The best books to help children of all ages understand depression, loss, grief, and anxiety

Anthony Lloyd Jones Author Of The Princess and the Fog: A Story for Children with Depression
By Anthony Lloyd Jones

Who am I?

I had depression when I was young, but I didn’t know what that meant or what to do about it. So much of mental health is invisible and nobody knew. I didn’t have the language to explain how I felt, or to ask for help, and I didn’t know how to find out. Any book that could have helped me jump those hurdles would have been incredibly valuable. Children relate to stories, characters, metaphors and pictures more than words. Giving children the tools to explore how they feel in ways they can relate to is really important. I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I did. 

I wrote...

The Princess and the Fog: A Story for Children with Depression

By Anthony Lloyd Jones,

Book cover of The Princess and the Fog: A Story for Children with Depression

What is my book about?

The Princess and the Fog is a picture book to help sufferers of depression aged 5-7 cope with their difficult feelings. It uses fairy tale tropes, vibrant illustrations, a sense of humour, and metaphor to create a relatable, enjoyable story that describes the symptoms of childhood depression while also providing hope that things can get better with a little help and support. 

The Princess and the Fog is one of the first children’s books that I’m aware of that deals with childhood depression, rather than to help children understand depression in adults. As somebody who had depression as a child, I made it to help kids like me understand what they are going through and what to do about it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Luna's Red Hat: An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope with Loss and Suicide

Why did I love this book?

Luna’s Red Hat does a fantastic job of explaining suicide to its readers in a way that is blameless and sensitive, delicate but not sugar-coated. It’s a hard topic to talk about, especially with children or people who haven’t ever felt suicidal themselves. You can tell in the way that Luna and her father talk to each other and about Luna’s mother that this was and is a very close and loving family, and that nobody is to blame for Luna’s mother taking her own life. This book has been a big inspiration for me. I hope I am able to write about mental health and other difficult topics with as much grace as Emmi does in this book.

By Emmi Smid,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Luna's Red Hat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is a beautiful spring day, and Luna is having a picnic in the park with her family, wearing her Mum's red hat. Luna's Mum died one year ago and she still finds it difficult to understand why. She feels that it may have been her fault and worries that her Dad might leave her in the same way. Her Dad talks to her to explain what happened and together they think about all the happy memories they have of Mum.

This beautifully-illustrated storybook is designed as a tool to be read with children aged 6+ who have experienced the…

Book cover of Not Today, Celeste!: A Dog's Tale about Her Human's Depression

Why did I love this book?

Not Today, Celeste! is another terrific book that explains to young readers how to recognise depressive symptoms in others, and how these symptoms might affect your relationship with them. Celeste is a wonderful choice of protagonist - a dog whose human, Rupert, begins to suffer from depression. She is initially worried and wants to help, but doesn’t know how to, and is happy when he’s able to finally get help and go back to being his old self again. A perfect reader surrogate for a child whose parent or other loved one is struggling with depression. A very hopeful and warm book for a time when things might seem bleak and confusing.

By Liza Stevens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not Today, Celeste! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celeste thinks she is the happiest dog in the world. But when she notices something different about her human, Rupert, she wonders if things will ever be the same again.

Charmingly illustrated, this heart-warming story for children aged 3+ reflects some of the feelings and experiences that a child whose parent or carer has depression may face. When it comes to periods of low mood in a parent or carer, children can often feel that they are to blame, or even that the parent doesn't love them anymore. The story provides reassurance by explaining what depression is and how it…

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

By Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Book cover of Michael Rosen's Sad Book

Why did I love this book?

The author’s grief after the loss of his teenage son is beautifully realised in both the words and the fabulous illustrations by Quentin Blake. This book eloquently describes the invisible symptoms of depression that I know from experience can be incredibly difficult to explain, such as how a big smile can hide deep, rotten anguish; and how said anguish can pervade every part of your everyday life, how unfair life can be. 

The book is very real and earnest but ultimately hopeful. Rosen explains in simple detail how he is able to keep going, despite the sorrow inside of him. He has learned how to survive, which is a task that he knows can seem insurmountable to some people; and he uses this book to spread that crucial knowledge.

By Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Michael Rosen's Sad Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heartbreakingly honest account of a father's grief for his son from the illustrious pairing of two former Children's Laureates.

Very occasionally the term non-fiction has to stretch itself to accommodate a book that fits into no category at all. Michael Rosen's Sad Book is such a book. It chronicles Michael's grief at the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at the age of 19. A moving combination of sincerity and simplicity, it acknowledges that sadness is not always avoidable or reasonable and perfects the art of making complicated feelings plain. It wasn't made like any other book either;…

All Birds Have Anxiety

By Kathy Hoopmann,

Book cover of All Birds Have Anxiety

Why did I love this book?

I will not mince words: this book is silly. It follows a very simple formula of describing the symptoms of anxiety, general worry, and stress alongside photographs of birds. The funny expressions candidly captured on the bird’s faces somehow seem to always illustrate the specific situations and emotions being described in the text more perfectly than I even could as a professional illustrator. It’s really good fun and would be an especially great resource for a parent/carer/teacher to read along with an anxious child - jumping off and discussing how they relate to what the birds look like they’re feeling as they go.

By Kathy Hoopmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Birds Have Anxiety as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Life as a bird can be stressful! From worrying about airplanes, windows, and getting enough worms to eat, it is clear that birds can be anxious beings. Through a light-touch, quizzical depiction of bird behaviour, All Birds Have Anxiety uses colourful images and astute explanations to explore with gentle humour what it means to live with anxiety day-to-day, and how to begin to deal with it.

Following the style of the best-selling All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome and All Dogs Have ADHD, wonderful colour photographs express the complex and difficult ideas related to anxiety disorder in an easy-to-understand way. This…

The Heart and the Bottle

By Oliver Jeffers,

Book cover of The Heart and the Bottle

Why did I love this book?

This is another book that deals with grief, by one of my favourite authors and illustrators. The protagonist loses somebody important to her and as a defense mechanism she locks away a part of herself that she feels was intrinsically linked to the person she lost. It seems like the safest option at first - it’s an easy trap to fall into - but after a few years she eventually starts to miss that part of herself and has to learn to unlock it again with some help. This is a great book for explaining that closing yourself up might make the pain go away at first, but it can also keep happier feelings at bay as well. It’s important to keep your heart open, even when that’s difficult.

By Oliver Jeffers,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Heart and the Bottle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning picture book star Oliver Jeffers explores themes of love and loss in this life-affirming and uplifting tale.

Once there was a girl whose life was filled with wonder at the world around her...
Then one day something happened that made the girl take her heart and put it in a safe place. However, after that it seemed that the world was emptier than before. But would she know how to get her heart back?

In this deeply moving story, Oliver Jeffers deals with the weighty themes of love and loss with an extraordinary lightness of touch and shows us,…

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