Books About Mental Health for Children to Teens
The other day (which could be anywhere between six months ago and last week), I scrolled past a sentiment on social media that expressed just how I’ve been feeling recently: “Don’t know about y’all but I could really go for some precedented times.” This statement made me want to both laugh and cry. We, as a society, are living with individual and collective losses and traumas from this past year, and I can’t think of a more important time to contribute to a discussion about mental health. While children and young people have proven themselves to be a resilient group, it is exceedingly necessary to give them tools and language to understand and express their emotions. It’s also essential for children to recognize that mental health is both circumstantial and biological, and that caring for one’s mind is crucial.
Consider reading these titles with the younger folks in your life during Mental Health Month or any time throughout the year. Just as our emotions become more complex as we get older, so does the discussion of mental health in the books I have recommended below. All of these books can be purchased at Eleanor’s Bookshop on the southwest corner of 11th and Lewis. If you’re unable to make it into the store, check out our online store at bookshop.org/shop/eleanorsbookshop, where we have some of these titles (and more!) organized in lists for your convenience.
GRUMPY TORTOISE by Michael Buxton
Learning about emotions and how to handle them at a young age is a critical building block in creating strong mental health in children, and the “first-time feelings” series from Kane Miller publishing is a great tool for teaching this. One title, GRUMPY TORTOISE, simply illustrates the concept of taking a break to relieve a bad mood. The Grumpy Tortoise begins the story…well…“grumpy.” But after spending some time alone in nature doing things that make him feel “a little less grumpy,” Tortoise shares a snack with some friends and enjoys the rest of his day. While basic, this board book provides an example of mindful relaxation and patience with emotions. Other “first-time feelings” stories include STEADY SLOTH, CAUTIOUS CHAMELEON, and SCAREDY CAT.
RUBY FINDS A WORRY by Tom Percival
This book holds a special place in my heart, as I chose to read this to my middle school students on the first day of school this year. In addition to owning Eleanor’s Bookshop, I teach 8th grade English. My first-day-of-school activities usually involve lots of collaboration and critical thinking, but I had to change my usual plans to accommodate CDC guidelines and students who hadn’t been in classrooms since March. Middle school kiddos love to be read to just as much as the little ones do, and this picture book was a great way to start building a relationship with my students on the first day of school.
Ruby, the main character, has begun to notice that something is following her around, which she later names a “worry” – a little yellow scribble with eyes. As the story progresses, the “worry” continues to get larger and larger until it interferes with Ruby’s everyday life. This book encourages children to talk about their problems with others rather than holding them in. Ruby is ultimately able to get rid of the worry by talking with a friend; the worry disappears!
A KIDS BOOK ABOUT EMOTIONS by Nakita Simpson
On the outside, this book looks like a black-and-white hardcover picture book. The inside, however, is a coloring and activity book; it’s reminiscent of B.J. Novak’s MY BOOK WITH NO PICTURES, for those who are familiar with it. The introduction notes that this is intended to be shared between a grownup and a kid, which is also clear with its discussion-style layout. For example, towards the middle of the book, it poses this question: “What are you and your grownup feeling while you read this book? Can you name some of those feelings now?” The next page has a space for both the child and the adult to write their responses. This title is thought-provoking, interactive, and approachable, making it the ideal tool to begin a discussion with a kiddo about feelings.
THE WORRYSAURUS by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Chris Chatterton
The picture book is a mix of traditionality and modernity. Its rhyming stanzas sound classical, yet the illustrations and text show its contemperality. The Worrysaurus is concerned about the rain ruining his picnic, and he almost lets the worrying ruin it before the weather can. Instead of canceling the picnic, which he is tempted to do, the Worrysaurus finds his favorite things to console him. These comfort items help him to cope with his worry, and he chooses to proceed with his picnic as planned – leading to a fun afternoon with his lizard friend! Children are discouraged from allowing their fears and worries interfere with their plans.
WHY DO WE CRY? by Fran Pintadera, illustrated by Ana Sender
The message of WHY DO WE CRY? is valuable for children who are just learning to verbalize their emotions. It depicts the conversation between a mother and her child when he asks why people cry. The story proceeds to detail thirteen different reasons for why someone might cry, including great sadness, loneliness, or joy! This emphasizes the way in which people experience the world and express themselves differently, yet they have shared traits. It also explains how tears can make people feel better, and that they should be welcomed rather than avoided.
GUTS by Raina Telgemeier
GUTS illustrates the connection between mental and physical health in a graphic novel written for upper-elementary-aged kiddos. Readers see the main character utilize talk therapy to overcome real and relatable concerns of 4th and 5th grade students. Meanwhile, she experiences stomach issues and fears that she has trouble vocalizing to her friends and family. The message of the story encourages readers to devote energy to mental health while understanding that others might also be experiencing their own struggles.
(DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH edited by Kelly Jensen
This collection of essays for young adults is rich with wisdom, wit, and authenticity. It is split into five chapters that spark the conversation about the complexities and intricacies of mental health, and the essays discuss numerous mental illnesses including eating disorders, addiction, anxiety, OCD, and more. Additionally, the back of the book lists resources to continue the conversation about mental health with films, hotlines, nonfiction books, and fiction books. This title would be excellent to use in a setting that encourages discussion among high school students, such as a classroom or book club.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green
In TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, Aza Holmes maintains friendships, flirts with a crush, and gets caught up in the mystery of a crime. She also has anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.The first-person narration of the story is powerful, as the reader begins to experience the constant desire for reprieve from Aza’s intrusive thoughts. Her anxiety and O.C.D. greatly impact how Aza interacts with the world around her, yet Green does an excellent job detailing the reality of living with mental illness without making Aza’s illness the plot of the story.