The best self reliance books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about self reliance and why they recommend each book.

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The Paper Bag Princess

By Robert Munsch, Michael Martchenko (illustrator),

Book cover of The Paper Bag Princess

This book is an important read for everyone. It smashes the stereotype of the perfect princess to smithereens.

When a fire-breathing dragon destroys Princess Elizabeth’s castle and then burns her clothes and kidnaps her fiancé, Ronald, she immediately gets to work. She puts on the only thing she can find - a paper bag. She then cleverly outwits the dragon and rescues Ronald, who turns out to be a selfish narcissist, and tells her to come back when she looks more like a princess. Elizabeth, strong and resilient, is unfazed and rejects him on the spot as she dances off into the sunset.

The illustrations by Martchenko are every bit as important as the words - there are so many visual gems hidden among Elizabeth, Ronald, and the Dragon. Keep looking especially at the Dragon. You’ll find them. This book came out in 1980 when the woman’s movement was gaining…


Who am I?

When I learned to read on my own, my world changed. I remember wondering how writers created these fantastic worlds - ones in which I could jump into and imagine myself right there with them. I also was lucky to have two amazing teachers. My Grade 3 teacher read Winnie the Pooh most afternoons before she dismissed us and made me wish that the school day wouldn’t end. And my high school English teacher screamed at me a lot about how there are good short sentences and lousy ones. Ultimately, I think it was those good short sentences that put my books on the map.


I wrote...

Spectacularly Beautiful: A Refugee's Story

By Lisa Lucas, Laurie Stein (illustrator),

Book cover of Spectacularly Beautiful: A Refugee's Story

What is my book about?

I worked in high-needs schools in Toronto, Canada for many years. I taught kids who have challenges that would bring many adults down. And I marvelled at their resilience and grit. They didn’t crumble. They didn’t fall. They moved forward…sometimes a little more slowly, but forward is forward. Shahad was one of those students. And though the injuries inflicted on her were far more serious than those depicted in this book, her feisty self-confidence, and forward-thinking inspired me to write this book. She really is "Spectacularly Beautiful".

All by Myself

By Mercer Mayer,

Book cover of All by Myself

I recommend this children's book because it empowers kids to do most of their daily tasks on their own. I wish I had read this book growing up. It would have motivated the young me to not see myself as incapable of doing big household tasks such as gardening.


Who am I?

I’m a Filipino illustrator who draws children’s books for both publishers and for private commissions. I also have been reading children’s books as part of my job. My go-to children's stories are often about animals and nature. I hope you'll like the books on this list as much as I do!


I wrote...

The Puppy Who Lost His Woof

By Niccolo Alvendia, Mike Amante (illustrator),

Book cover of The Puppy Who Lost His Woof

What is my book about?

Pickle was always a happy and playful puppy. One day, he wakes up feeling unwell. He cannot bark. He has lost his woof. Join him on his adventure as he searches for his woof, greeting numerous animal friends along the way, including cheerful rhymes. This tale is not only entertaining but also educational, showing preschoolers different ways of greeting individuals as well as different animals and their sounds. The search for Pickle’s woof also displays the importance of family and friends.

Teacup

By Rebecca Young, Matt Ottley (illustrator),

Book cover of Teacup

In the space where our fears and our hopes live, there is the landscape of our dreams and nightmares. This book lushly carries a boy's search for home to readers everywhere. It's a magical book for it carries a great deal of room for the reader to step into the words and images within. 


Who am I?

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. I lived there until I was six. I was a child from America’s Secret War in Laos, a child who knew very little of the outside world before my family sought refuge in America. Much of my life’s work has been devoted to a search for peace, to understand the forces that put families in situations like mine. I have published widely on the topic, written of it in books for both adults and children.


I wrote...

From the Tops of the Trees

By Kao Kalia Yang, Rachel Wada (illustrator),

Book cover of From the Tops of the Trees

What is my book about?

Young Kalia has never known life beyond the fences of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. The Thai camp holds many thousands of Hmong families who fled in the aftermath of the little-known Secret War in Laos that was waged during America's Vietnam War. For Kalia and her cousins, life isn't always easy, but they still find ways to play, racing with chickens and riding a beloved pet dog.

