Continuing with our focus on books to use during the first weeks of school, add The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein to your list. Perfectionist Beatrice Bottomwell begins to feel the pressures of living up to her reputation as the girl who never makes mistakes. She always matches her socks, wears the right shoes on the correct feet, makes the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, remembers to make her bed and complete her math homework, and never forgets to feed her pet hamster, Humbert. When a talent show act goes terribly wrong, Beatrice must decide how to handle her first mistake – cry; run off stage; or laugh? Students can learn from Beatrice’s choice to laugh off her mistake, but more than that they can see that her anxiety lessens and the quality of her life increases when she accepts mistakes as part of her reality. The pressures of trying to be perfect at all things all the time is too daunting for anyone to maintain. Making a mess, falling down and even mismatching your socks occasionally can make life a little less stressful, and a lot more enjoyable.
Increasingly, I’ve seen more and more children becoming anxious about the high demands of balancing school work and extracurricular activities and perhaps even feeling more of an urgency to get it right on the first try. I allow this book to be a doorway to some important conversations about school being a safe place for making mistakes. I explicitly describe school – and our classroom – as a place that was purposely built for people to make mistakes.
This book also lends itself to discussions about growth-mindset. Have students brainstorm all the ways they could react to mistakes on a t-chart with positive reactions on one side and negative reactions on the other. Then talk about how the negative reactions like crying, whining or saying, “I’ll never get this” lead to a fixed mindset that keeps us stuck where we are; whereas positive reactions such as shrugging it off and trying again permit growth.
Since identifying similarities and differences is one of the best high-yield instructional strategies, one additional suggestion for use with this book is to compare and contrast two characters – Beatrice and her brother Carl. The author presents Carl as the complete opposite of his perfectionist sister (he eats his crayons and draws with green beans). This would be a great way to introduce Venn diagrams and terms like compare, contrast, similar and different. Remember, to always sneak academic vocabulary and important skills in when reading aloud to students.
To accompany the book, I’ve included a free bookmark that offers students some important reminders about making mistakes. You can grab it here.
The Book Wrangler