“Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.”
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The fall is a time of new beginnings – new classes, teachers, classmates. It can also be a time that brings up new insecurities. Some of us put a lot of effort into putting our best foot forward, hoping to fit in, hoping to be accepted. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, we sometimes “twist ourselves into shapes” to make ourselves more acceptable or palatable to others.
It’s a habit that some of us never quite outgrow, even if we intellectually know that changing ourselves in order to fit in with others is not the path to authentic bonds and relationships. Paradoxically, it is being our truest and most unique selves that leads to the deepest sense of belonging. So, we’re not to everyone’s liking? It’s okay. When we show up as ourselves, we attract exactly the people who appreciate our real selves. As Brené Brown says, ”True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”
Not a member yet? Sign up for our Girl & Grown-up Book Club. It’s FREE! Get toolkits with meeting guides and discussion questions for all previous years delivered right to your inbox, instantly. Toolkits for this year’s books will be emailed each month.
To launch another year of Girls Leadership Girl & Grown-Up Book Club, we’ve selected stories about girls finding their way to community and connection by showing up as their full, wonderful, one-thousand-percent unique selves. From Cece celebrating the special powers that she gets from her high-powered hearing aid, to Isabella learning how to speak honestly with her family, and Shayla discovering how powerful the “good kind of trouble” can be, the girls at the heart of these stories all realize the benefit of letting others see their true selves.
Of course, this kind of realness and vulnerability is not an easy thing to accomplish, and even harder if we don’t have a model. As adults, one of the most impactful things we can do for the kids in our lives is provide an example of what vulnerability, realness, and imperfection look like.
Many of you have likely already seen this Brené Brown video about the whole-hearted practice of vulnerability, but it’s worth another viewing. (You might even decide to watch and discuss with your girl.) Toward the end of the video, Brown says that kids are born “hard-wired for struggle.” This line caught my attention. I’m wondering about the kind of messages I’m sending to my kids. Am I sending the message that they’re fragile and need my protection so bad things don’t happen? Or, am I sending the message that they’re capable of grappling with challenges, making mistakes, and getting up again?
We caregivers make choices every day about how to best support our kids, how to set them up to be strongest, most resilient adults possible. Every choice is an opportunity to do better, to bring our care into alignment with our values, and to be open with our kids about our own struggles and our hopes for them.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
About the book
Cece is the only deaf bunny at her school. She fantasizes about living the superhero life as that amazing El Deafo. But it’s not all superhero daydreams. Cece feels humiliated by her prominent hearing aid and frequent misunderstandings with her peers.
Although communication is hard for Cece, she must learn to express her feelings, especially when she is not getting what she needs from a friendship. She figures out how to identify the difference between positive and negative relationships, and she makes it a point to find friends with whom she feels safe and accepted. Throughout all her experiences, Cece finds inner happiness by doing things that make her happy, whether watching movies, laughing with her siblings, or daydreaming.
El Deafo is a graphic novel. The comic-style drawings of bunnies make this an appealing and fun read for kids. Ms. Bell uses the graphic elements in the text to immerse the reader in Cece’s experience. For example, when the text fades, we understand that Cece’s not hearing very well. When the text bubbles are empty, we share Cece’s silent experience and frustration. As you’re reading, try noticing all the ways that Ms. Bell uses the graphic novel format to bring us more deeply into the story.
El Deafo won the Newbery medal in 2015.
About the author
Cece Bell has written and illustrated many books for children, including the Sock Monkey series and Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover, which won a Geisel Honor in 2013.
Ms. Bell was born in Virginia, where she still lives with her family. El Deafo is based on Ms. Bell’s childhood experience growing up hearing impaired. You can learn more about her at her website.
Blended by Sharon Draper
About the book
Ever since Isabella’s parents divorced, she’s been acutely aware of her biracial identity. Going back and forth between her white mother and Black dad, Isabella feels she has to change who she is, display different parts of herself, in order to please the two halves of her family. Isabella is always trying to please someone, always trying to be what others want and expect. Playing the piano is one of her only sources of comfort.
The question of identity becomes even more important when Isabella’s friend is the victim of a racist act at school. Isabella and her brother are then involved in a terrifying confrontation with police, a crisis that forces her to face her deepest fears and questions.
About the author
Sharon M. Draper is a teacher and a writer who has received many awards and recognitions for her work in both areas, including the National Teacher of the Year award and the ALA’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime literary achievement. She addresses audiences all over the world, and represented the United States at the Book Festival in Moscow.
Ms. Draper has written many, many award-winning books for children of all ages, as well as titles for teachers. Her book Out of My Mind has been on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over two years (and counting!), and it was a Girls Leadership Girl & Grown-Up Book Club selection last year. For more of Ms. Draper’s wonderful stories, visit sharondraper.com.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
About the book
Twelve-year-old Shayla does all she can to avoid trouble at school and in her relationships. She just wants everything to stay the same (except she’d also love it if the boy she’s crushing on would notice her). More and more, avoiding trouble means staying quiet, and Shayla feels like she’s about to burst with everything that’s unsaid. Her friends seem to have changed overnight, local Black Lives Matter protests are intensifying, and suddenly taking a stand seems like the only thing to do.
But what will happen if standing up for herself and what she believes in means getting in trouble?
Piecing Me Together was published in 2017, and won a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor.
About the author
Lisa Moore Ramée grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Northern California with her family. A Good Kind of Trouble is her debut novel, and has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. Learn more at her website lisamooreramee.com.
Disclosure: the links to buy or download books may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost, and Girls Leadership may get a commission if you click through and purchase.