Here are some of my favorite picture books, chapter books, and graphic novels about anxiety. Some of these books give anxious, introverted children permission to listen to their feelings (Captain Starfish), while others offer helpful reframes for catastrophic thinking (There Must Be More Than That!). Some tackle the fear of making mistakes (Accident!), and others deal with the fear of losing a loved one (Memory Jars). And a few simply invite kids to explore anxiety in a funny context (Charlie Changes Into a Chicken).
Captain Starfish, Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys [Amazon | Bookshop]
A sensitive book that understands that not every activity or way of being is for right every child
Alfie has an all-too-familiar feeling in the days before the costume parade, and instead of putting on his starfish costume and participating, he tells his parents he can’t go. His mother surprises him by taking him to an aquarium, where he has a transformative encounter with a fish. In books about anxiety and shyness, it’s rare that a child is allowed to opt out, and it’s rare that opting out is treated as just fine. Here, Alfie’s parents accept that he simply doesn’t want to participate in some things. His mom acknowledges, kindly, that sometimes some people “need to hide away.” Alfie does go to the parade the next year, but the book doesn’t emphasize his participation. Instead, the emphasis is on accepting that shyness is okay, and that listening to anxiety and choosing to take care of yourself are okay, too.
The Museum of Everything, Lynne Rae Perkins [Amazon | Bookshop]
A poetic, meditative book that is not only calming but offers a coping strategy for feeling overwhelmed, too
In exquisite and thoughtful prose, the narrator here muses about fantasy museums, imaginary places she likes to go when the world feels too overwhelming. These are very particular, specialized museums on the micro scale: a museum of bushes or hiding places or shadows or the sky (tucked neatly into a book). There’s something meditative about many of the displays in these museums. In the museum of shadows, for instance: “a leaf, warmed by sunlight, melts a perfect leaf-shaped hole in the snow. A shadow of melting.” The world can be overwhelming, the text indicates, and to examine the small, to look closely and to ponder, can offer a kind of refuge. To accompany all of this beautiful language, Perkins has photographed detailed mixed-media scenes and tiny shadow boxes. It’s delightful to read and delightful to look at — a wonderful work of art.
Memory Jars, Vera Brosgol [Amazon | Bookshop]
A book about the allure of combatting anxiety with obsessive control — and the rewards of accepting all of one’s own feelings
Following her grandfather’s death, Freda struggles with time passing, memories fading, and how temporary joy can be. After she learns that blueberry jam can be preserved in jars, she wonders: what else can I save? She goes on a spree, packing all of her favorite experiences into jars — and then she begins jarring her favorite people. There’s a touch of humor to it, but lots of genuine emotion, too, and perceptiveness about how tempting it is to combat grief and anxiety by exercising meticulous control. But Freda’s grandmother’s support helps her to release control and be vulnerable again. After all, even though opening oneself to emotion means fully experiencing the weight of grief, it also means fully embracing joy.
Accident!, Andrea Tsurumi [Amazon | Bookshop]
A wonderfully reassuring book about how we all make mistakes — and how we can recover from them, too
For many of us, an accident feels like the end of the world: this is the worst thing that’s ever happened, and it will never get better. Tsurumi’s armadillo Lola spills punch all over a chair and decides that’s it, it’s time to hide until she’s a grown-up. But as she’s scrambling to hide, she comes across many, many more accidents. In fact, everyone is in some kind of trouble, wailing that it’s a disaster, a fiasco, a catastrophe! And just when it gets epically awful, a friendly bird offers a reframe: “accident.” It’s a brilliant, gentle climax to so much chaos and distress, a visual and auditory oasis. So the animals do their best to patch things up — Tsurumi shows some examples — and Lola returns home, ready to patch up her own accident. In this book, almost every picture is bursting with mishaps — so many that you could reread and reread and still find some new ones — and many of them are wonderfully silly. And the book is also a lovely reminder that accidents aren’t the end of the world, even if they feel like it, and that every single one of us has them.
There Must Be More Than That!, Shinsuke Yoshitake [Amazon | Bookshop]
A playful, delightful book that offers a reframe for fatalistic thinking
From master author/illustrator Shinsuke Yoshitake, this playful, silly book addresses the real and persistent feelings of doom many children and adults might have: Everything’s going to be terrible, and there’s nothing I can do about it. After a girl’s older brother tells her that the world’s future is doomed (because someone said so), her grandmother offers her a tremendously helpful reframe. Adults, she says, often give you two options, A or B, when in fact there might be many, many more possibilities. Who can know, precisely, how things will be? As usual with Yoshitake, this idea is explored in delightful and hysterical ways, as the girl and her grandmother envision all sorts of wild, thrilling, and hysterically specific futures. But the lesson here is real, a terrifically helpful reminder to give yourself during your darkest imaginings: There are more possibilities, and some of them might be much better than you can imagine.
