Mental Health: Picture Books

Ann Jacobus and Nan­cy Bo Flood, authors and edu­ca­tors, devel­oped this list of pic­ture books with men­tal health as a focus. They are main­tain­ing it, so if you have sug­ges­tions, please let us know in the com­ments. Ann and Nan­cy are avail­able for work­shops on this impor­tant top­ic for librar­i­ans, edu­ca­tors, and men­tal health orga­ni­za­tions. Ann Jacobus. Nan­cy Bo Flood.


A Walk in the Woods
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney
illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Pinkney
Neal Porter Books, 2023
(depres­sion, grief) 

Con­fused and dis­traught after the death of his father, a boy opens an enve­lope he left behind and is sur­prised to find a map of the woods beyond their house, with one spot marked in bright red. But why? The woods had been some­thing they shared togeth­er, why would his father want him to go alone?

Slow­ly, his mind set­tles as he sets off through the spaces he once explored with his dad, pass­ing famil­iar beech and black oak trees, flit­ting Car­oli­na wrens, and a garter snake they named Sal. When he reach­es the spot marked on the map, he finds pages upon pages of draw­ings of wood­land crea­tures, made by his father when he was his age. What he sees shows him a side of his dad he nev­er knew, and some­thing even deep­er for them to share togeth­er. His dad knew what he real­ly need­ed was a walk in the woods.

After the Fall:
How Hump­ty Dump­ty Got Back Up Again
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Dan San­tat
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2017
(depres­sion, anxiety) 

Every­one knows that when Hump­ty Dump­ty sat on a wall, Hump­ty Dump­ty had a great fall. But what hap­pened after?

Dan San­tat’s poignant 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 no longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he sum­mon the courage to face his fear?

Aunt Pearl
writ­ten by Mon­i­ca Kulling
illus. by Irene Luxbach­er
Ground­wood Books, 2019

Aunt Pearl arrives one day push­ing a shop­ping cart full of her world­ly goods. Her sis­ter Rose has invit­ed her to come live with her family.

Six-year-old Mar­ta is hap­py to meet her aunt, who takes her out to look for trea­sure on garbage day, and who shows her camp group how to dec­o­rate a cof­fee table with bot­tle caps. But almost imme­di­ate­ly, Pearl and Rose start to clash — over Pearl’s belong­ings crammed into the house, and over Rose’s house­hold rules. As the weeks pass, Pearl grows qui­eter and more with­drawn, until, one morn­ing, she is gone.

Black Dog
Levi Pin­fold 
Tem­plar Books, 2012

This fable about con­fronting and con­quer­ing fear should hook any­one who sees Pinfold’s cov­er illus­tra­tion, which depicts a Goth­ic-look­ing house, a tiny child, and a paw print the size of a tank. The sto­ry begins one snowy morn­ing when Mr. Hope looks out­side to see a dog the size of a tiger. That assess­ment is upgrad­ed to the size of an ele­phant when Mrs. Hope sees it, and the size of a Tyran­nosaurus rex when lit­tle Ade­line sees it. (A huge gold­en eye stares through the win­dow next to where Ade­line brush­es her teeth.) The family’s solu­tion? Turn out the lights, close the cur­tains, and hide beneath the cov­ers. Thank­ful­ly, the youngest, Small, goes out­side to meet the tow­er­ing dog, whose big wet nose cov­ers a full two-page spread. She gets the dog to chase her, using rhymes to con­vince the ani­mal to get pro­gres­sive­ly small­er to fit through var­i­ous obsta­cles: You can’t fol­low where I go, / unless you shrink, or don’t you know? Pinfold’s lav­ish, Van Alls­bur­g­like illus­tra­tions, which jux­ta­pose tiny black-and-white sketch­es with big, detailed, frozen-in-time paint­ings, are quirky, fun­ny, and often heart-stop­ping. Part David and Goliath, part Gin­ger­bread Man, this UK import is a shot of courage for those who need it most. (Book­list, starred review)

Char­lie Changes into a Chick­en
writ­ten by Sam Copeland
illus­trat­ed by Sarah Horne
Puf­fin Books, 2019

Char­lie McGuf­fin tries to be an opti­mist, but in real­i­ty he’s a bit of a worrier.

