What Can You Do with a Skill Like That?

If you have had a toddler around your home, you know that dream career considerations can start early in life. Toddlers enjoy acting out the very tasks they find most engaging when they see others do them, from collecting trash (BIG trucks!) to serving in a diner (Little order pads!). By the time youth graduate from high school, they already have the skills to pursue thousands of careers. However, they rarely can name more than a few dozen, and what they can name feature celebrity-focused options (actor, baseball player) or those reputed to earn BIG bucks–but sometimes don’t and always require expensive further education (doctor, lawyer).

Just in time, then, we seem to be living in a golden age of truly engaging and informative kids’ books about career exploration. The highlighted possibilities run from the traditionally mentioned (teacher, veterinarian) to the very contemporary (influencer, space chef) to the no longer available (gladiator, ice harvester). There is truly something for every toddler, middle grade reader, or teen to consider as aspirational option.

The “All About Clive” board book series from Child’s Play Books features a small child who already is—in his understanding—one of several career practitioners. Individual titles show Clive Is a Waiter, Clive Is a Librarian, Clive Is a Teacher, and Clive Is a Nurse. Author and illustrator Jessica Spanyol shows Clive engaged in specific tasks for each of these jobs that his peers are likely to recognize, from leading a class group in a simple lesson to carrying a tray to waiting customers. Clive’s jobs will resonate with his peers and are both realistic and imaginative: the tasks are genuinely connected to the job while their execution by Clive involve appropriately pint-sized tools and service recipients. This seemingly small difference in perspective is actually powerful: Clive, and readers, are not anticipating what it takes to perform a career in the future; Clive—like toddlers everywhere—is in the moment and is already undertaking his chosen work.

Middle grade readers, of course, have a more realistic understanding of how role models can guide identifying a career path. If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It, by Colleen Nelson and Kathie MacIsaac, illustrated by Scot Ritchie, and published by Pajama Press, offers more than two dozen examples of people who love jobs that they once imagined could make good fits for their interests and skills. Some of these careers are glamorous but many are interesting and engaging without being exclusive or exclusionary. Dream of making others look and feel good about their appearance? Barbers do!  Driven by the need to know? A career that includes ongoing research, such as a public health practitioner, fits that bill. Beyond providing models of those who dreamed and built careers on those ideals, the authors guide young readers through the process of identifying their own interests and career dreams.

If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It

The Big Book of Jobs, by Pavia Hanáčková, Hana Mokrošová and Helena Haraštová, illustrated by Elena Pokateva, and published by Albatros Media in an English language translation by Andrew Oakland, expands on the theme of connecting personal interests to future career planning and covers dozens of job possibilities and pathways to attaining a personality-affirming choice. Even the table of contents offers guidance to career planning as well as what’s inside this book by providing questions about hobbies and interests the young reader might not have considered as pertinent to finding a career that can make them happy as well as productive. The many careers spotlighted also range beyond the simplistic—Do you like books? Be a librarian—to the more nuanced: book-lovers might consider  jobs as proofreaders, greeting card writers, or even translators.

While career planning generally takes readers forward in their own lives, Astonishing and Extinct Professions, by Marcus Rottmann, illustrated by Michael Meister, and translated by Ashley Curtis from Swiss publisher Helvetiq, takes tween readers into the past. There was a time when career options might have led one into a job as a hired weeper, an armpit hair-plucker, or even a toilet! Not only are these jobs extinct, but many of them offer the gross out factor sure to delight the intended audience’s age. And even if there is no future now in work as a strictly ornamental hermit on a noble’s estate, this collection can inspire young historians and storytellers.

Nurse, smokejumper, private detective: the possibilities of where interests can blossom into careers stack up quickly.  Maybe a job as a career book curator….

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