Learning ‘feeling’ language to communicate one’s emotions is a critical developmental milestone in the early years. The following picture books are some of my favourites when it comes to helping kids take a step back from their emotional world and learn words they can use to describe it. What I appreciate most about these books is they do not categorize feelings into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but take a shame free approach to describing their character’s emotions which helps to normalize them. The first steps in emotional development is being able to express your feelings and be able to give names to your emotions – these books help set parents and kids on the right track.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz Atheneum, 2009
A humorous walk through a bad day with a relatable character named Alexander. Kids and parents will be able to sympathize with his plight and can use it to draw on in real life bad days.
by Thierry Robberecht, illustrated by Philippe Goossens Clarion Books, 2004
The frustration in this child is big, so huge in fact that it threatens to swallow his parents. The images are outstanding and help convey the alarm that kids feel when their frustration and attacking energy is present. The answer is tears which eventually come and help to quiet the angry dragon inside the little boy.
The Chocolate-Covered Cookie Tantrum
by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson Sandpiper Books, 1999
One of my favourites and something every child and parent can relate to – hearing ‘no’ when you really want a ‘yes’ when asking for a cookie. The story takes you on a journey through a child’s tantrum until the child relinquishes their pursuit of the cookie that will not be. In the end it is the tears that save the day.
Finn Throws a Fit!
by David Elliott, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, 2011
I laughed out loud reading this book. Finn doesn’t want peaches for breakfast and proceeds to express foul frustration in response to his parent’s efforts to feed him. Finn takes us through the horror of a tantrum, rich with imagery that conveys the strength of his emotion. In the end it is his tears that help him face his peaches and decide that he really does want them after all.
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey Harry N. Abrams, 2014
The layering of a child’s heart in this book is beautiful and takes us on a journey to the center. This is a well loved book in my house.
by Mies Van Hout Lemniscaat, 2011
Beautifully illustrated, each page portrays a fish experiencing a particular emotion. From happy to sad, this book can serve as a prompt for discussion on how kid’s may feel on any given day.
My Many Coloured Days
by Dr Suess, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
The colour of each day conveys different feelings from grey days to yellow ones. Feelings are nuanced with the rich use of images and colour, conveying a range of emotions and a language to go along with it.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara is the author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), is on faculty at the Neufeld Institute, and Director of Kid’s Best Bet, a counselling and family resource center. For more information please see www.macnamara.wpengine.com and www.neufeldinstitute.org.