I’m Worried, Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi [Amazon | Bookshop]
A light and silly book that invites readers to laugh about smaller worries
Whereas There Must Be More Than That! provides a full reframe for catastrophic thinking, I’m Worried aims mostly to make anxious kids laugh (and dips its toe into mindfulness). In this book, Potato has a sense of foreboding. Something bad will happen, it thinks, and what will become of us all then? Flamingo soon becomes anxious, too, and the two friends panic. Their helpful friend, however, reminds them of worrying incidents in their pasts and how things weren’t actually as bad then as they initially seemed to be. She also suggests they remain “in the now.” Although they humorously misunderstand her point at first, Potato and Flamingo are game for these strategies. But even so, this book’s strength isn’t its advice (which is brief and not especially deep) but its invitation to laugh. We all go overboard with our worrying sometimes, the book implies, and there can be — sometimes! — something a little funny about that.
Chapter Books and Graphic Novels
Stuntboy: In the Meantime, Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third [Amazon | Bookshop]
A laugh-out-loud work of art about a boy who invents a superhero alter-ego to cope with his anxiety
Stuntboy is a work of art, a rare chapter book that’s funny, tender, clever, and visually beautiful, too. Portico Reeves lives in an apartment building with his parents, his best friend, Zola, and an interesting and charismatic group of neighbors. But Portico has two big problems: his nemesis Herbert Singletary the Worst lives in the apartment building, too, and his parents have just announced that they’ll be moving to separate apartments, on separate floors. To deal with these difficulties, Portico and Zola compare their problems to plotlines in their favorite retro space program, Super Space Warriors, and Zola gives Portico tips on breathing and relaxation from her mom, a meditation and yoga coach. But Portico also goes a step further. When his parents start arguing — and go into “the Mean Time” — he becomes Stuntboy, a superhero who performs elaborate stunts to cope with stressful situations. It’s all incredibly entertaining, with cameos from fascinating neighbors like Mr. Mister and the magnetic character everyone calls “Soup” — and wordplay so clever that even adults will laugh out loud. The design is stunning, too. Here, the words and pictures work together as equal partners, much like in a graphic novel. It’s a joy to read a book like this.
Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey, Erin Entrada Kelly [Amazon | Bookshop]
A funny and quirky chapter book about anxiety, sensitivity, and trust
I love a lot of things about this book: its many puns, its trivia about silent movies, its Louisiana setting, the way Socrates pops up every now and then, and a magnolia tree adversary named Peppina. But it’s also a touching book about worry and sensitivity. Marisol is sensitive (she treats objects as though they have feelings, as many of us sensitive children do or did!) and she worries a lot. Will she know what to say when someone at school is mean to her? What will it be like to meet her relatives in the Philippines? But her central worry in this book is whether she’ll ever feel comfortable climbing Peppina the magnolia tree, as her best friend Jada does. This is such a funny and wise book about anxiety, vulnerability, and trust — a real joy to read.
Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, Angela Dominguez [Amazon | Bookshop]
A reassuring book about working through worries with the help of family of friends
Shy Stella Diaz has some concerns: she doesn’t know Spanish well enough to speak like some of her relatives, she’s nervous about giving presentations in front of her class, and a friendly new student is always making her blush. Plus, when her class learns the word “alien,” she worries about the word’s connotations and wishes it didn’t apply to her. These concerns mostly get resolved in the end, of course, with help from her warm, supportive family and friends. And it’s a pleasant read: the text is peppered with Spanish words and phrases and Stella is an enthusiastic, eager narrator (who also has a love of marine life).
Charlie Changes Into a Chicken, Sam Copeland and Sarah Horne [Amazon]
A laugh-out-loud, light-hearted book in which anxious feelings cause wild and absurd situations
After visiting his older brother in the hospital, Charlie comes home and — to his utter amazement — changes into a spider. It doesn’t last long (just long enough to give him a close call with the family cat), but soon he changes into a pigeon, then a snake, and then other animals, too. What could be causing this shapeshifting? He and his friends set up some experiments to find out, and they quickly discover that Charlie’s anxiety might be the trigger. But this isn’t a stressful book. On the contrary, the extremely playful narrator, “the author,” is hysterical, and the book is full of silliness, like goofy footnotes, questions from “readers,” and a supposed apology from the publisher. Even the title turns out to be a joke. Be aware that it’s full of bathroom humor, but all of it is so well done, and with such funny illustrations, that I was laughing out loud even as I was reading it by myself. It’s a super-playful book that should have kids doubled over laughing.
Monster Friends, Kaeti Vandorn [Amazon | Bookshop]
A tremendously sweet graphic novel that takes a sensitive look at social anxiety
This sweet graphic novel makes great use of an odd-couple pairing. Reggie is struggling with anxiety and wants to keep to himself during his staycation, but his introversion won’t deter exuberant, bursting-at-the-seams Emily. Emily doesn’t worry about rejection like Reggie does, and her persistence in making friends with him pulls him into her orbit. Perhaps they have a few things to teach each other? The atmosphere here is sensitive and supportive, and Reggie and Emily develop a lovely friendship. There’s a sweet moment when Emily coaxes reluctant Reggie into making friends with a crab. As she says, “I think it can be hard to meet big friends sometimes. So you can start with small friends!” It turns out Reggie will make big and small friends in this book, and learn to be more comfortable with who he is, but it’s a good piece of advice for anxiety: start small (and you might be surprised where you end up!).
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