There are whole months and days dedicated to raising mental health awareness, but this is a topic that deserves to be addressed all year long. Kids may be tiny people, but they have BIG feelings, and it’s important to support them through their emotions and experiences. From anxiety and sadness to excitement and anger, this collection of picture books and board books provide simple and effective tools for toddlers and young children to learn emotional regulation and self-awareness.
Lantana Publishing explores the complex feelings we all feel but cannot always name with Rajiv’s Starry Feelings, written by Niall Moorjani and illustrated by Nanette Regan. Rajiv has feelings for everything. Sometimes he feels confident, other times he can feel silly. But today, he feels angry, and he doesn’t know why. With the help of his father, Rajiv embarks on a journey to make sense of his feelings––which takes him to a park, up into the branches of a tree, and from there all the way to the stars!
Another way to think about emotions is to picture them as guests in a hotel, where they can come and go as they please. There is room for everyone in Cicada Books’ The Grand Hotel of Feelings, and each guest has unique needs. Anger is very loud and needs plenty of room to scream and shout. Sadness speaks in a small voice and occasionally floods the bathroom. Some feelings are big and some are small, some are fun and others tricky, but no feeling is ever turned away. Lidia Branković’s debut book, which emerges from her own journeys with emotional turbulence, opens up conversations about the importance of giving all your feelings room to breathe.
Feelings can become overwhelming, and Tiger Tales’ Big, Big Feelings proves that words can become our superpower in overcoming big emotions. Willow is an adorable little sister…most of the time. Sometimes her feelings get to be just a bit too much, and WAAAHHH!!––a tantrum ensues. With love, support, and patience from her older brother, Willow soon learns that she can use the power of words to help her cope.
For younger readers, aged two to four, Child’s Play International’s newest board book series, First Feelings, focuses on the six main emotions experienced by little ones. Featuring non-gendered characters and avoiding stereotypical associations of color and emotion, each book introduces toddlers to the feelings raised by one emotion. Books in the series include: When I Feel Sad, When I Feel Scared, When I Feel Surprised, When I Feel Loved, When I Feel Happy, and When I Feel Angry. Developed in conjunction with a child psychologist, and illustrated by Paula Bowles, this series was written with both neurodivergent and neurotypical readers in mind.
Tiger Tales recognizes the importance that emotions play in a child’s development, starting from birth. Touch and Feelings: Calmer Llama, written by child psychologist Dr. Naira Wilson and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, is an adorable touch-and-feel board book introducing children to the concept of relaxing and offers tips on how to achieve this feeling. Other books in this series include Angry Bear, Happy Bunny, and Scared Puppy––and each features a child-safe mirror so kids can see exactly how they look when experiencing various emotions.
In 2012, Mies van Hout’s Happy became both an electrifying art piece and a social-emotional learning book used by thousands of people around the world to name their emotions. Reissued by Pajama Press in May 2023, this stunning new edition features the same luminous and emotive fish swimming across extra-heavy pages, expressing feelings of curiosity, contentment, shock, and more! Happy is the perfect book for a story time setting, where kids can practice emotional vocabulary through face-making or whole-body exercise. Or, share it one-on-one to help children name what they’re feeling. The New York Times Book Review calls van Hout’s Happy “a tour de force of underwater awesomeness and emotion.”
Feelings are meant to be felt, no matter how big or how small. We hope parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians can implement these books to help young kids process their emotions in healthy ways!