I love books! They can take you to distant, wonderful places and open up our minds to whole new ideas. My husband once argued that he read more words during the day from emails and websites than I read from books during the day. There’s no way he’s winning that argument and my Goodreads statistics can prove it.
Because books introduce new ideas in an entertaining and comforting way, I love using them in therapy. Books can be helpful from issues ranging from feeling upset about mom’s broken arm to parents’ divorce to learning how to cope with anxiety and anger. Children can learn lessons and skills while at the same time having fun. While books do not solve the problem being addressed, they become springboards to talk to children about different issues. They can provide analogies and examples that help children remember and hold onto the lessons being taught. They can explain how to use various skills with memorable pictures. They can introduce themes so parents can easily open up a discussion with their kids. There seems to be a safety in talking about characters versus talking about real life challenges.
Below are some books that I have found to be helpful to clients and promote discussions or skills surrounding mental health issues. I have also added my opinion of reading level, although each child is different. There are probably hundreds of great books that can help children. Every child is different and some love certain books and find them helpful while others don’t relate to them.
Happy reading with your kids!
Best Kid Books for Feeling Identification
Recognizing and addressing emotions is an important part of coping with challenges.
- Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton is not only catchy (my husband and I quote it after reading it to our little girl) but the morals of the story are wonderful. Our negative moods will pass and it’s okay and normal to feel down at times. I recommend it for young children, but older children may find it entertaining as well. This book is great for pre-school aged children
- Glad Monster, Sad Monster by Ed Emberley and Anne Miranda comes with fun monster masks so you can discuss with your little “monsters” when they have felt the various emotions. I also recommend this for pre-school aged children and up.
- How are you Peeling by Saxton Freeman and Joost Elffers is a great way to begin talking about how your children of any age are feeling because the illustrations are photographs of real vegetables with faces. They’re great! I’m a little jealous of the photography skills.
- There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent is perhaps my all-time favorite book to use in therapy and kids love it because it’s a delightful story. I use this book as an analogy for recognizing and responding to emotions early before they build up. You with this book could also use it to talk about noticing others and being a friend or communicating our needs. The possibilities of analogies are really endless. This book is great for children around age 6 and up (or children who can understand analogies).
Best Picture Books for Self-esteem, Self Acceptance, Confidence, and Being Your Own Person
- A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon is such a fun story for kids and it teaches children to be your own person with confidence! It’s okay to be different and not follow the crowd. This story also teaches about resisting peer pressure. This book is written for middle to older school-aged children.
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees tells of a giraffe that feels different and left out until he realizes he has his own talents to give to the jungle. It’s a rhyming book and very fun to read. It is enjoyable for children of all ages, in my opinion. We read it to our baby girl and that is how I first found it, but older children would enjoy it perhaps even more.
- I Like Me! by Nancy Carlson is a story about a pig who likes herself and picks herself back up when she makes mistakes. Even more than that, she likes her body and that is an important message to send in today’s world. I often like having kids create their own I Like Me books. It is written for young children (around pre-school age).
- You Are Special by Max Lucado and Sergio Martinez is a religious classic about everyone’s individual worth regardless of popularity. I remember loving it as a child and remember everyone else loving it, too. It’s written for children elementary school-aged and up.
- Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger is a hilarious book about a penguin being his own person. It was another childhood favorite. Written for school-aged children and up.
- Click here to read the full post on best kid books that promote self esteem and self confidence.
Best Anxiety Books for Kids
- Duke’s Journey of Courage: Learning Skills to Cope with Anxiety by Tanya Lindquist (me) is full of several of my favorite techniques to use when working with children with anxiety. Duke, the great surfing dog known for his special tricks and flips, gets a stomach ache right before his first surfing competition. Luckily, his quirky fairy dogfather comes to the rescue and teaches him many skills he can use to cope with anxiety. This children’s picture book is complete with memorable jingles to remember the skills by, as well as a parent’s guide with thoughts on how to talk to children about the different anxiety coping skills discussed in the book. Intended for children ages 6 and up. Read a sample here.
- Don’t Feed the WorryBug by Andi Green and the parents’ resource guide Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug by John Irvine is a great combo. Don’t Feed the WorryBug has darling illustrations and follows the story of a bug who learns to have fun and focus on that instead of his worries. The companion book, Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug has numerous considerations, teaching points, and practical activities and techniques for parents to use with their kids.