Just four years old, Kalia is still figuring out her place in the world. When she asks what is beyond the fence, at first her father has no answers for her. But on the following day, he leads her to the tallest tree in the camp, and, secure in her father's arms, Kalia sees the spread of a world beyond. Kao Kalia Yang's sensitive prose and Rachel Wada's evocative illustrations bring to life this tender true story of the love between a father and a daughter.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

By Wendy Mogel,

Book cover of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Raising Self-Reliant Children

This book is one of the first to point out the pitfalls of “helicopter parenting,” even before the term became widely known. Wendy was one of the first people to point out that as a culture, we were starting to become far too over-protective as parents and how this robs kids of the experiences necessary to become resilient and resourceful. As a psychologist, I was seeing the same trend, and this book was extremely validating and empowering as I worked to help parents see that “hovering” and smoothing every bump in the road was actually counter-productive. This book has been around for a while, but it is still as relevant as when it was first published. 


Who am I?

I’ve been a clinical psychologist for over thirty years, a husband for thirty years, and a father for twenty-seven years. Being the best husband and father that I can possibly be is my highest priority. I sincerely believe that healthy families are the building blocks of healthy societies. Being a good spouse and a good parent (at the same time, no less) is challenging, to say the least. However, creating a family full of love, laughter, and support during the inevitable difficult seasons of life is worthy of a lifetime of study and effort. I’m constantly looking for resources to help me and others to pursue this goal. 


I wrote...

When Two Become Three: Nurturing Your Marriage After Baby Arrives

By Mark E. Crawford,

Book cover of When Two Become Three: Nurturing Your Marriage After Baby Arrives

What is my book about?

Raising children is one of life's greatest joys, but the impact of introducing a child into a marriage is staggering. Many couples don't realize the relational stress that parenting can cause. Most parents experience decreased intimacy and increased conflict. They may even find themselves asking, "Am I still in love?"

When Two Become Three helps couples recognize the inevitable challenges to their relationship that occur during the childrearing years. It provides practical advice designed to help couples nurture their marital relationship in order to ensure it remains strong during this phase of life and beyond.

The Scaffold Effect

By Harold S. Koplewicz,

Book cover of The Scaffold Effect: Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant, and Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue among children and adolescents. In fact, estimates are as high as one in five people under the age of eighteen years is likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder. This book provides a framework for parents to help them to provide the support kids need to navigate the journey from childhood to adulthood in a way that encourages the development of confidence and character as they move toward that day when they leave the nest and venture out on their own. 


Who am I?

I’ve been a clinical psychologist for over thirty years, a husband for thirty years, and a father for twenty-seven years. Being the best husband and father that I can possibly be is my highest priority. I sincerely believe that healthy families are the building blocks of healthy societies. Being a good spouse and a good parent (at the same time, no less) is challenging, to say the least. However, creating a family full of love, laughter, and support during the inevitable difficult seasons of life is worthy of a lifetime of study and effort. I’m constantly looking for resources to help me and others to pursue this goal. 


I wrote...

When Two Become Three: Nurturing Your Marriage After Baby Arrives

By Mark E. Crawford,

Book cover of When Two Become Three: Nurturing Your Marriage After Baby Arrives

What is my book about?

Raising children is one of life's greatest joys, but the impact of introducing a child into a marriage is staggering. Many couples don't realize the relational stress that parenting can cause. Most parents experience decreased intimacy and increased conflict. They may even find themselves asking, "Am I still in love?"

When Two Become Three helps couples recognize the inevitable challenges to their relationship that occur during the childrearing years. It provides practical advice designed to help couples nurture their marital relationship in order to ensure it remains strong during this phase of life and beyond.

The Self-Driven Child

By William Stixrud, Ned Johnson,

Book cover of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives

This thought-provoking book by Bill Stixrud (a clinical neuropsychologist) and Ned Johnson (an SAT tutor) pops up on other “best books” lists on parenting. It deserves to be there. But it’s not, as the title might suggest, a prescription for “hands-off” parenting. On the contrary, it shows us how to actively help our kids become better decision-makers by giving them lots of guided practice in making decisions they’re capable of handling, such as: “Should I take on the challenge of moving to the next grade in school, or spend another year learning the important skills I didn’t learn very well this year?” (but definitely not decisions where, for example, danger is involved—like going to an unsupervised party).

