The best children’s books for mental health

Jessica Sinarski Author Of What's Inside Your Backpack?
By Jessica Sinarski

Who am I?

My super-power is making brain science accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike. I am living this out as an author, mental health counselor, and the founder of BraveBrains. In addition to training parents and professionals, I have the joy of sharing my passion and expertise through podcast appearances, blogs, and articles. The lightbulb moments are my favorite, and I'm committed to helping people bring what they learn home in practical ways. I write picture books because the magic of reading and re-reading stories light up the brain in a powerful way. But don’t worry…I always include some goodies for the adults in the back of the book.

I wrote...

What's Inside Your Backpack?

By Jessica Sinarski, Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (illustrator),

Book cover of What's Inside Your Backpack?

What is my book about?

Zoey Harmon just wants to feel light-hearted and carefree. Unfortunately, she keeps getting weighed down by pesky “books” in her backpack, like Worry and Shame. Much to her surprise, she’s not the only one! Zoey learns that the adults in her life deal with these difficult feelings too! Luckily, they have some bright ideas that can help her set aside the books she’s not meant to carry! Will it be enough to help her with the biggest book of all?

While there are no quick fixes for all of life’s complex problems, What’s Inside Your Backpack? highlights some of the ways we can nurture resilience in body and mind.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Me and My Feelings: A Kids' Guide to Understanding and Expressing Themselves

Why did I love this book?

This book lays a great foundation to help children understand their feelings (and the feelings of others). The author draws on her experience as a school counselor to expertly walk the reader through some essential social-emotional learning. The bright colors and clever illustrations keep kids engaged, and the activities throughout make this a fabulous title to use at home, school, or in the counseling office.⁠

By Vanessa Green Allen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Me and My Feelings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a big feeling comes along…you can handle it! Teach kids ages 7 to 10 how to manage their feelings.

Sometimes, emotions like anger or jealousy or excitement can seem too big to keep inside. Me and My Feelings is here to teach kids that it’s okay to have big feelings! They will learn how to calm down those strong emotions so they don’t feel overwhelmed and can continue to take on the world.

This book gives kids the skills to stay in control―by breathing deeply, saying positive things to themselves, talking about their feelings instead of keeping them inside,…

Book cover of Hey Awesome: A Book for Kids about Anxiety, Courage, and Being Already Awesome

Why did I love this book?

In my work in the world of mental health and trauma, anxiety is a common complaint. I love the positive (and scientifically accurate) portrayal of the function of anxiety in this whimsically illustrated book. “Sometimes your brain works so hard to protect you, it hits the panic button by mistake.” With this strengths-based framework woven into every page, Hey Awesome teaches kids how to be the boss of their brilliant and brave brains. A must-read for all children, and a lifeline for those who struggle with anxiety. And remember, “anxiety and courage always happen together.”

By Karen Young, Norvile Dovidonyte (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hey Awesome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Anger Management Workbook for Kids: 50 Fun Activities to Help Children Stay Calm and Make Better Choices When They Feel Mad

Why did I love this book?

Anger is so often protecting something tender underneath. When we teach children to dig deeper, to be curious about their angry feelings, we offer them a path to emotional health and better relationships. While many anger management programs (for kids and adults) neglect the nuances of anger’s protective function, this book delivers insightful lessons and activities to help children dig deep. The colorful layout and bright illustrations capture children’s interest even as they learn about this difficult topic. A great resource for turning on the calm and curious part of the brain that we are all working hard to help children develop.

By Samantha Snowden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anger Management Workbook for Kids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Show anger who’s boss with this book of 50 fun activities about anger management for kids ages 6 to 11. 

Anger is a normal emotion just like joy, sadness, and fear, but it can be difficult to know how to express those feelings in a good way. The Anger Management Workbook for Kids is filled with 50 playful exercises to help kids handle powerful emotions. Teach kids to stay calm and make better choices when they feel angry. Other workbooks about anger management wish they could be this fun!

This workbook about managing anger for kids includes:


Letting Go!

By Dr. Sharie Coombes, Ellie O’Shea (illustrator),

Book cover of Letting Go!

Why did I love this book?

Grief, unfortunately, is a part of life. Western culture has a habit of ignoring and minimizing grief in detrimental ways. When we gently turn toward the difficult stuff in life, we can “feel and deal” in ways that benefit mental health. There are many books about grieving the death of a loved one (a list for another day, perhaps), but few acknowledge the other intense and life-altering kinds of loss and change that children are grieving. Dr. Coombes’ book is much more inclusive–plus, it delivers a treasure trove of activities to help children (and adults) navigate this challenging part of being human. The delightful doodles will appeal to upper elementary and quite a few tweens and teens.

By Dr. Sharie Coombes, Ellie O’Shea (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letting Go! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These writing, craft, and doodling activities are designed to offer children support through experiences of loss, change, disappointment, and grief by using creativity to combat negative feelings and help them work through difficult times.

Marcy's Having All the Feels

By Allison Edwards, Valeria DeCampo (illustrator),

Book cover of Marcy's Having All the Feels

Why did I love this book?

Mental health does not mean that we will feel happy all the time. This book helps children embrace a range of emotions, even some of those uncomfortable ones, like frustration and jealousy. The playful illustrations engage young readers about the abstract topic of emotions. It would be easy to get creative, helping children draw an image of their “happy” or “angry” feelings. Great conversation starter for elementary school students on managing a range of emotions.

By Allison Edwards, Valeria DeCampo (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marcy's Having All the Feels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Help Kids Understand and Value Their Emotions and Feelings

What do you do with all your feelings?

In Marcy's Having All the Feels, counselor and therapist Allison Edwards explores how sometimes feeling so many feelings doesn't feel so good at all.

Marcy wanted to be happy. Happy is all she wanted to be. But all her other feelings kept showing up and at the worst times! There was Frustrated and Angry, Sad and Embarrassed, and even Worried and Jealous. Her feelings were there as soon as she opened her eyes each morning, and they followed her around throughout the day.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mental health, anxiety, and self-control?

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