Understanding complex emotions and life events is difficult for anyone, but especially for children. When they don’t have the proper tools to express their inner turmoil and process their surroundings, this can often lead to frustrating interactions with parents and caregivers. One tool to give your child is seeing big emotions and hard situations played out in a book.
Books are a great way to help children understand their feelings, learn about differences, and begin to understand the world around them. This can start as early as toddlerhood with picture books! An extra bonus to picture books is the visual representation of emotions, interactions, and experiences. These can be jumping off points for all kinds of conversations with your little ones. Not only that, but it removes your little one from having to be the one with the heavy feelings or thoughts. Instead, by focusing on the stories of the character, you can discuss these feelings and thoughts without your child feeling put on the spot.
With that in mind, here are eight suggestions for picture books that can help engage your little one in some of life’s biggest questions:
By Joanna Rowland
Joanna Rowland is a fantastic author whose books tackle real-life issues. Big Bear was Not the Same discusses posttraumatic stress disorder and the effects that trauma can have on individuals who experience it and those close to them. In addition to Big Bear was Not the Same, her other books focus on tough topics such as grief, friendship when times are tough, and hope.
By Tom Percival
Tom Percival is another picture book author that takes big feelings and makes them relatable to children. In Ruby Finds a Worry, Ruby experiences anxiety and thinks she is the only child with this issue. Eventually she realizes everyone gets Worries and the best way to deal with them is not to ignore them, but talk about them. Not only will the story interest your little readers, but the art depictions of the Worry are fun and engaging. Tom has many other books focusing on social emotional learning in his Big Bright Feelings series, including Perfectly Norman, Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends.
By Scott Stuart
This was one of my favorite picture books of 2021 (and apparently one of my daughter’s also, since she made it read it 3 times on the drive home from the bookstore alone)! A young boy who loves pink and dresses and “things that aren’t for boys” struggles to be himself when he doesn’t fit in with his family and friends. Stuart’s beautiful illustrations and lyrical prose open the door for inclusivity, diversity, self love, and acceptance. This book gives children the permission to “be themselves, even when it’s uncomfortable.”
By Anthony Lloyd Jones
The princess has everything she ever needs to make her happy until one day a fog settles over her and she can’t seem to feel happy anymore. The Princess and the Fog provides a fun, relatable look at childhood depression. An included guide in the back matter helps parents dig deeper on the topic. With realistic explanations of depression symptoms, Jones does a beautiful job of helping open up a conversation and foster understanding.
By Carrie Finison
Bodily autonomy and consent are tricky topics to discuss with kids, but important nonetheless. Don’t Hug Doug approaches bodily autonomy in a way kids can relate to– with the concept of hugs. Doug doesn’t like hugs, but his friends and family often insist on hugging him! This book encourages children to ask before touching someone and to voice their own desires about how they are touched. Instead of a hug, why not a high five?
By Lisa Katzenberger
Katzenberger creates a kid friendly approach to anxiety through her story about Giraffe and Zebra. When going about his usual routine Giraffe experiences something that makes him so worried and anxious he just wants to hide. Zebra’s empathy and friendship help him overcome his anxiety and get back to enjoying his day. Katzenberger includes excellent educational back matter that can help parents and teachers engage deeper with the topic of anxiety.
By Julie Koon
Each of us have experienced days where we felt like we were on the “struggle bus”. Nothing is going our way, we can’t seem to make things work out, and we have no idea how we’re going to get things done. In her book, Koon takes this to the next level by presenting children with images of an actual school bus as “the struggle bus”. Her lovely rhyme walks children through times of frustration, hardship, and ultimately perseverance.
By Sarah Lynne Reul
This year especially has seen lots of heartbreaking and stressful things in the news. From war, to pandemic, to school shootings, children may have been exposed to or have seen their caregivers’ reactions to media coverage of difficult situations. Sarah Lynne Reul tackles this in “The Breaking News” and helps show children and adults alike that while they may not be able to do BIG things to combat these issues, even small things can make a big difference.
Each of these books are excellent ways to not only dig deeper into big topics with your children, but to encourage their love of reading and their imagination.
For more resources on handling tough topics with kids, or to look into therapeutic interventions for yourself, your child, or family email [email protected].