- It’s Time for School, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore is hilarious book and a great example of playing the what-if game. The only thing I would change is asking children to answer the what-ifs so they can find the solutions themselves. This book is written for school aged children.
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Ruth E. Harper is a cute story about a raccoon that is anxious about going to school and leaving his mom. Parents can read this story and then come up with their own ritual to help their child feel better about going to school. For example, they can find a special comfort object for children to take to school and then return back to their caregiver once school is over to feel calmed in knowing they’re tied to home and mom (or caregiver) will always be there when they get back. This book is a sweet story and can be read to young children beginning with pre-school aged kids.
- The Berenstain Bears in the Dark by Stan and Jan Berenstain is a great book about using your imagination for good instead of using it to become anxious. It’s written for school-aged children and up.
- Click here to read the full article about best anxiety books for kids. It includes more picture books, workbooks, and books and resources for parents and caregivers.
Best Kid Books for Sadness
- The Energy Bus for Kids by Jon Gordon and illustrated by Korey Scott is about a bus driver who teaches a child how to overcome sadness that he is feeling. The principles taught include the effects of thoughts on our moods and positive thinking, doing happy things, no bullying, and helping others. This book is written for middle to older aged children.
- Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger is about a hippo that negatively interprets other animals’ comments and consequently feels depressed. She finally comforts someone else and learns to accept compliments at the end of the book. You can discuss with your child other ways to interpret situations and the effect of their negative thoughts on their moods. For school-aged children and up.
- Tough Boris by Men Fox and illustrated by Kathryn Brown helps children understand that it’s okay to feel sad or grieved sometimes because even tough pirates feel sad sometimes. This book is written for school aged children-perhaps younger when they are dealing with grief.
- Bailey Beats the Blah by Karen Tyrrell and illustrated by Aaron Pocock is not necessarily exciting or funny, but it offers some discussion points. Some possible questions to ask children surround why Bailey was feeling sad (what he was thinking about), where he feels sad, and what he did to feel better. Obviously the answers can be broadened to apply to a child’s individual feelings of “blah-ness.” This is written for older aged children.
Best Picture Books for Anger
- Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban and Henry Cole is a funny book about a mouse that gets all sorts of advice to calm down and eventually uses deep breathing to calm himself. Parents can talk to children about creative ways to calm themselves in addition to teaching deep breathing. This is for young children pre-school aged and up.
- When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang talks about a girl who takes time and space (by running outside) and immerses herself in nature (using 5 senses to be mindful of what is going on in nature) in order to relax and calm her emotions. This book is meant for young to middle aged children.
- Sometimes I’m Bombaloo by Rachel Vail Yumi Heo is about a girl who takes a time out and unintentionally uses humor to calm herself. You can discuss what humorous things your child can think about and remember to calm himself for agree and silliness are incompatible. This book is written for young children pre-school aged and up.
Other Great Picture Books
- It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear by Vicki Lansky is a story about a bear who learns his parents’ divorce is not his fault. It even has bullet points for parents to read and consider.
- Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown is formatted in comic-book form and teaches various aspects about dealing divorce. They have great talking points to address when it’s is applicable to your child. Some of the topics include not being responsible for the divorce, different emotions children can feel, why parents get divorced, and adjusting to step-parents.
- How To Be a Friend is also written by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown and it touches many different aspects of friendship from what friends are how to deal with arguments to joining in activities to being courageous when you feel shy. Parents can pick and choose what topics are applicable to their child.
- Bye-Bye, Bully! by J. S. Jackson and R. W. Alley is a straightforward, educational book with a religious bent about what bullying is and a few ways to try to cope with bullying and get it to stop.
Again, there are probably hundreds of other books that are helpful for children. For example, the Berenstain Bears has many other great stories about dealing with life like the addition of a baby to the family, learning not to lie, and cleaning up. My secret to finding new books to add to my library isn’t very secret. Oftentimes I just look at Amazon reviews! Parents and even some counselors will write reviews indicating whether they were helpful to their children or not.
Happy reading with your kids!
Disclaimer: Books are meant to be an aid, and not solve a problem by itself. If your child is experiencing a mental health challenge that is significantly and negatively impacting his or her life, seek help from a licensed professional.