Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, What I Tell Myself FIRST: Children's Real-World Affirmations of Self-Esteem is a book of real-world affirmations that highlight the various abilities and attributes of the reader while exposing readers to realistic possibilities of rejection of difference in various forms. What I Tell Myself FIRST then enables readers to form mental frameworks to surmount those forms of rejection of difference and achieve positive self-actualization. This book is to readers what the AED is to a heart: it instills the defibrillator of self-esteem so powerful that it addresses bullying, body-shaming, hate, learning abilities, failure, and outside attacks on the self by other people who may need the very same help themselves. For when times are tough and your mind is under attack, this book of reality-based daily affirmations are the “I wish I had this” of books.
While the text is minimal and simple, the ideas are complex and important. Statements such as “I am beautiful/handsome TO ME” and “How I speak can earn respect” will prompt caregivers to talk to kids about their bodies, their relationships, and their feelings. Some adults may disagree with a child stating “It is NO ONE’s job to ‘Protect Me’ from anything. That is my job,” but the general message of independence and self-care is valuable. A toddler may practice saying “I like me!” while older kids can start learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from the diagram in the back of the book.
Some of Brown’s affirmations are too fragmented to be clear or are insufficiently explored. A statement such as “In my work, I am worth” is very vague standing on its own. Fortunately, Ranucci’s illustrations carry the text. She beautifully portrays children of various ethnicities and body shapes and sizes, including a boy in a wheelchair and a girl wearing a hijab. The statement regarding work and worth is accompanied by kids walking dogs and mowing the lawn, giving readers smiling examples of odd jobs and ways to help their neighbors. The colors are vibrant, the cartoonish style is warm, and the pictures are varied. This positive and heartwarming text is one that educators, caregivers, and children can learn from again and again.
Takeaway: This beautifully illustrated picture book will enhance both homes and classrooms with its positive affirmations and gentle lessons in self-worth.
Great for fans of Grace Byers’s I Am Enough, Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be... You and Me.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B+
Quill says: "What I Tell Myself FIRST is an excellent book that should be in every classroom and shared with young readers from preschoolers through elementary level readers. The positive, self-affirmations it teaches are priceless.”
"Overall, the book seems well intentioned, and Ranucci’s (Crave to be Bold, 2018, etc.) energetic images hearteningly show diverse skin colors, body shapes, and abilities. Also, although plenty of children’s books offer affirmations, few address Maslow’s theory."
LitPick says "What I Tell Myself FIRST by Michael A. Brown encourages a refreshing conversation of healing and hope for the children of the 20s...Overall, I found the book What I Tell Myself FIRST to be a frank and healing conversation starter about self-esteem."
“What I Tell Myself FIRST may help readers of all ages become just a bit more self-aware as well as help to build their self-esteem. It really is the most remarkable and accomplished children’s book and is highly recommended.” - Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
"Whereas other books seek to educate with uplifting, if lofty, calls for general positivity, Brown’s book offers concrete and achievable methods towards moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which takes readers past the need for personal esteem and into self-actualization. A chart illustrating Maslow’s work appears at the back of the book to help children visualize this key psychological concept. Ranucci accompanies Brown’s text with gorgeous, lively illustrations of diverse children and their goofy pet dogs and cats. The pairing of words and pictures is so strong that any single page could easily stand on its own, serving as an inspirational poster for the bedroom or classroom."
"What I Tell Myself FIRST: Children’s Real-World Affirmations of Self Esteem is a moving, memorable, and magnificent children’s self-affirmations book that is unique as well as incredibly inspiring! What I Tell Myself FIRST will have no problem inspiring and moving young readers from the start with its literature and captivating illustrations. There is so much I adore about What I Tell Myself FIRST from a mother’s perspective, but what I loved the most was the poignant factors laced throughout the book that has a real ability to help young readers while also providing them with an enjoyable reading experience. The incredible author Michael Brown has written a moving, compelling, and entertaining children’s book, and that is why I already have to recommend this book to parents and carers for your children to read; however, if you need more convincing, then continue to read to learn more!"
"Michael Brown provides some solid building blocks from which children and their caregivers can launch directly into the vital realm of social-emotional learning...The illustrations by Zoe Ranucci are inclusive and diverse in their representation of children of varying skin colors, as well as children with disabilities, making this a book that readers will see themselves in as well as their neighbors. Children discovering the importance of self-love is a beautiful thing. If you’re looking for some real-world wisdom to share with the kids in your life, certainly try reading What I Tell Myself First.”