Children see the world through the eyes of wonder—it’s one of the things that makes them delightful. But I am especially interested in experiences that cause a child to see himself or herself with a sense of wonder—when he is amazed at something he does or when she realizes something important about herself.

When I was in the 7th grade in Lovington, New Mexico, I came in 33rd in our city-wide spelling bee. I’m not sure why, but when the bee was over, I thought, “I’m going to win next year. I’m going to learn all the words and win.” And, with mom’s help, I did.

I couldn’t have put this into words then, of course, but winning that spelling bee affected the way I felt about myself; I realized that I could just set my mind to something and do it. As an adult, I’ve often drawn on that. (This experience also nurtured my love of words, which has been a big part of my life.)

I call experiences like these “Self-Wow moments.” You’ll find them throughout children’s literature—often at a turning point in the story. I put one in my children’s novel, The Tale of Hodgepodge.

Hodgepodge was a hippo who, as a baby, was mysteriously lost in the jungle. He was found and raised by elephants, so he grew up thinking he was an elephant. He didn’t know who he was.

When Hodgepodge was older, his mother appeared to him in a dream and explained that he is actually a hippo. When Hodgepodge woke up, he ran into the jungle to look for his mother. There, he met a parrot named Krakatoa, and told him about his dream. Krakatoa replied:

“Hodgepodge—when you first learned you were a hippo, how did you feel?”

 “I was very surprised. I didn’t know what a hippo was. But after a while, it felt good. Very good.”

 “You had a Self-Wow moment,” said Krakatoa.

 “What’s a Self-Wow moment?”

 “A moment when you’re surprised and amazed to be exactly what you are. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does—Wow!”

A centipede had crawled out onto the branch where Krakatoa was perched. At this point, she spoke up: “I’m amazed to be exactly what I am!”

“And with all those feet, why shouldn’t you be?” said Krakatoa.

“Want to see me dance?” said the centipede.

“Of course,” said Krakatoa.

Krakatoa whistled a tune and the centipede danced with all of her feet and never stumbled once. It was quite a sight…

When the centipede had finished her dance, Krakatoa said to Hodgepodge, “As I was about to say, being amazed to be exactly what you are is the best place to start when you’re trying to understand your dream.”

I do believe that Self-Wow moments—moments of special accomplishment or new realization—are moments to pay attention to. Not only do they boost self-esteem, but they may point a child toward an important dream for her life.