This incredible list from Child Mind outlines great books that dive into mental health for kids
From a hedgehog too anxious to go ice skating to a puppy who can’t make his letters come out right, children’s books address many emotional, behavioral and learning challenges kids face. These books help kids name and understand feelings and experiences they may be struggling with. At the Child Mind Institute we’ve contacted publishers all over to call in books that address mental health and learning disorders and other common challenges, like dealing with painful experiences and coping with strong emotions.
We included books for kids up to 12, from picture books to be read with preschoolers to chapter books for independent reading by older children. Our clinicians read them all and picked the best in each category, based on how helpful they found them. Here you will see descriptions of 44 books we like, and we hope you will find useful.
I Said No! A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private Written by Zach and Kimberly King, illustrated by Sue Rama
This clever book helps kids understand boundaries, using “red flag” and “green flag” terminology. “It reviews a lot of classic scenarios in simple language,” says an expert from the Child Mind Institute. Ages 4-8. Published by Boulden Publishing.
Cory Stories: A Kid’s Book About Living With ADHD Written by Jeanne Kraus, illustrated by Whitney Martin
Cory tells readers about himself in this picture book with black-and-white illustrations. Cory says that sometimes kids make fun of him and he isn’t sure why. “Sometimes my whole body falls off the chair!” But readers also learn that Cory has persevered, concentrating in karate class, making friends at bowling club, and helping other kids with math. The important parting message: “Nobody needs to be good at everything. But I found out that I am good at a lot of things.” Ages 6-11. Published by Magination Press.
I Can’t Sit Still! Living With ADHD Written by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso, illustrated by Marta Fabrega
In this picture book’s first-person account, Lucas learns that ADHD is the reason he shouts out the answer to math problems in class and has a hard time following the rules in kickball. His doctor gives him medicine and strategies that help him improve. “It provides a clear explanation of common symptoms and interventions in kid-friendly terms,” says an expert from the Child Mind Institute. You’ll also appreciate the parent’s guide at the end of the book. Ages 5-9. Published by B.E.S. Publishing.
Why Can’t Jimmy Sit Still? Written by Sandra L. Tunis, PhD, illustrated by Maeve Kelly
Seven-year-old Jimmy shouts out answers at school, gets carried away at recess, and is distracted when he’s doing homework. He doesn’t understand why he can’t settle down until his parents take him to the doctor and he finds out he has ADHD. This book is written by a psychologist who discusses common symptoms in an age-appropriate way and makes it clear that ADHD isn’t a child’s fault. Ages 4-8. Published by New Horizon Press.
Don’t Feed the WorryBug Written and illustrated by Andi Green
In this whimsical rhyming book, Wince, the monster of worries, learns that the more he worries, the more the pesky WorryBug grows. Eventually the WorryBug grows so big that it can’t be ignored, and Wince knows he needs to do something. The book does a good job of illustrating how anxiety can become overwhelming and teaches kids how they can take charge of their anxiety. Ages 3-8. Published by Monsters in My Head.
The Fix-It Friends: Have No Fear! Written by Nicole C. Kear, illustrated by Tracy Dockray
Seven-year-old Veronica wants to help her classmate Maya conquer her fear of bugs, which is preventing her from playing at recess. Veronica comes up with a step-by-step plan that starts with drawing a spider. “Showing gradual exposure to anxieties is a great approach,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Ages 7-10. Published by Imprint.
Hector’s Favorite Place Written and illustrated by Jo Rooks
A cute hedgehog turns down ice-skating and playing in the snow with his animal friends because of his worries. “What if he had forgotten how to skate? He could fall and hurt himself.” When Hector receives a fun invitation to the Winter Forest Party, he hesitates for a while, and then realizes that he has to be brave. “It’s an adorable story,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. “I like that Hector does a little more, and then a little more, and so on.” Ages 4-8. Published by Magination Press.
How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear? By Jayneen Sanders, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Anxious about school, soccer practice, and monsters under his bed, baby bear worried day and night, despite his family telling him to stop worrying. But when his mom began encouraging him to talk about and even draw out his worries, the feelings began to subside. “I like that the book emphasizes the importance of sharing your thoughts and feelings,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Another plus: The book suggests questions that you can ask your child as you’re reading together. Ages 6-10. Published by Educate2Empower Publishing.
Pilar’s Worries Written by Victoria M. Sanchez, illustrated by Jess Golden
In this new picture book, Pilar lives and breathes ballet — she even does pliés while brushing her teeth. But auditioning for the winter ballet performance makes her feel scared, and she almost doesn’t go. By using smart coping techniques, like positive thinking and talking with her friends, she’s able to overcome her fears. Bravo! Ages 4-8. Published by Albert Whitman & Company.
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety Written by Dawn Huebner, illustrated by Bonnie Matthews
Designed for kids and parents to read together, this nine-chapter behavior therapy workbook covers topics like “How Do Worries Get Started?” and “Keeping Worries Away.” Suggestions include relaxation exercises and setting up a designated “Worry Time.” Several pages encourage kids to draw or write about their worries. The brilliant final page requests that kids draw a picture of themselves without worries. Ages 6-12. Published by Magination Press.