Some of the things Char­lie is wor­ried about:

  • His broth­er (who is in hospital)
  • Their very pan­icked parents
  • Unwant­ed atten­tion from the school bully
  • The fact that he’s start­ed turn­ing into animals!

Even though every kid wants a super­hero pow­er, Char­lie isn’t keen on turn­ing into a pigeon in the mid­dle of the school play.

But what hap­pens if he does? Will he get sent away for Sci­ence to deal with? Will his par­ents crack under the extra stress?

With the help of his three best friends, Char­lie needs to find a way of deal­ing with his crazy new pow­er — and fast!

Lit­tle Mouse’s Big Book of Fears
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Emi­ly Gravett
Simon & Schus­ter, 2008
(anx­i­ety, phobias)

Spi­ders: Lit­tle Mouse is afraid of them (arachno­pho­bia).

Shad­ows: Lit­tle Mouse is afraid of those (sci­a­pho­bia).

In fact, Lit­tle Mouse is afraid of every­thing. Join her as she faces her fears and records them in her jour­nal — and dis­cov­ers that even the biggest peo­ple are afraid of some things.

Whether or not they choose to face their own fears, kids will feel that a chord has been struck – and they’ll savor spic­ing up their bud­ding vocab­u­lar­ies.” (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

I Am a Bear
by Jean-François Dumont
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2015

Life isn’t easy for a bear. Not when he has to sleep on the side­walk among card­board box­es and old clothes. Not when he lives in a city full of peo­ple who are repulsed by him. Not when he’s hun­gry and home­less. But one day a young girl smiles at the bear, and he real­izes that maybe there is some­thing that could make life a bit eas­i­er — a friend.

This poignant, heart­warm­ing tale will move read­ers of all ages and inspire them to be more com­pas­sion­ate and empa­thet­ic towards oth­ers. USBBY 2015 Out­stand­ing Inter­na­tion­al Book.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
writ­ten by Michael Rosen
illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2005
(grief, depres­sion) 

Some­times I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and cov­ers me up.

Sad things hap­pen to every­one, and some­times peo­ple feel sad for no rea­son at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is think­ing about his son, Eddie, who died sud­den­ly at the age of eigh­teen. In this book the author writes about his sad­ness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it — like telling him­self that every­one has sad stuff (not just him) and try­ing every day to do some­thing he can be proud of. Expres­sive­ly illus­trat­ed by the extra­or­di­nary Quentin Blake, this is a very per­son­al sto­ry that speaks to every­one, from chil­dren to par­ents to grand­par­ents, teach­ers to grief coun­selors. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel deeply sad, the truth of this book will sure­ly touch you.

Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival

Ruby’s Wor­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Tom Per­ci­val
Blooms­bury, 2018

Ruby loves being Ruby. Until, one day, she finds a wor­ry. At first it’s not such a big wor­ry, and that’s all right, but then it starts to grow. It gets big­ger and big­ger every day and it makes Ruby sad. How can Ruby get rid of it and feel like her­self again A per­cep­tive and poignant sto­ry that is a must-have for all chil­dren’s book­shelves. From Tom Per­ci­val’s best­selling Big Bright Feel­ings series, this is the per­fect book for dis­cussing child­hood wor­ries and anx­i­eties, no mat­ter how big or small they may be.

Scaredy Squir­rel
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press, 2006

Scaredy Squir­rel nev­er leaves his nut tree. It’s way too dan­ger­ous out there. He could encounter taran­tu­las, green Mar­tians, or killer bees. But in his tree, every day is the same and if dan­ger comes along, he’s well-pre­pared. Scaredy Squir­rel’s emer­gency kit includes antibac­te­r­i­al soap, Band-Aids, and a para­chute.

Day after day he watch­es and waits, and waits and watch­es, until one day … his worst night­mare comes true! Scaredy sud­den­ly finds him­self out of his tree, where germs, poi­son ivy and sharks lurk.

But as Scaredy Squir­rel leaps into the unknown, he dis­cov­ers some­thing real­ly uplifting …

Small Things
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Mel Tre­gonning
(anx­i­ety, depression) 

In this word­less graph­ic pic­ture book, a young boy feels alone with his wor­ries. He isn’t fit­ting in well at school. His grades are slip­ping. He’s even lash­ing out at those who love him.

