Home Book Award 8 Heartfelt and Powerful Children’s Books About Negative Emotions

8 Heartfelt and Powerful Children’s Books About Negative Emotions

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Last month, I dug into the subject of why many children’s books don’t feature negative emotions. Now that I’ve started to learn about this deficit in children’s books, I notice it more often. I even looked through my picture book collection at home and came away with some interesting finds. My son and I have a total of 151 children’s books. The majority of our collection includes books that I have kept from my childhood or books that we have received as gifts, although I supplement these with frequent trips to the library. Of the 151 picture books we have at home, can you guess how many deal with negative emotions?

Seven books.

That’s 4.6% of our picture book collection, or 5% if I’m generous on the turn. I have included an image of these seven books below. Of course, my collection is in no way representative of the actual percentage of children’s books that feature negative emotions. However, I find it remarkable that my collection is only 5%. How many do you have at home? Or, if you’re a library regular like me, how many do you notice in the children’s section of the library?

Children’s books about negative emotions are important because they help support children’s emotional health. In a blog post on helping children manage their anger, clinical psychologist Dr Jazmine McCoy writes“Children learn to regulate their bodies and their feelings through us. We have to help them – this is called co-regulation – before they can learn to regulate on their own. this process must be gone through.”

When Sadness Comes to Call book cover by Eva Eland

Eva Eland, author of the children’s book When sadness is at your doorstep, addresses the internal conflict that some adults may experience when discussing negative emotions with children. In one Article from BookTrust 2019 she acknowledges: “I understand that it may not be easy for adults to open up and show a more vulnerable side, especially when they have not learned very well how to manage their own emotions in their own childhood. Or how hard it can be to let go of the desire to protect children from pain and negative emotions… But strong emotions like sadness, disappointment and fear will always be a part of life, and I believe that the best way to protect our children from too much pain is to give them the opportunity to learn how to manage it, in a way that suits them and at a pace that they are comfortable with.

As Eland points out, negative emotions are part of life. Children’s books about negative emotions can help caregivers find the words to discuss big feelings with children. They also provide children with a sense of validation for their feelings and tools to deal with their emotions safely.

However, this comes with the caveat that not all children’s books about negative emotions are helpful for emotional education. For example, you may have noticed the popular children’s book Pout pout fish by Deborah Diesen in the image above. Rather than normalizing “pout pout” or negative fishy feelings, the message of this book sadly struck me as follows: Big feelings upset those around you. Take this quote for example, “Your bulky sulk is an unattractive trait!” (Pout pout fish, p. 16). Books about negative emotions that instead offer empathy, support, and coping strategies are the ones I find most impactful.

In the list below, I’ve included children’s books about negative emotions that I believe promote healthy emotional education. I hope they help you and the kids you know learn to deal with big feelings.

Children’s books about negative emotions

A variety of negative feelings

Book cover B is for breathing

B for breathing: the ABCs of dealing with restless and frustrating feelings by Melissa Munro Boyd

Written by clinical psychologist Dr. Melissa Munro Boyd, this powerful picture book tackles every letter of the alphabet, highlighting strategies for dealing with big feelings, including deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and more. In a guest post on the Black Children’s Books and Authors blog, Dr Boyd shares“The purpose of writing B is for Breathe was to help children identify skills that could help them cope with stressors in healthy ways and start the conversation about mental health, self-care and resilience. “

Sadness and grief

book cover of Sometimes When I'm Sad

Sometimes when I’m sad by Dr. Deborah Serani, illustrated by Kyra Teis

Psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani wrote this poignant children’s book about sadness. In this helpful resource, Dr. Serani explores feelings of sadness in a thoughtful and gentle way, as well as ways people can cope with sadness. At the end of the book, Dr. Serani also explains the important distinctions between sadness and depression.

Cover of the book Why I Feel Sad

Why do I feel so sad? A grieving book for children by Tracey Lambert, illustrated by Elena Napoli

Licensed Professional Counselor Tracey Lambert explores sadness and grief in this heartfelt and moving children’s book. Lambert also normalizes the many forms of grief resulting from loss and life changes such as death, divorce, moving, and changing schools.

Anger

book cover of I was so mad

I was so crazy by Mercer Mayer

Mercer Mayer little creature The series is a longtime favorite of mine, and my son loves them too. With humor and relatable scenarios, Mayer normalizes the feeling of anger. I always gain a bit more empathy and understanding when I read this one with him. I think it helps my child feel less alone getting angry at times, and it helps me feel less alone as a parent dealing with my child’s anger.

No Matter What by Debi Gliori Book cover

No matter what by Debi Gliori

This lovely book by Debi Gliori is another of my son’s favourites. At the beginning of the book, “Small felt dark and grumpy.” When Large asks Small what’s wrong, Small explains his feelings, then adds, “and I don’t think you like me at all”. Large continues to reassure Small that no matter how bad their feelings, Large loves them no matter what. I think this is an important message to reinforce with your little ones after they’ve had a great emotional time.

Anxiety and worry

Pilar's Worries book cover by Victoria M. Sanchez (Goodreads author), Jess Golden (illustrator)

Pilar’s worries by Victoria M. Sanchez, illustrated by Jess Golden

While Pilar loves to dance, she worries about auditioning for the next ballet. Although her whole body feels nervous about it, Pilar uses gentle techniques to calm her body and persevere as she pursues her passion for dance. This heartwarming story about anxiety makes uplifting reading for any worried youngster in your life.

Cover of the book What do you do with a problem?  by Kobi Yamada

What do you do with a problem? By Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

With beautiful and moving illustrations by Mae Besom, this book by Kobi Yamada takes a closer look at the worry that can overwhelm you when faced with a problem. This book helps validate those anxious feelings and shares an action plan for how to deal with a problem, as well as a hopeful reflection on the nature of the problems.

Loneliness and fear

The day you start cover

The day you start by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

This lyrical and poetic picture book by National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodsen explores how lonely it can be for someone who feels different from others. Woodsen shares an uplifting message that while it may seem scary at first, finding the courage to share your story can help you begin to make life-changing connections.

Although I have chosen books on sadness, grief, anger, worry, fear and loneliness, this list is not exhaustive and there are many other negative emotions. What books have you found helpful in addressing negative emotions with children? I hope this list encourages more conversations about negative emotions in the world of children’s books.

Reading and talking about negative emotions has had an incredible impact on my son and me. I hope these books will make a difference for you and the little ones in your life too.