The best early chapter books about big feelings

Who am I?

I’ve always loved books that take me on an emotional journey. Whether the story is realistic or fantastical, set firmly in the here and now or on another planet centuries in the future, I want to ride the roller coaster as the characters experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That’s also one of my focuses as a writer for children. Little kids can have very big feelings, and stories for young readers can validate those feelings—without skimping on the fun. After all, joy can be a big feeling too. 

I wrote...

Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle (Class Critters #1)

By Kathryn Holmes, Ariel Landy (illustrator),

Book cover of Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle (Class Critters #1)

What is my book about?

It’s the first day of second grade, and Tally Tuttle is so nervous that she feels like she ate butterflies for breakfast. She’s new in town and is afraid she won’t make any friends. A moment of teasing during morning roll call makes Tally want to retreat into a shell...but she’s astonished when she actually transforms into a turtle! At first, Tally likes having a built-in place to hide, but she doesn’t want to stay a turtle forever. 

Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle is the first installment in a new chapter book series, Class Critters, about a magical classroom where each kid turns into a different animal for a day to have an adventure and learn a life lesson.

The books I picked & why

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Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

By Lenore Look, LeUyen Pham (illustrator),

Book cover of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

Why this book?

Second-grader Alvin Ho is afraid of everything. Not even carrying around a Personal Disaster Kit—packed with a whistle, Band-Aids, dental floss, a magnifying glass, a scary mask, and other necessary items—can ease his overwhelming anxiety. Nervous kids are sure to relate to Alvin’s misadventures, but this book has more to offer than a realistic take on a child’s fears. It’s also very funny! Of the books I read when plotting my own chapter book series, this one made me laugh the most. 

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

By Julie Sternberg, Matthew Cordell (illustrator),

Book cover of Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Why this book?

Eight-year-old Eleanor has only ever had one babysitter. Bibi is the person who makes Eleanor soup when she’s sick, sews up her pants when they don’t fit right, and keeps track of her lost baby teeth. When Bibi has to move away, Eleanor’s heart feels like “a mirror that fell and shattered in a million pieces.” This gentle book about losing people you love, missing them terribly, and moving forward is ideal for helping kids travel that same tough path. A novel-in-verse, it’s also a quick read without sacrificing an inch of depth.    

Hand-Me-Down Magic: Perfect Patchwork Purse

By Corey Ann Haydu, Luisa Uribe (illustrator),

Book cover of Hand-Me-Down Magic: Perfect Patchwork Purse

Why this book?

Cousins Alma and Del live above a secondhand shop that may or may not be magical. Alma has had her eye on a special patchwork purse in the window, so when their friend Cassie buys it, she can’t help feeling blue. Her envy only grows when the purse seems to be filled with items that appear just when Cassie needs them…like magic. I love that this story gives Alma space to feel her feelings, even as Del tries to pull her cousin out of her funk. Jealousy is a normal part of childhood (and adulthood!), and this book handles it beautifully. 

Jada Jones: Rock Star

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Vanessa Brantley-Newton (illustrator),

Book cover of Jada Jones: Rock Star

Why this book?

Fourth-grader Jada’s best friend, Mari, just moved away. On top of missing Mari, Jada is having issues with another girl in her class, Simone. Jada wants to be friends, but Simone keeps shutting her out. This book tackles how unsettling it can feel when friend groups change. Another thing I love about the Jada Jones series is its STEM focus. In Rock Star, Jada shares her interest in cool rocks with her class. Opening up about her passion is part of what helps her make it through her emotional rough patch in one piece.    

Lola Levine Is Not Mean!

By Monica Brown, Angela Dominguez (illustrator),

Book cover of Lola Levine Is Not Mean!

Why this book?

When soccer-loving Lola accidentally injures a classmate during a pickup game at recess, her peers start calling her “Mean Lola Levine.” Losing playground privileges and friends is enough to put Lola in a bad mood that almost lives up to her unfortunate new nickname. I like that Brown treats Lola with empathy (after all, what happened was an accident) while also having her realize she was playing too aggressively and does bear some responsibility for the incident. This story can guide young readers through similarly sticky situations. 

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