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Addressing Perfectionism with Gifted Students: One book that may help

Written By: Christina Barber

Self-talk can be a great strategy for kids when facing challenges related to perfectionism, but the negative spiraling that can occur with feelings of self-doubt and defeatist comments can sometimes be too much. Using visualization strategies can make it easier to overcome the hurdles of both perfectionism and negative self-talk. In my third post on perfectionism, I present the Fan Brothers’ “The Barnabus Project,” and explore how to use the story as inspiration for students to create their own visualization techniques. This is another great book that can easily transcend the classroom and will make a great read for families.


Writer and Illustrator trio, Terry Fan, Eric Fan, in collaboration with Devin Fan have created a number of beautifully and whimsically illustrated books. “The Barnabus Project” is an inspiring and tale of courage and perseverance that helps children embrace their differences and see how they belong to a diverse community.

The Story:

The story begins with an elephant-like creature named Barnabus, who like the numerous creatures around him are failed experiments, part of a plan to create perfect pets. Though he may be small, Barnabus proves to be mighty, and when the creatures find themselves threatened by a bid to make them perfect too, he will find a way to lead an escape. Embracing his own differences and those of his new-found friends, the group of escapees will face challenges in finding their freedom and space to be themselves. With a little help from an unexpected ally, our hero and his band of misfits will find that support from those who understand you and accept you for who you are is invaluable.

What I love:

In “The Barnabus Project,” we meet a whole host of characters who all have their own idiosyncrasies and who accept themselves until they find out that they are misfits in a world that likes things to be the same and to follow certain expectations. The creatures themselves like their differences and don’t want to change. When their ability to stay that way is threatened, they must work together to protect themselves. There are some really great messages about recognizing and celebrating your differences. I also really like the messages of community and of shared experiences that come when each member of the group is accepted for who they are.

In the classroom:

* In my experience as a teacher of Gifted students, I have often heard students express their feelings of being inadequate and of needing to mask in order to have more social success. Connecting with other gifted kids has been a profound experience for many students and they report feeling better understood and more accepted by peers. In my class, we often discuss what it means to be a community and how we can better support each other. * We engage in personal reflections on experiences of feeling different or out of place and on how to mitigate the feelings of needing to change or to be something else for other people.

Extension: Perfectionist Pe(s)ts

I have used this story as a jumping off point to help students deal with their perfectionism. Inspired by the characters in this story, I challenged students to visualize their perfectionism as a pet, who is sometimes a pest. To do this, students imagined what their creature looked like and drew it. Students then thought about the nature of their creature, where to find it, and how to talk to it. Workshops in class centered around addressing perfectionism through internal discussions with the creature, including dialogue such as, “I see you, I know you want me to do well, but I have worked really hard and this is the best I can do right now.” Students practiced together and came up with dialogue they could use. This can work as a strategy for kids because it provides a separate interlocutor with whom to dialogue. It’s easier to tell the pink puffball living in your stomach to give it a rest than it is to tell yourself the same thing. My students will regularly refer to their perfectionist pests and this has been a great activity and one that we can come back to.

The sample work was created by a former student who was in grade 5 at the time of its creation. Art: chalk pastel on black paper.


The Fan Brothers, Terry Fan and Eric Fan, in collaboration with Devin Fan are winners of the Governor General’s Literary Award for “The Barnabus Project.”

Publisher: Tundra Books - Random House Canada Publishing date: Sep. 2020

Language: English

Softcover: 72 pages

ISBN-13: 9780735263260


Christina Barber is a writer and educator who lives in Vancouver, Canada. She teaches a full-time gifted program for students in Grades 5-7. An avid reader, she shares her passion for Canadian literature and history through her reviews at The Miramichi Reader and on Instagram @cb_reads_reviews. She has most recently been committed to writing and staging formally innovative single and multi-act plays for her students.


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