In short, raising a “self-driven” child means doing more of a different kind of parenting—in a collaborative, mutually respectful relationship that’s more rewarding for both parent and child. It means looking for opportunities…


Who am I?

I’m a developmental psychologist and former professor of education. My life’s work and 10 books have focused on helping families and schools foster good character in kids. Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility is credited with helping launch the national character education movement. My first book for parents, Raising Good Children, described how to guide kids through the stages of moral development from birth through adulthood. My focus these days is kindness and its supporting virtues. My wife Judith and I have two grown sons and 15 grandchildren, and with William Boudreau, MD, co-authored Sex, Love, and You: Making the Right Decision, a book for teens.


I wrote...

How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain

By Thomas Lickona,

Book cover of How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain

What is my book about?

The big idea of my book is to try to create an intentional family culture based on our deepest beliefs and values like kindness and respect—and never give up. Each chapter provides real-life examples of how to do this, such as protecting family together time, talking about things that matter, getting control of screens, disciplining wisely, sitting down as a family to solve problems fairly, and more. Library Journal found the book “chock-full of straightforward tips for creating a home that cultivates empathy.” Kids, of course, are constantly shaping their own character by the choices they make and so share the responsibility for the person they are becoming. Our part as parents is to make the most of the opportunities we have to help them grow in goodness.

The Gift of Failure

By Jessica Lahey,

Book cover of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed

Is your child experiencing setbacks? Difficulties? Mistakes? Failures? Do not fret! Author Jessica Lahey understands your concerns, and she shares why these kinds of challenges can be advantageous and serve as stepping-stones for children’s growing autonomy. In The Gift of Failure, she discusses the importance of encouragement, resilience, collaboration, and more as she explores different circumstances that children encounter. And, she provides many suggestions to help them reframe obstacles as opportunities. I think this book is, and will continue to be, an extremely relevant read for parents.

Who am I?

I write about supporting and encouraging children’s and teens’ intelligence, creativity, productivity, and well-being. I’m an educational consultant with over 35 years of experience working with parents, teachers, and students within diverse communities, and I’m the award-winning author of seven books. I focus a lot on gifted education and procrastination. Within my books, articles, and presentations, there are tons of strategies and resources to help motivate kids—and empower their learning. My books include Being Smart about Gifted Learning and Beyond Intelligence (both co-authored with Dona Matthews), ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, Bust Your BUTS, and Not Now, Maybe Later.


I wrote...

Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate

By Joanne Foster,

Book cover of Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate

What is my book about?

Bust Your BUTS helps people 10+ understand, prevent, manage, and eliminate procrastination. In this follow-up to my parenting book, Not Now, Maybe Later, I describe 28 BUTS (different reasons why kids procrastinate). I don’t judge—rather I offer concise, relatable explanations, and I share hundreds of practical tips for busting those BUTS. There’s information on motivation, and on how to confront various challenges, become organized, use time wisely, set attainable goals, and become more productive.

Bust Your BUTS received a Benjamin Franklin Award™ from the Independent Book Publishers’ Association. This is the book procrastinators need now. Plus, it’s a timely resource for parents, teachers, or anyone who wants to learn more about effort, responsibility, and fulfillment. A quick and motivating read—no BUTS about it!

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

By Julie Sternberg, Matthew Cordell (illustrator),

Book cover of Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Eight-year-old Eleanor has only ever had one babysitter. Bibi is the person who makes Eleanor soup when she’s sick, sews up her pants when they don’t fit right, and keeps track of her lost baby teeth. When Bibi has to move away, Eleanor’s heart feels like “a mirror that fell and shattered in a million pieces.” This gentle book about losing people you love, missing them terribly, and moving forward is ideal for helping kids travel that same tough path. A novel-in-verse, it’s also a quick read without sacrificing an inch of depth.    


Who am I?

I’ve always loved books that take me on an emotional journey. Whether the story is realistic or fantastical, set firmly in the here and now or on another planet centuries in the future, I want to ride the roller coaster as the characters experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That’s also one of my focuses as a writer for children. Little kids can have very big feelings, and stories for young readers can validate those feelings—without skimping on the fun. After all, joy can be a big feeling too. 


