The best picture books that explore emotions from a child’s perspective

Who am I?

As a child, I was one of Mister Rogers’ television neighbors. During Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he empowered children to name their feelings and act on them appropriately. Every show ended with his signature affirmation that each viewer was special. As an elementary teacher, I learned about “emotional intelligence” and “social and emotional learning”, terms that emerged in the fields of psychology and education in the 1990s. Fred Rogers was ahead of his time. I hope my stories follow Mister Rogers’ example: affirming big feelings, building self-esteem, and emphasizing positive relationships.


I wrote...

Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers

By Laura Renauld, Brigette Barrager (illustrator),

Book cover of Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers

What is my book about?

Fred Rogers was a quiet boy with big feelings. Sometimes, he felt scared or lonely; at other times, he was playful and joyous. But when Fred’s feelings felt too big, his Grandfather McFeely knew exactly what to say to make him feel better: I like you just the way you are. Fred grew up and created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the television program that would go on to warm the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. But one day, the government threatened to cut funding for public television, including Fred’s show. So, Fred stepped off the set and into a hearing on Capitol Hill to make his feelings known.

In a portrait full of warmth and feeling, Laura Renauld and award-winning illustrator Brigette Barrager tell the story of Mister Rogers: a quiet, compassionate hero whose essential message—that it is okay to have and to express feelings—still resonates today.

The books I picked & why

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The Rabbit Listened

By Cori Doerrfeld,

Book cover of The Rabbit Listened

Why this book?

The Rabbit Listened takes readers on an emotional journey through a calamity’s aftermath. Well-meaning characters try to help, but Taylor isn’t ready. When the rabbit just listens, Taylor finds the strength to express all the feelings that have been bottled up inside. The soft color palette and spare text leave a lot of room for readers to put themselves into this story of healing.

The Rabbit Listened

By Cori Doerrfeld,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Rabbit Listened as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With its spare, poignant text and irresistibly sweet illustrations, The Rabbit Listened is a tender meditation on loss. When something terrible happens, Taylor doesn't know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn't feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that's not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to process this loss, and one by one they fail. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen, which is just what Taylor needs. Whether…


Coming on Home Soon

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of Coming on Home Soon

Why this book?

Woodson and Lewis weave a rich tapestry of lyrical text and lush watercolors to give readers a glimpse into the life of Ada Ruth, a girl growing up in the Midwest during World War II. Her mama has to leave home to find work. Ada Ruth and Grandma wait for word while caring for a stray kitten. This story overflows with longing, loneliness, empathy, worry, and, above all, love.

Coming on Home Soon

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coming on Home Soon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ada Ruth's mama must go away to Chicago to work, leaving Ada Ruth and Grandma behind. It's war time, and women are needed to fill the men's jobs. As winter sets in, Ada Ruth and her grandma keep up their daily routine, missing Mama all the time. They find strength in each other, and a stray kitten even arrives one day to keep them company, but nothing can fill the hole Mama left. Every day they wait, watching for the letter that says Mama will be coming on home soon. Set during World War II, Coming On Home Soon has…


Sometimes I'm Bombaloo

By Rachel Vail, Yumi Heo (illustrator),

Book cover of Sometimes I'm Bombaloo

Why this book?

Katie Honors is a happy preschooler, most of the time. She’s proud of all the things she can do independently, like picking up her toys and brushing her teeth. But sometimes, like when her baby brother knocks over her block castle, Katie’s happy self vanishes and she becomes Bombaloo. Vail’s description of a tantrum is spot on and reflects both the strong feelings of the moment and the frightening feelings in its wake. As Katie says, “It’s scary, being Bombaloo.”

Sometimes I'm Bombaloo

By Rachel Vail, Yumi Heo (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sometimes I'm Bombaloo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A delightful tale of learning how to deal with anger follows Katie, who occasionally loses her temper and becomes Bombaloo, as she learns that a little time-out and a whole lot of love can pacify Bombaloo and make her feel like herself once again.


Jabari Jumps

By Gaia Cornwall,

Book cover of Jabari Jumps

Why this book?

First experiences pack a big emotional punch. Jabari is so proud to have passed his swimming test. Now he has his sights set on the high dive. He’s not scared! Jabari’s nerves show up in his actions; he stays at the back of the line to think about his best jump. When he starts to climb the ladder, he’s tired and needs a little rest. His father supports Jabari’s choices without pressure, but he does give Jabari a bit of advice that bolsters his courage. And… Jabari Jumps!

Jabari Jumps

By Gaia Cornwall,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Jabari Jumps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash.

In a sweet tale of overcoming your fears, debut author-illustrator Gaia Cornwall captures a moment at the swimming pool between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can't help but root for. Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He's finished his swimming lessons and passed his swimming test, and he's a great jumper, so he's not scared at all. "Looks easy," says Jabari, watching the other kids take their…


Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-Of-School Dilemma

By Keith Calabrese, Juana Medina (illustrator),

Book cover of Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-Of-School Dilemma

Why this book?

Starting school often comes with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Lena’s big imagination displaces her first-day jitters onto her shoes. This child-centric plot puts Lena in complete control as she facilitates a listening session between her headband and her shoes. With some encouragement, her shoes decide they don’t want to be left behind. Calabrese and Medina give Lena agency, stopping short of anthropomorphizing her clothes and allowing her to work through her big emotions in her own special way.

Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-Of-School Dilemma

By Keith Calabrese, Juana Medina (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lena's Shoes Are Nervous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of School’s First Day of School, debut author Keith Calabrese and Pura Belpré Award winner Juana Medina share a sweet, universal story about a clever little girl whose shoes are nervous about the first day of school.

Today is a big day! Today, Lena starts kindergarten. She is very excited. But there’s just one problem…

Lena’s shoes are nervous.

Lena doesn’t want to miss out on her first day of school, but she can’t go without her favorite shoes! How can she convince them to be brave?


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