The best children’s books on overcoming fears

The Books I Picked & Why

Scaredy Squirrel

By Mélanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel

Why this book?

Scaredy Squirrel is, quite simply, one of the funniest books ever written about fear of the unknown. I especially love the way the pages are formatted, with lots of fun lists, charts, and diagrams. Scaredy Squirrel is scared of green Martians, killer bees, germs, poison ivy, tarantulas, and sharks. Because he is scared of so many things, he decides to stay in his tree doing the exact same things. Every. Single. Day. It’s not until a killer bee shows up—unplanned!—that Scaredy Squirrel is forced to change his routine.

Whenever I get stuck in a rut, I remind myself that if Scaredy Squirrel can shake things up a bit, so can I.


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After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

By Dan Santat

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

Why this book?

After the Fall is about what happened to Humpty Dumpty after his fall. So much of what I enjoy about this story is told through the illustrations, which beg to be poured over. For instance, we learn that Humpty Dumpty is afraid of heights after his legendary fall, which keeps him from enjoying some of his favorite things. In the illustration, we see him in the grocery store. All the fun cereals, like Bowl-O-Cookies and Choco Duck, are on the top shelf that’s only accessible by a ladder, whereas Fiber Flakes and Cardboard are within easy reach. 

Dan Santat has made some interesting choices here. The book is a first-person account told from an egg’s point of view. Weird, yes, and yet it works! Amazing and well done. I promise you will be cheering out loud when Humpty Dumpty decides to overcome his fears and get back on that wall!


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Wemberly Worried

By Kevin Henkes

Wemberly Worried

Why this book?

Anxiety is a tricky thing, and Wemberly Worried illustrates all its various peculiarities. For instance, Wemberly, a world-class worrier, worries that there will be too many butterflies in the neighborhood parade. But then, when it turns out she’s the only butterfly in the neighborhood parade, she worries about that. The only thing that seems to steady her nerves is her adorable toy rabbit, Petal. When Wemberly shows up on her first day of school, her worries lessen when she meets another little girl mouse who has a toy just like Petal. 

While Wemberly is a mouse, this story is very relatable for little boy and girl worriers everywhere. It’s absolutely perfect for those first day of school jitters.


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Jabari Jumps

By Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps

Why this book?

As soon as I read Jabari Jumps, I knew right away that I had found a kindred spirit. Like Jabari, I was one of those kids who would stand on the high dive for what seemed like hours, staring into the water, hoping for a burst of bravery that never happened. Eventually, I either walked back down the ladder or held my nose and jumped. I remember there was an especially cruel pool game called “Jump or Dive” in which someone called “Jump!” or “Dive!” right after you leapt off the diving board. After watching countless children do painful bellyflops I wisely decided that I would jump no matter what was called. Everyone eventually caught on, and I was disqualified. 

This is a beautifully told realistic story that shows how a patient, supportive father can help you conquer even the highest diving boards.


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Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy

By Jan Thomas

Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy

Why this book?

How can you not love a book with this title? Jan Thomas happens to be one of my favorite picture book creators, and this book clearly shows why. Her books are all surprising, quirky, and slightly absurd, three things I strive for in my own work. I love the idea of a cowboy who sings lullabies to his cows every night. And while this cowboy starts off fine, he is constantly distracted by scary things he sees in the dark, like a spider (that turns out to be a flower) and a snake that is actually just a stick. Kids love it when adults act silly, and this hysterical cowboy will have them howling with laughter. If you like Sandra Boyton, check out Jan Thomas’s work.


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