12 Children's Books To Teach Emotional Literacy

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Kids don't always know the names for what they're feeling. They often don't know why they feel the way they do. Feelings can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when we don't give our kids the tools to deal with them. More and more, we hear about emotional intelligence and resilience and all these other things we want to impart to our kids. Gone are the days of "just get over it" and "boys don't cry" and "just relax" and "girls should smile" as valid parenting philosophies. (Thank goodness, right?) We're at a new age of enlightenment — now we talk about our feelings! We feel them! We accept them! And, luckily for all of us, there are a lot of really great books that teach children about their emotions!

Before we send our kids off to school, we want them to know that it's OK to be nervous. While siblings bicker and clash, we want them to know it's OK to be angry (but not OK to bite.) When things just feel "off" for no good reason, we want them to know that the feeling won't last and that tomorrow is a new day and that we're there for them, regardless of what they are feeling. When the going gets tough, we have to prepare our kids to handle it! We can teach our kids that their feelings are valid by sharing our own feelings. We can also empathize with the characters in a book. These 12 books will help you talk about fear, nerves, bravery, anger, sadness, and isolation.

1. 'Brave Molly' by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Courtesy of Chronicle Books

Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes (16.99, IndieBound)

Molly faces monsters. No one else can see them, but they are always there with her. These monsters could be a stand in for anxiety, shyness, or any difficult emotion that might be weighing a child down. The story is mostly told through illustrations, so there is room to put your own spin on the narrative in a way that will benefit your own child.

2. Angry Cookie by Laura Dockrill, illustrated by Maria Karipidou

Walker Books

Angry Cookie by Laura Dockrill ($16.99, IndieBound)

Ugh, what are you even doing opening this book about an angry cookie who wishes you would just GO AWAY?

Dockrill's laugh-out-loud book about a cookie that really just needs to vent a little, talk out their frustrations, is a brilliant lesson on the power of recognizing and releasing your feelings. Also very tasty-looking.

3. 'I Am Sad' by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black ($17.99, IndieBound)

It can be easy to try and cheer kids up when they're sad, but it is also important to honor those feelings. When a flamingo feels sad, not even his friend (a girl and a potato) can cheer him up. Instead, they stick with him and remind him he won't always feel that way. You can also read I'm Bored, and soon: I'm Worried.

4. 'Lottie And Walter' by Anna Walker

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Lottie And Walter by Anna Walker ($17.99, IndieBound)

If your child has a specific fear to tackle (like Lottie is afraid of getting in the water during swim lessons) sometimes all you need is a friend to make you brave. This book manages to be totally understanding of the fear, while presenting it as something conquerable.

5. 'When You Are Brave' by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Courtesy of Little, Brown

When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller ($17.99, IndieBound)

This affirming book tells kids that they each have a spark of bravery within themselves. That spark can spread and empower you to do all sorts of difficult things: going to a new school, standing up in front of lots of people, trying something new. This book has practical mindfulness tips for kids to try.

6. 'Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story' by Edward Hemingway

Courtesy of Macmillan

Tough Cookie by Edward Hemingway ($17.99, IndieBound)

Self-acceptance can be hard, especially if your self-worth is tied to one thing. Cookie has to come to terms with the fact that he is not delicious. Could there be a worse fate for a cookie? Ingenuity and new perspectives help Sugar Cookie find a new purpose.

7. 'Being Edie Is Hard Today' by Ben Brashares and Elizabeth Bergeland

Courtesy of Little, Brown

Being Edie Is Hard Today by Ben Brashares ($17.99, IndieBound)

Edie loves imagining herself as different animals, and it helps her cope with the difficult parts of the day. It's a perfect reminder that even when days are hard (our head feels heavy, the other kids are mean, the teacher picks on you, etc etc), you can always reset and have a better day tomorrow. The loving but firm mother guides Edie through her emotions, but doesn't try to solve all of her problems.

8. 'Nobody Hugs A Cactus' by Carter Goodrich

Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Nobody Hugs A Cactus by Carter Goodrich ($17.99, IndieBound)

We don't always want to be surrounded with friends, but even the prickliest person can feel isolated sometimes. Hank the cactus is not the easiest guy to love, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve a little kindness. When he makes a friend, he realizes sometimes it's nice to not be with people who get you.

9. 'So Big!' by Mike Wohnoutka

Courtesy of Bloomsbury

So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka ($17.99, IndieBound)

This cute bear isn't bopping into the world until July, but it's a great addition for kids who are gearing up to start school for the first time. This bear is really proud of how big he is and how ready he is for school, but he discovers that the school is also "so big!"

10. 'You Are Never Alone' by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim

Courtesy of Owlkids Books

You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey ($18.95, IndieBound)

This book is as reassuring as it is gorgeous. No one ever needs to feel alone because we are all part of the planet. Mother nature always has our backs. Discovering the ways in which we are connected to our world can be healing when times are tough.

Owlkids on YouTube

11. 'Swarm Of Bees' by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Rilla Alexander

Swarm Of Bees by Lemony Snicket ($17.99, IndieBound)

A swarm of angry bees bent on destruction or revenge is a great way to capture those brutal anger feels. A swarm of bees (and an angry child) zoom around thinking of all the things they can do, but it turns out, the best thing is to calm down. Parents of tantrum-throwers everywhere will want a copy.

12. 'My Many Colored Days' by Dr. Seuss

Knopf Books for Young Readers

My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss ($16.99 from Indiebound)

When his publisher was looking for an illustrator to bring Seuss's manuscript to life, Seuss hoped they would find "a great color artist who will not be dominated by me.” The result is, itself, a #mood, and wonderful exploration of the different feelings and colors a child experiences, like the dinosaur, whose spread reads:

On Purple Days

I'm sad.

I groan.

I drag my tail.

I walk alone.