I wrote...

Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle (Class Critters #1)

By Kathryn Holmes, Ariel Landy (illustrator),

Book cover of Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle (Class Critters #1)

What is my book about?

It’s the first day of second grade, and Tally Tuttle is so nervous that she feels like she ate butterflies for breakfast. She’s new in town and is afraid she won’t make any friends. A moment of teasing during morning roll call makes Tally want to retreat into a shell...but she’s astonished when she actually transforms into a turtle! At first, Tally likes having a built-in place to hide, but she doesn’t want to stay a turtle forever. 

Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle is the first installment in a new chapter book series, Class Critters, about a magical classroom where each kid turns into a different animal for a day to have an adventure and learn a life lesson.

Achtung Baby

By Sara Zaske,

Book cover of Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

Preschoolers who wield knives and start fires? Kids riding by themselves on the subway? Welcome to Germany, where “free range parenting” is the norm and free play takes priority over academic learning in the early years. Zaske’s journey as an American mom in Berlin is a fascinating and thought-provoking read that turns many of our preconceived notions about German culture and parenting on their head. Parents looking to raise confident, self-reliant children will likely take Zaske’s book to heart. 


Who am I?

I’m a Swedish American journalist, blogger, and author whose writings about Scandinavian parenting culture have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online publications across the world, including Time.com, Parents.com, and Green Child Magazine. I’m particularly interested in the role of nature in childhood and believe the best memories are created outside, while jumping in puddles, digging in dirt, catching bugs and climbing trees. In 2013, I started the blog Rain or Shine Mamma to inspire other parents and caregivers to get outside with their children every day, regardless of the weather. I’m currently working on my second book, about the Nordic outdoor tradition friluftsliv, which will be published by Tarcher Perigee in 2022.


I wrote...

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

By Linda Åkeson McGurk,

Book cover of There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

What is my book about?

When Swedish-born Linda Åkeson McGurk moved to Indiana, she quickly learned that the nature-centric parenting philosophies of her native Scandinavia were not the norm. In Sweden, children play outdoors year-round, regardless of the weather. In the US, McGurk found the playgrounds deserted, and preschoolers were getting drilled on academics with little time for free play in nature. 

Struggling to decide what was best for her family, McGurk embarked on a journey to Sweden with her two daughters to see how their lives would change in a place where spending time in nature is considered essential to a good childhood. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is a fascinating personal narrative that illustrates how Scandinavian culture could hold the key to raising healthy, resilient, and confident children in America.

Elvis and the World as It Stands

By Lisa Frankel Riddiough, Olivia Chin Mueller (illustrator),

Book cover of Elvis and the World as It Stands

In this sweet and poignant story, Elvis is a shelter kitten adopted into a home with a girl whose parents recently separated, an eager hamster, a watchdog goldfish, and an older, ornery shelter cat. Elvis just wants to reunite with his sister Etta who was left behind at the shelter, and he must also adapt to his new home and friends. Even though Elvis can’t communicate with humans, he never stops trying. The story explores memory, family, and rebuilding things that are broken, and includes a light discussion of Sept. 11.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with the natural world and our relationship with it since I was young. In my first career, as an environmental attorney, I worked to protect oceans and endangered species. Now, as a children’s author, I enjoy exploring environmental themes, as well as the unique bonds people have with animals, in my stories. The books I am recommending are recently published middle-grade novels that capture the magical connection between humans and animals, or animals with each other, whether in contemporary or fantasy settings. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, and live in Virginia with my family and our adorable hypoallergenic cat.


I wrote...

Manatee's Best Friend

By Sylvia Liu,

Book cover of Manatee's Best Friend

What is my book about?

Becca is living the life. Sure, she has problems. She's so shy she can't bear to speak at school, and she's not doing so hot on the human friend front. But when she's home she gets to hang out with her friend Missy, the manatee who lives in the river in her backyard. One day Missy has a baby with her! But new developers upriver bring inconsiderate boaters to the river, putting Missy and her baby in danger. And the new girl next door is so loud that she might scare Missy away. When Becca captures a video of a dolphin diverting a boat away from Missy, the video goes viral!

Can Becca find a way to use her voice to stand up for her manatee friends?

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