The best books to help us face our monsters—and embrace mental health

Sarah Rose Cavanagh Author Of Mind Over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge
By Sarah Rose Cavanagh

Who am I?

Three biographical facts that well equip me to write about both monsters and mental health: I am a psychologist who researches, writes, and teaches about emotions, learning, and quality of life. I am also someone who suffers from panic disorder. I am also someone who enjoys interacting with the world of the dark and spooky, in part to tame my internal fears. I think that many of us use fiction in general and horror in particular as a sandbox of sorts—a safe place where we can expose ourselves to our fears, to test out scenarios, and to explore hidden parts of our psyche.

I wrote...

Mind Over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge

By Sarah Rose Cavanagh,

Book cover of Mind Over Monsters: Supporting Youth Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge

What is my book about?

Mind Over Monsters is an investigation into the mental health crisis affecting youth today. It brings the reader on an invigorating tour of pedagogical, neuroscientific, and psychological research on mental health—one that involves my own personal journey from panic to equilibrium. It also shares the perspectives of many different sorts of experts, and of college students studying in diverse settings across the country.

The result of these combined sources of inquiry indicates that to support youth mental health, we need to cultivate learning and living environments characterized by compassion, and then, we need to guide our youth into practices that encourage challenge, helping them face their fears in an encouraging, safe, and even playful way.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

Why did I love this book?

A stunning work of intellect that somehow manages to be thoroughly engaging as well, this book sums up the entire history of my subfield of psychology (emotion science) as well as many of the contemporary open questions and controversies.

It also puts to bed a number of neuroscience myths about emotions and the brain, and proposes a model for thinking about the intersection of physical and mental health that formed a core of my chapter on embodied mental health.

By Lisa Feldman Barrett,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked How Emotions Are Made as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Preeminent psychologist Lisa Barrett lays out how the brain constructs emotions in a way that could revolutionize psychology, health care, the legal system, and our understanding of the human mind.
“Fascinating . . . A thought-provoking journey into emotion science.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A singular book, remarkable for the freshness of its ideas and the boldness and clarity with which they are presented.”—Scientific American
“A brilliant and original book on the science of emotion, by the deepest thinker about this topic since Darwin.”—Daniel Gilbert, best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness
The science of emotion is in the midst of a…

Book cover of The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain

Why did I love this book?

Speaking of embodiment, Murphy Paul’s stimulating book provocatively suggests that not only is much of cognition and emotion embodied, but it also extends beyond the body—to our environments, but more importantly to our social others.

The implications of this work are many, but for the topic of conquering monsters the most reassuring message is: we are not alone. We are facing these challenges together. Fascinating, lucid, and relevant read.

By Annie Murphy Paul,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Extended Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Editors' Choice
A Washington Post Best Nonfiction Book of 2021
A New York Times Notable Book

A bold new book reveals how we can tap the intelligence that exists beyond our brains—in our bodies, our surroundings, and our relationships

Use your head.
That’s what we tell ourselves when facing a tricky problem or a difficult project. But a growing body of research indicates that we’ve got it exactly backwards. What we need to do, says acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul, is think outside the brain. A host of “extra-neural” resources—the feelings and movements of our…

Book cover of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

Why did I love this book?

Much of my book focuses on educational approaches to supporting youth mental health, and Hammond’s is one of my favorite books on how to construct a classroom that honors and celebrates all the diverse voices in the room, and how to do so through what she (and others) call being a “warm demander.”

The book is inspirational, important, and wise. I revisit it often.

By Zaretta L. Hammond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold, brain-based teaching approach to culturally responsive instruction

The achievement gap remains a stubborn problem for educators of culturally and linguistically diverse students. With the introduction of the rigorous Common Core State Standards, diverse classrooms need a proven framework for optimizing student engagement and facilitating deeper learning

Culturally responsive pedagogy has shown great promise in meeting this need, but many educators still struggle with its implementation. In this book, Zaretta Hammond draws on cutting-edge neuroscience research to offer an innovative approach for designing and implementing brain-compatible culturally responsive instruction.

The book includes:

Information on how one's culture programs the…

Book cover of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents

Why did I love this book?

Lisa Damour is one of the most well-respected names in public-facing psychology right now, and that is for a good reason.

She brings to this book (and her earlier ones, which are equally excellent) a level-headed pragmatism, an empathetic listening stance to the adolescents who are her clients and subjects, and decades of clinical expertise. You will find no click-bait pronouncements about matters that are far too complex for such treatment in her writing, and no generational sneering.

Her work is also deeply valuable for parents—she digs into actionable advice for anyone working with adolescents today to navigate the challenges in their lives. I draw on her work heavily in my own writing, but more importantly in my parenting.

By Lisa Damour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Emotional Lives of Teenagers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*A New York Times bestseller!*

An urgently needed guide to help parents understand their teenagers' intense and often fraught emotional lives - and how to support them through this critical developmental stage - from the New York Times bestselling author of Untangled and Under Pressure

In teenagers, powerful emotions come with the territory. And with so many of today's teens contending with academic pressure, social media stress, worries about the future, and concerns about their own mental health, it's easy for them - and their parents - to feel anxious and overwhelmed. But it doesn't have to be that way.…

Book cover of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

Why did I love this book?

In my book I frequently draw upon monsters in fiction to understand our complicated relationship with both our own messy, unpredictable embodied minds and the uncertain, often-terrifying world that we operate these embodied minds within.

This haunting book of short stories is a great example of grappling with the complexities of our lives through a monstrous lens in order to better understand the human condition. 

By Kim Fu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A TIME Top 10 Fiction Book of 2022

An NPR, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library,, South China Morning Post,Ms. Magazine, and Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2022

2023 Pacific Northwest Book Prize Winner & Longlisted for the 2023 Joyce Carol Oates Prize

A BuzzFeed, WIRED, LitHub, ALTA, and PureWow Best Book of Winter

"The strange and wonderful define Kim Fu’s story collection, where the line between fantasy and reality fades in and out, elusive and beckoning." ―The New York Times Book Review

In the twelve unforgettable tales of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, the strange is made…

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