Armond Goes to a Party: A Book About Asperger’s and Friendship Written by Nancy Carlson and Armond Isaak, illustrated by Nancy Carlson
Co-written by a boy with Asperger’s, this picture book “gives a simple understanding of why children with Asperger’s struggle to attend parties, and talks about the importance of learning flexibility,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Readers may relate to Armond’s fear of balloons popping and not being able to think of anything to say. In the end, Armond admits to his mom that the party was hard, but he’s glad he went. Ages 4-8. Published by Free Spirit Publishing.
A Boy Called Bat Written by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Charles Santoso
On the surface, it’s a sweet boy-wants-pet story. Bixby’s (aka Bat’s) mom is a veterinarian, and she brings home a baby skunk that he desperately wants to keep. But readers with autism may relate to chatter about itchy and uncomfortable clothes, sticking with routines, and only having friends who are grown-ups. “It does a wonderful job of describing the day-to-day experience of high-functioning children with ASD,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Ages 6-10. Published by Walden Pond Press.
A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book Written by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Tim Probert
In the first book of a series, best friends Rip and Red have just started fifth grade. Red has autism, and Rip doesn’t. Their common passion: basketball. Many chapters like “Hoops Madness” and “Bulldozed and Blitzed” focus on their adventures on the school’s b-ball team. “It’s not a book that’s obviously about autism,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. “It’s a fun, lighthearted story with characters that will seem very relatable to tweens.” Ages 8-12. Published by Square Fish.
Am I a Bully? Written by Hope Gilchrist, illustrated by Zoe Jordon
Toby makes his friends laugh when he teases a classmate over his weird clothes. He’s just trying to be funny and he isn’t beating anyone up, so he can’t be a bully — can he? This independently published paperback helps children recognize when teasing crosses the line into bullying. Ages 6-9. Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Chrysanthemum Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
This sweet story prepares kids for how short-lived teasing can be. On the first day of school, Victoria picks on Chrysanthemum because she has the same name as a flower, and Chrysanthemum wilts under the ridicule. Then the students learn that a teacher has a similar name, and all of a sudden Chrysanthemum is cool. Ages 4-8. Published by Mulberry Books.
Tease Monster: A Book About Teasing vs. Bullying Written by Julia Cook, illustrated by Anita DuFalla
Particularly good for an anxious or literal child, this rhyming book helps distinguish between teasing and bullying. “There are two types of teasing: the nice and the mean,” Cook writes. “You think that everyone’s against you, but it’s not like it seems.” Readers will learn strategies for responding to both good-natured teasing and bullying. Ages 5-10. Published by Boys Town Press.
Warp Speed Written by Lisa Yee
In a fast-paced chapter book that will appeal to reluctant readers, Marley thinks seventh grade will be boring until he draws attention from the school bully. Digger pushes Marley down in the hallway, and the drama unfolds. “It’s a very relatable story for kids who feel like outsiders,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Bonus: If your child is a fan of Star Wars, there are loads of references. Ages 8-12. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books.
Wonder Written by R.J. Palacio
In this popular chapter book that spurred the “Choose Kind” movement in classrooms, a boy with a facial deformity switches to a mainstream school for the fifth grade and is bullied. “But he has a strong network of family and friends to help him overcome bullying,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. “Ultimately, the readers will see how differences should be celebrated.” Ages 8+. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Can I Catch It Like a Cold? Coping With a Parent’s Depression Written by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, illustrated by Joe Weissmann
Alex’s dad doesn’t work anymore and just wants to sleep all the time. When Alex finds out why — that he’s suffering from depression — he confides in his friend Anna. She tells him that her mom has depression too, and she sees a therapist to help her feel better. “I like that it promotes the benefits of therapy for the entire family,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Ages 7-12. Published by Tundra Books.
My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope Written by Diane Guerrero with Erica Moroz
An actress on TV shows such as Orange Is the New Black, Guerrero shares the heartbreaking story of her Colombian parents being deported when she was 14. She also reveals how she battled depression, and had suicidal thoughts in her early 20s. “I wanted so badly to prove that I could take care of myself. That I didn’t need anyone. That I was grown-up,” she writes. “By the time I admitted to myself that I did still need others, I had pushed away the people I loved.” Ages 12+. Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Back to Front and Upside Down! Written and illustrated by Claire Alexander
This sweet picture book follows Stan, a puppy, and his animal classmates. Stan’s letters come out “back to front and upside down, and some didn’t look like letters at all,” but he’s afraid to ask his teacher for help because he thinks the other kids will laugh at him. When he finally does, he learns that with help — and lots of practice — he can succeed. “The book sends the positive message that things will get better with a bit of hard work,” says an expert at the Child Mind Institute. Ages 4-8. Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.