Tal­ent­ed Aus­tralian artist Mel Tre­gonning cre­at­ed Small Things in the final year of her life. In her emo­tion­al­ly rich illus­tra­tions, the boy’s wor­ries man­i­fest as tiny beings that crowd around him con­stant­ly, over­whelm­ing him and even gnaw­ing away at his very self. The strik­ing imagery is all the more pow­er­ful when, over­com­ing his iso­la­tion at last, the boy dis­cov­ers that the tiny demons of wor­ry sur­round every­one, even those who seem to have it all together.

This short but hard-hit­ting word­less graph­ic pic­ture book gets to the heart of child­hood anx­i­ety and opens the way for dia­logue about accep­tance, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, and the uni­ver­sal expe­ri­ence of worry.

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

The Red Tree
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan writes: “The Red Tree is a sto­ry pre­sent­ed as a series of dis­tinct imag­i­nary worlds, self-con­tained images which invite read­ers to draw their own mean­ing in the absence of any explana­to­ry nar­ra­tive. As a con­cept, the book is inspired by the impulse of chil­dren and adults alike to describe feel­ings using metaphor — mon­sters, storms, sun­shine, rain­bows and so on. Mov­ing beyond cliché, I want­ed to paint images that would fur­ther explore the expres­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties of this kind of shared imag­i­na­tion, which could be at once strange and famil­iar. A name­less young girl appears in every pic­ture, a stand-in for our­selves; she pass­es help­less­ly through many dark moments, yet ulti­mate­ly finds some­thing hope­ful at the end of her journey.”

The Boy and the Goril­la
writ­ten by Jack­ie Azua Kramer
illus­trat­ed by Cindy Der­by
Can­dlewick Press, 2020
(grief, depres­sion) 

On the day of his mother’s funer­al, a young boy con­jures the very vis­i­tor he needs to see: a goril­la. Wise and gen­tle, the goril­la stays on to answer the heart-heavy ques­tions the boy hes­i­tates to ask his father: Where did his moth­er go? Will she come back home? Will we all die? Yet with the gorilla’s friend­ship, the boy slow­ly begins to dis­cov­er moments of com­fort in tend­ing flow­ers, play­ing catch, and climb­ing trees. Most of all, the goril­la knows that it helps to sim­ply talk about the loss — espe­cial­ly with those who share your grief and who may feel alone, too. Author Jack­ie Azúa Kramer’s qui­et­ly thought­ful text and illus­tra­tor Cindy Derby’s beau­ti­ful impres­sion­is­tic art­work depict how this ten­der rela­tion­ship leads the boy to open up to his father and find a path for­ward. Told entire­ly in dia­logue, this direct and deeply affect­ing pic­ture book will inspire con­ver­sa­tions about grief, empa­thy, and heal­ing beyond the final hope-filled scene.

My Whirling, Twirling Motor
writ­ten by Mer­ri­am Sar­cia Saun­ders
illus­trat­ed Tam­mie Lyon
Mag­i­na­tion Press, 2019

Char­lie feels like he has a whirling, twirling motor run­ning inside him all the time and some­times he just can’t set­tle. When his mom wants to talk to him, he fig­ures he’s in trou­ble … but she has a sur­prise for him instead!

The sto­ry rein­forces that his being over­ac­tive and impul­sive is not inten­tion­al and does not make him bad. The young nar­ra­tor even­tu­al­ly inter­nal­izes his par­ents’ focus on his accom­plish­ments, rather than his chal­lenges, and he won­ders what pos­i­tive things he will do tomor­row … A must-have for young read­ers with any type of behav­ior dif­fi­cul­ty and their care­givers.” (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and

We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy
illus­trat­ed by Mau­rice Sendak
Harper­Collins, 1993

We are all in the dumps
For dia­monds are thumps
The kit­tens are gone to St. Paul’s!
The baby is bit
The moon’s in a fit
And the hous­es are built
With­out walls

Jack and Guy
Went out in the Rye
And they found a lit­tle boy
With one black eye
Come says Jack let’s knock
Him on the head
No says Guy
Let’s buy him some bread
You buy one loaf
And I’ll buy two
And we’ll bring him up
As oth­er folk do

Two tra­di­tion­al rhymes from Moth­er Goose, inge­nious­ly joined and inter­pret­ed by Mau­rice Sendak.

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