Perfectionism is the setting of a super high standard, along with anxiety about not meeting said standard. It is often characterized by relatively little joy when a standard is met (perhaps there is a fleeting bit of happiness), followed by an immediate raising of the standard and subsequently the anxiety. It’s not a diagnosis, although it is a risk factor and can show up as a part of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and OCD. Many children with perfectionism beat themselves up for making mistakes or fear significant negative consequences if they are anything less than perfect. Sometimes they fear that they won’t be able to tolerate the distress that comes with something not being perfect. These books encourage children to increase their self-compassion, to see mistakes as opportunities, and to recognize that sometimes a little mess and imperfection is worth tolerating in order to have fun and feel free.
Age range: Preschoolers might enjoy and relate to parts of this story, but Kindergarten through 2nd grade is probably best.
Recommended for: This book is a great read for a child who is quick to get angry and/or to give up when something doesn’t turn out how they wanted. It’s especially relevant to kids who are makers/ crafters/ builders! The overall message of the story is that something doesn’t have to be perfect in order for a child to be happy with their work.
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: Many children will enjoy this book simply because it’s a good book. It’s a particularly great read for a child who avoids tasks they’re afraid they won’t succeed at. It’s a story that normalizes and neutralizes failure and celebrates giving something a try.

Beautiful Oops

Written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: Children who are perfectionistic about their artwork (or other types of activities) will benefit from this book’s fun, concrete introduction to the idea that mistakes can be great opportunities for creativity. It leads well into doing an art project of turning one’s own artistic blemishes (e.g., tears, smudges) into beautiful creations.

The Dot

Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This is a lovely read for a child who is reluctant to try something if they think they’re not good at it or won’t be good at it. It shows how just getting started can be the beginning of a new passion and a sense of accomplishment. It also suggests that being “good” at something is often a limited construct and that there are many ways to define success.

The Book of Mistakes

Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: Children who struggle to tolerate making mistakes may be inspired by this book to see mistakes as opportunities. It’s a beautiful book about art, and creativity, and being a work-in-progress. Therapists and/or caregivers may enjoy using this book to segue into an art activity that plays with mistakes.


Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Age range: Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This story is an excellent read for a child who gets stuck on a creation needing to be perfect. It encourages children to create (i.e., draw, write) without focusing on getting something “right” by showing the value of imperfection (“ish”). It can also start a conversation about how the exact same creation can be criticized by one person and loved by another, so one shouldn’t put too much weight in someone’s negative opinion.
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This story is applicable to a child who gets anxious when they aren’t able to follow a routine, whether in the context of anxiety, OCD, autism, or anything else. It’s a really fun, adorable story with a lot of heart and a very sweet ending. The ultimate message is that although it can be scary to break out of a routine, sometimes doing things differently can present new possibilities (like discovering a new favorite food, fun experience, or good friend).
Age range: Preschool through 1st grade.
Evidence-Based Practices: Exposure
Age range: Preschool through 2nd grade
Recommended for: For a child struggling with perfectionism in the context of group projects or collaborative activities with friends (perhaps they are getting mad at other kids for not doing things “right,” or maybe they feel like they always need to be in charge), this book is both validating and thought-provoking. It aligns itself with a perfectionistic child and presents the possibility that sometimes letting things be less-than-perfect ultimately results in a more perfect experience: “The decorations were wonky…and the cake was stale…It was not at all what Beaver had planned, but it was the best birthday he ever had. It was, in fact, perfect.”
Age range: 1st grade through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: Children who get stuck in perfectionism will likely benefit from this book’s reminder that imperfection, although scary at first, can be freeing. Kids with super high standards for themselves or who get anxious when things don’t go according to plan may find relief in the balance Penelope strikes when she lets herself “just be Penelope” rather than Penelope Perfect.

Shame Mud

Written by Jamie Jensen
Illustrated by Dustin Baird
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: Children who are burdened by self-criticism after they make mistakes will likely benefit from this story’s description of shame and the reminder that mistakes don’t define their self-worth. It provides a lovely model of a mother joining her child in his emotional pain and then helping him to gently challenge his shaming self-talk.
Age range: 1st grade through 4th grade.
Recommended for: Great to read with a child who has a lot of negative self-talk who will benefit from learning to challenge these thoughts. This book pulls for kids to draw their own versions of the Awfulizer and to start thinking about what lies their Awfulizer is telling them about themselves.