Did you know that in order to feel empathy and have intuition, we need to feel our emotions? And that while these books are really helpful, this stuff is mostly “caught not taught” meaning that as parents and caregivers, we need to be our children’s role models for feeling our feelings. (And not judge the uncomfortable ones as bad.) You probably also already know that emotional intelligence is a key predictor in a child’s future success.
Bravery, curiosity, sadness, and anxiety — these and others are feelings that every human experiences. Picture books like these new publications expose children to a range of emotions. Let’s keep helping our kids know about their emotions — and that it’s okay to feel them all.
New Picture Books that Develop Emotional Literacy
The Happy Book and Other Feelings by Andy Rash
I love this book! It accurately shows the range of emotions that we experience in a healthy day of living. Pay attention to the symbolism in the colors as well as items and puns (trombone, Wet Hen, scaredy Cat) — it’s really interesting to see how the author incorporates all of this into a relatable story of friendship. Happy Camper welcomes us to the book where he shares how happy he is to spend time with his friend (happy) Clam. But when Camper eats the entire friendship cake that Clam had baked, Clam leaves Happy into “The Sad Book.” Camper can’t believe it! He’s annoyed with Clam’s sadness so he goes into “The Angry Book.” After a trip into “The Scared Book,” the book ends perfectly with “The Feelings Book.” Here, all feelings are welcome. “As long as we’re together, you can feel any way you want about it, pal.” What a wonderful teaching book for kids to learn about emotions.⠀
My Heart by Corinna Luyken
Impactful black, gray and yellow illustrations immediately caught my eye. Simple text personifies the emotions of the heart. Together they create a deeply poignant book that begs to be discussed. “My heart is a window. My heart is a slide. My heart can be closed…or opened up wide.” Ask your kids what they think this means. Ask what they would say about their own hearts. Use this book as a mentor text for teaching metaphor and inference.
Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave by Jessica Hische
My 13-year-old daughter thinks this book is beautiful, stunning, and inspiring. The book’s message is meant to encourage kids to pause at the end of their day and be reflective, love themselves, and set intentions for tomorrow. Each hand-lettered adjective is big, bright, and impactful from adventurous to curious. The writing talks about all the possibilities for tomorrow…tomorrow you can be creative, brave, and confident. Just like you tried to be today. And if you didn’t succeed, it’s okay. Hische gives examples of activities for each trait — for creative she writes, “I’ll color and draw for hours // I’ll play a game of make-believe and use my magic powers.”
I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Need a gift book for graduation or a teacher’s classroom? Consider this one! Read it aloud in the classroom. Read it to your kids. It’s a philosophical book about feelings, not being perfect, making choices, and thinking of others. “I am human. I am always learning. I am finding my way and choosing my path on this incredible journey.” Added to: Best Children’s Books to Give for Graduation
My Quiet Ship by Hallee Adelmam, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
A little boy uses his imagination to cope when his parents fight. When the yelling hurts his ears, he goes to his Quiet Ship where he blasts off into space. Sometimes he gets off the ship and sometimes he stays for days. When the sounds make his stomach sick, he draws happy pictures. But one day he gets so mad, he leaves his ship and tells his parents to STOP YELLLLLING. His parents stop fighting and comfort him for the rest of the night. What does this story show kids? That they can use coping strategies to deal with tough situations…and that it’s not about how the parents feel about the child.
Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez, illustrated by Jess Golden
This story about a girl named Pilar shows a child experiencing anxiety — and what she does about it. She notices the sensations in her body like her heart beating fast and her legs prickling. She has strategies that help — breathing and saying, “I can do it.” It’s not overly complex but may show kids that they’re not alone and anxiety can get better.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
JUDGMENT vs. BEING OPEN-MIND
The soldier is glad there is a wall in the middle of the book because of his preconceived judgments about the danger on the other side, especially the Ogre. As you read about the soldier’s narration about the so-called safety of his side, children will notice that the soldier is not as safe as he thinks — he obliviously doesn’t realize the truth. As the water rises and a crocodile is about to eat him, the scary Ogre saves the soldier. Turns out, it’s actually safe and fun on the other side and the Ogre is nice. What will kids learn from this story? Maybe that what we think is scary (the unknown or different) isn’t what we think. I love that the illustrations in the picture book tell much of the story — it’s a powerful demonstration of why the illustrations are essential. Added to: Picture Books About Prejudice and Tolerance
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, illustrated by Mark Pett
Ibb is a curious and brave girl whose curiosity leads her to knock on the castle door from which no one has left in years. Ibb discovers a kind guard, the last one, who loves to garden and prune bushes. She and the guard share the castle and its harvest with everyone in the town. She shows the other people in her town the possibilities in opening doors to a new friendship.
Grumpy Duck by Joyce Dunbar, illustrated by Petr Horadek
Duck is grumpy and the gray cloud that is following her keeps getting bigger. Even worse, her friends are catching her grumpiness. This book could be helpful when discussing boundaries because we don’t have to feel what other people feel to have empathy for what they’re going through! I don’t like that this book implies that feelings are contagious or the fault of someone else.
Isle of You by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Jaime Kim
The child in this story is feeling sad. In this story that speaks directly to the reader, the author invites you to go to a fun, happy place. I would change the book’s premise of feeling sad to anxious because I’m NOT a proponent of emotional avoidance. I believe that it’s okay to feel sad. Of course, sometimes there is too much sad and then, you might compartmentalize with coping strategies like this. So with that, I agree that visual imagery can be a comfort and a way to redirect anxious thoughts. On the Isle of You you can fly on a giant eagle, stretch out on a hammock, dress up in costumes, or eat dessert. (Among other things.) It’s a wonderful place to imagine.
Delivery Bear by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Paco Sordo
Most kids can relate to wanting to do something but feeling like you don’t fit, you aren’t good enough. This happens to Zogby the bear. He has always wanted to be a delivery animal. He’s so excited when he gets the chance. He arrives with a package, a smile, and a song — and scares his customers. (Even with cute bunny ears and a cute bunny tail to help him look less scary.) Bear tries again by being himself and singing a song about not being scary and giving bear hugs. And it works! This is a sweet story with the messages to follow your dreams and be yourself.