Seven Books to Challenge Kids’ Ideas About Beauty

By Cindy Hudson

Every day your kids are exposed to thousands of images that depict how they should define beauty. Characters in TV shows and video games and models in advertising mostly fit an image of perfection that few can achieve without digital touch up. Even in the classroom your children are likely to see peers who get attention for their looks.

You may talk with your kids about how it’s impossible for most people to live up to the images they see and encourage them to judge people on actions instead of looks, but sometimes the best way to bring the message home is with stories. Through character development and life-like situations, books can explore issues in a way that helps kids, especially pre-teens and teens, form their own ideas of physical appearance. When they read how others face challenges, like weighing too much or too little or having a visible deformity, they can decide what role beauty, and trying to attain it, will have in their lives.

The books listed here all tell a good story while focusing on some aspect of outward appearance.

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume
Andrew thinks he would look much better if only he had lots of freckles, like Nicky. A classmate sells him her secret formula for getting freckles, but Andrew is disappointed that it doesn’t work so he uses a marker to make his own freckles. When his teacher helps him get the fake spots off, Andrew discovers Nicky is not happy with the way he looks either. Freckle Juice helps kids learn to accept instead of being embarrassed by their physical features. (Ages 6 to 10)

Smile by Raina Telgemeier
In this graphic memoir, Telgemeier tells the story of how she fell and injured her two front teeth when she was 12. Her treatment continued for several years and included braces, surgery, headgear, and a retainer with fake teeth. For a long time Telgemeier was afraid to smile because she worried kids would make fun of her. Even though her case was extreme, anyone with braces should be able to relate to and be inspired by her story. (Ages 8 to 12)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Auggie likes what many 10-year-old boys like—watching Star Wars, playing with his dog, and playing video games. But Auggie also has a severe facial deformity that makes people avoid him. When his parents decide to stop homeschooling him and send him to 5th grade at a mainstream school, he seeks what most kids want—friendship, understanding, and a place to fit in. Wonder prompts readers to look behind the face someone presents to the world and find the true person who lives inside. (Ages 8 to 12)

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

This first book in a series tells a futuristic tale about a society that alters everyone at age 16 to fit a standard idea of beauty. Tally is eager for her own surgery until she meets a girl named Shay, who takes her out of the city and into the woods where she encounters people who have opted to reject surgery and keep their natural looks. Uglies helps readers question the desire to look perfect and change to conform to others’ expectations. (Ages 12 and up)

Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee
For much of her life Rosie has struggled with weight. When she gains so much she no longer fits her largest-size clothes, she decides to go on a liquid diet of weight-loss drinks. Real transformation doesn’t come for Rosie until she begins to change her relationship with food and learns to see herself as something more than a fat girl. Artichoke’s Heart examines how body image can affect self-esteem and feelings of self-worth (Ages 12 and up)

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen
Terra Cooper carefully conceals her true self, much as she hides the port-wine stain birthmark on her face beneath heavy makeup. When she meets a boy who dresses in Goth style, he challenges her to see herself, including her birthmark, in a new way. North of Beautiful reflects on beauty, what we’re willing to do to achieve it, how we work to hide our imperfections, and how we judge others based on the way they look. (Ages 14 and up)

Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan
Jack has been obsessed about his weight every since a store clerk handed him a pair of “husky” jeans. Even though his parents say he has anorexia and forced him into a program for teens with eating disorders, he thinks he could be even thinner. As Jack sees how others view food and their bodies, he slowly becomes aware of how he is harming his health. Skin and Bones looks at the dangers of eating disorders, how they can affect both boys and girls, and what friends and family can do when someone they care about has one. (Ages 14 and up)

Cindy Hudson writes about reading, and books at

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