Literature has the power to teach and transform. That is why every year I love to buy books for the people on my Christmas list, especially my young nieces and nephews. When working with young children in a counseling session, I often use books as a way to help them identify thoughts and feelings that may be scary or uncomfortable. Reading allows children to have “life experiences” through storytelling and imagine how they might respond in situations similar to characters in a book. It can be a wonderful way to get them talking about emotions and how to handle difficult situations. Here are a few of my favorite picture books for teaching social and emotional skills to children. You can also click the images to find out more information!
After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat
This tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall―that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he summon the courage to face his fear? A witty story with an ending that leaves me crying every time I read it!
There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi
Another book that helps children identify what keeps them stuck with worry. The story captures a timid pup’s looping thoughts, in a funny and honest read-aloud about how overwhelming the world can be when you’re worried — and how empowering it is to overcome your fears when it matters the most.
Don’t Think About Purple Elephants by Susanne Merritt
One of the most common reasons that a parent will bring a child to counseling is to help with worry or anxiety. The best approach is to talk about worries and make sure to not avoid the thing that keeps us worried. This book follows Sophie, a girl who is not so worried during the day when she is busy with family and friends. Her worry comes up at night when everything is calm and quiet. Her mother thinks of a new approach to help … that might just involve an elephant or two! But wait, don’t think about purple elephants, whatever you do! Whimsical and humorous, this little girl’s story of finding a way to ease her worry will resonate with children and parents everywhere.
Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler
Recess can be tough for children who struggle with emotions. This is a hilarious depiction about sharing, friendship, and the struggles kids experience with playground politics. This book is a great jump-off point to talk with kids about their playground problems and help them identify ways to work through their challenges.
Crabby Pants by Julie Gassman
Roger gets CRABBY. A LOT. He is crabby about running out of his favorite food, not being able to go to the zoo, and missing his favorite TV shows. Sometimes he ends up in the naughty chair. Can Roger figure out how to stop being such a crabby pants? This humorous and lighthearted picture book delivers an important message about growing up and managing feelings. If you have a child that is often irritated, this is a good book to help them (and you) understand what may be leading to the “crabby” attitude.
David Gets In Trouble by David Shannon
Whatever the situation, David’s got a good excuse. And no matter what he’s done “wrong,” it’s never really his fault. Soon, though, David realizes that making excuses makes him feel bad, and saying he’s sorry makes him feel better. A hilarious story that every kid and parent will relate to. The author grew up in Spokane, Washington so it is extra fun sharing that the main character in the book is talking about his experience growing up in the same town.
Decibella and Her 6-Inch Voice by Julia Cook
Some kids are loud and don’t even seem to know it. Isabella is a spirited girl who enjoys shouting out her thoughts, ideas and feelings. In fact, she loves using her loud voice so much; it’s earned her the nickname, Decibella! Isabella learns the five volumes of voice and discovers that different situations require a different tone. This books give kids and parents a rating scale they can use to assess a social situation and identify which level is appropriate.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson
Building resilience is an important concept to teach children. Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s inspiring true story is nothing short of remarkable. Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. I also love talking about how we can recognize and admire those who work hard to overcome physical or emotional challenges.
Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
In a world that shouts at our children they must be extraordinary to be important, this book shows that we all have amazing qualities to celebrate. Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. Good for self-esteem work and identifying qualities that a child has that are important to family and friends.
What Do You Do With a Problem? By Kobi Yamada
This is the story of a persistent problem and the child who isn’t so sure what to make of it. The longer the problem is avoided, the bigger it seems to get. But when the child finally musters up the courage to face it, the problem turns out to be something quite different than it appeared. A story for anyone, at any age, who has ever had a problem that they wished would go away. It’s a story to inspire you to look closely at that problem and to find out why it’s here. Because you might discover something amazing about your problem… and yourself. I use this book as a conversation starter for children who have experienced some kind of difficult life situation so that I can understand how they see the issue.
Holidays are a time to reinforce how much we love and cherish our kids. I encourage anyone who buys a child a book to read and discuss the book with them as a point of connection. This gives a child the confidence that they can talk about emotional matters with the important adults in their lives. We know that the more caring attachments a child has, the more likely they will grow into secure adults.