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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Emmi Smid,

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

Why 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.

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

By Liza Stevens,

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

Why 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.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

By Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Book cover of Michael Rosen's Sad Book

Why 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.

All Birds Have Anxiety

By Kathy Hoopmann,

Book cover of All Birds Have Anxiety

Why 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.

The Heart and the Bottle

By Oliver Jeffers,

Book cover of The Heart and the Bottle

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in anxiety, grief, and depression?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief: A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Healing the Impact of Loss, Night Shifts Black, and The Yoga Effect: A Proven Program for Depression and Anxiety if you like this list.