The first day of school is an exciting time, filled with the promise of new knowledge, friends and experiences. But it can also be a source of anxiety for parents and children alike. What if the other children are mean, or don’t want to play?

For the main character of Tracy Stanaway’s book, Jelly Bean Dean (Fulton Books), these worries are only too real. Jelly Bean Dean is about to start her first day of school, but she’s worried about what the other kids will think of her. You see, Jelly Bean Dean looks different from her classmates; most jelly beans are a solid color, but Jelly Bean Dean is all speckled and spotted. She’s been made fun of in the past and is desperate to fit in at school. To calm her nerves, Jelly Bean Dean’s mother teaches her a song she can use to reassure herself.

“These are moments we’ll remember, just you and me. I’m always here. I’ll always be. When someone is cruel to you, just remember, my love — you were sprinkled with special teardrops from up above.”

It’s hard for parents to know their children are facing difficult situations at school. Kids are learning how to handle a myriad of new challenges in the classroom, from navigating friendships to dealing with bullying. Stanaway captures this anxiety perfectly, and in a tender moment between mother and daughter, shows that teaching children how to manage their own nerves will help them find the strength to face these challenges head-on.

Along with its message about anxiety, Jelly Bean Dean inspires kindness in its readers young and old. Jelly Bean Dean’s appearance stems from a problem unique to jelly beans — they will become permanently discolored if not dried off soon after getting wet. Still, the lesson behind the story is plenty relevant today. Heartfelt storytelling and playful illustrations create a jubilant tale of diversity and self-acceptance. Jelly Bean Dean’s confidence grows as she understands that she is beautiful just the way she looks, and deserves respect no matter what. While at first Jelly Bean Dean’s classmates are taken aback by her appearance, they learn to appreciate her for the unique jelly bean she is.

By the end of the story, Jelly Bean Dean’s classmates accept her completely — and after a sudden rainstorm during recess one day, everybody ends up a little discolored! It just goes to show that we’re not so different beneath the surface after all. As Jelly Bean Dean’s teacher tells her:

“Some beans are huge. Some beans are small. Some beans are fluffy. Some beans are tall. Some beans are empty. Some beans are full. Some beans are stretchy if you give them a pull. Some beans are light, and some beans are dark. All beans are good deep down in their heart.”

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About Tracy Stanaway:

Tracy Stanaway is an author living in Montana. She’s a retired dance teacher and an all-around musical person. Her first children’s book, Jelly Bean Dean, is written in memory of her mom Jerrine Dean.