep our focus only on the past, to explain why we can't live successfully, is to miss out on the gloriousness and wonderfulness of our present life which is there for the taking.
What is past needs to be put behind us. The possibilities of life are what lie in front of us. Our hearts need to be freed of the anger, shame, and guilt from the past in order to be free to seek out these possibilities.


The Pain and the Great One. Blume, Judy. New York: Bradbury Press, 1985.
A brother and sister look at each other through their own eyes. They view their personal situations as difficult and vow that their parents love the other one better.
In families, each family member has a different view of the family situation. Sibling rivalry is a reality which impacts the formation of our inner child.


The Precious Present. Johnson, Spencer. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1984.
A young boy searches for the precious present that his friend the old man tells him about. A present that will make him happy forever is what the man promises. It is not a ring, a flying carpet, or a sunken treasure. The young boy, now a man, searches everywhere for this precious gift only to find that it is something he must give to himself.
In order to gain serenity in our lives we need to experience the precious present, living one day at a time, enjoying moment to moment, recognizing that hardship is the pathway to peace.


The Runaway Bunny. Brown, Margaret Wise. New York: Harper and Row, 1942.
A little bunny declares his need to run away. He describes the many and varied ways he will use to run from his mother. She counters each proposal with a way to catch him. Mom succeeds in convincing him that running away may not be in his best interest.
It's best to face life the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.
Face reality, don't run from it. Geographic changes are not a solution to the problem.


The Teacher from the Black Lagoon. Thaler, Mike. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1989.
On the first day of school every child has some concern about what his teacher will be like. Mrs. Green really is green. She breathes fire. She swallows students in one gulp. She changes Randy into a frog. What kind of a school year is this going to be?
There is a Chinese proverb that says, When the mind is ready, the teacher appears.Oftentimes in our recovery process the teacher takes the form of some major tragedy, loss, or crisis. It is only through facing up to this teacher that we grow and gain the strength to prevail.


Tonia the Tree. Stryker, Sandy. Santa Barbara, California: Advocacy Press, 1988.
Tonia the tree has stopped growing and her friends are upset. A tree surgeon decides that Tonia needs a change. Uprooting a tree and replanting it can be not only frightening, but life threatening. The risks are unimaginable. Tonia receives encouragement and decides to take the risk. In so doing, she discovers a way to be both satisfied and happy in her life.
Recovery means change. To change is threatening. Many of us resist recovery because it does mean a change and thus stress. It is only through risking and opening ourselves up to vulnerability to change that we can recover from our past hurts, depression, and low self-esteem.


The Tree that Survived the Winter. Fahy, Mary. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.
Winter has passed and the tree rejoices in the fact that it has survived. Spring provides moist soil, fragrant air and most of all the sun to enable the tree to grow again. However, the tree remembers the hardships, the pain, the suffering, and the loneliness. It is in remembering the pain that she appreciates her happiness.
No matter how difficult life is, we survive our winters. Our inner children survive the crises and tragedies in our lives to be there for us as our source of power, solace, support, and nurturing.


There's a Nightmare in My Closet. Mayer, Mercer. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1968.
A young boy confronts the nightmare in his closet. He shows strength, anger, and compassion. The nightmare has met its match.
Our shame and guilt about our real or perceived past often provides for us the element of fear to grow, take risks, and to change. It is only through confronting and reducing our shame and guilt that we are able to become vulnerable to grow in self-love and self-healing.


The Ugly Duckling. Anderson, Hans Christian. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1987.
A duckling is born, different from the others. He is ugly. Due to his differences, he is forced to endure ridicule, teasing, and cruelty. He survives and is rewarded for his endurance.
The inner beauty in individuals. Acceptance of self. You can't judge a book by its cover. There is a beautiful swan in each one of us. We have to look within for our inner beauty.


The Velveteen Rabbit. Williams, Margery. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1922.
The Velveteen rabbit begins his life as a Christmas toy. He encounters several friends and adventures in his quest to be real. The skin horse, the oldest resident of the nursery, informs him that to be real, one must be truly loved for a long, long time by a child.
Our recovery does not begin until we love ourselves unconditionally. It is only through this love that we experience a sense of authenticity. It is only through continuous self-love that we maintain our realness which we are then able to share with others in healthy relationships. To remind us of the need to be real, we must hug ourselves and remind ourselves of our self-love each day.


Why Do You Love Me? Watts, Mabel. Racine, Wisconsin: Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1970.
Billy, a small bear cub, explores all the aspects of the question ``Why do you love me?'' with his mother. In their pursuit of the answer, they explore the positive and negative aspects of the mother bear's answers.
Unconditional self-acceptance and self-love have no limits and no boundaries. I love me because I am me - not for what I do. Only through this unconditional love can you be healed and grow in self-esteem.