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Mental Health

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Mental Health Booklist

Browse our booklist of recommended children’s books that open up conversations about mental health in age-appropriate ways. We asked our community of primary teachers, TAs, children’s authors, librarians and book lovers to nominate the best books about mental health for children.

This is what they told us…

Picturebooks about mental health

Tom Percival
Picturebook

Ruby’s Worry is arguably the most accessible mental-health-themed picture book that my class has come across. Percival depicts a ‘worry’ with a yellow orb that appears next to Ruby one day and continues to grow when she ignores the shadow-like entity, simply hoping that the worry will disappear of its own accord. When she meets another child with their own ‘worry’ and asks them about their feelings, she realises how to rid herself of worries –  she needs to talk about them. This book has sparked meaningful class discussions, supporting pupils to understand that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’.

This is one of the most important books to share with young people. It teaches them about sharing their troubles rather than letting them spiral out of control.

Matthew Morgan
 & Gabriel Alborozo
Picturebook

Max worries a lot. He worries about what is around him, what has happened and what might happen. His dog Bob, however, is much more relaxed. Bob teaches Max that the best way to deal with worries is to share them with a friend. This is a gentle story that shows that everybody worries at times and introduces the idea of talking about fears as a coping mechanism. A wonderful book for opening conversations about fears and anxieties with KS1 pupils.

Oliver Jeffers
Picturebook

This book touches on depression and loss but also looks at the power of imagination and love. It sparked great conversations of loss and sadness with my Year 2 class. A wonderful soulful story capturing a little girl’s loss and path through bereavement, complimented by beautiful illustrations. One to be shared while being mindful of those who may have experienced similar loss and who are perhaps struggling to talk about it or see any light afterwards.

Elizabeth Laird
 & Jenny Lucander
Picturebook

A retelling of a tale by Rumi, an ancient Persian poet. On one level this is the story of a boy who is too scared to go to bed because of the monster under the bed. The boy’s dad gently encourages him to make friends with the monster so he won’t be scared of it anymore. In the story, the boy and his dad also discover that fighting the monster doesn’t get them anywhere. With universal messages of acknowledging and making friends with your fears, and that trying to fight what we are scared of is rarely the answer, this will resonate with children (and adults) of all ages. It might also help children deal with their anxiety over making new friends.


Liza Stevens
Picturebook

This is a story about living with somebody suffering from depression, told through the eyes of a dog called Celeste. Celeste is confused and sad when ‘something different’ seems to come over her owner, Rupert. Celeste learns that Rupert’s feelings are poorly and that it is not Celeste’s own fault or responsibility. This is a sensitive picture book with beautiful illustrations and a compassionately told story that speaks of real issues faced by those living with family members with depression.

Samia Quddus
 & Rahima Begum

This book is a must for any environment involving children. It helps the reader deal with any situation where a child might feel uneasy or nervous. Beautiful illustrations and the perfect storyline. Freya is just charming and very relatable. A useful SEN tool too.

Sarah Bee
 & Satoshi Kitamura
Picturebook

The Yes is a powerful picture book that cleverly illustrates the power of a positive attitude. All the nos” teem and seethe and pick and nip, but The Yes ignores them and carries on with what it wants to do. All children I have read this book to have responded strongly to it. Some have seen “the nos” as external negative influences, some have seen them as internal negative thoughts. All though have internalised the message that it is important not to let negative messages take over and dominate. A useful book for exploring self-belief and self-doubt.

Michael Rosen
 & Quentin Blake
Non-fiction

Although mostly about grieving, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book also explores sadness generally. This is a starkly honest account of a father’s grief, based on Michael Rosen’s own experience of losing his son Eddie. Michael feels sad when he thinks about Eddie and in this book he describes the pain of living with his sadness and some of the things he does to try and cope with it. A beautiful, truly human text with perfectly matched illustrations by Quentin Blake.

 

 


Chapter books about mental health

Marcia Williams
Chapter book

A superb book for upper KS2 examining the emotions Angie experiences during her best-friend Harry’s terminal illness, including grief, anger, happiness and boredom. The lesson that all her feelings are valid is transferable to anyone experiencing stressful life events.

Stewart Foster
Chapter book

An absorbing story about bullying and friendship crafted with the right balance of warmth and tension to engage readers in upper KS2. The narrative alternates between the viewpoints of teenagers Alex and Dan. Daily life is a struggle for Alex, plagued by worries caused by his OCD and living in fear of the awful bullying at school. Dan’s life is not straightforward either. Since his older brother left home, everything in Dan’s world feels different. Dan plays out his frustrations at school, messing around in class and finding easy targets at school to bully with his friends. As time goes by, the boys end up working together on a raft-building project and a new empathy begins to develop as their relationship grows. A highly recommended story for KS2.

Some books you read a few pages or some chapters and park it for the day. Other books, you get so into the story that you just keep turning the pages and lose track of time. This book is the latter. It’s so well written that both bully and his victim got under my skin.

Horatio Clare
Chapter book

A brilliant book, the first in a series, published by Firefly Press in 2017. The compelling title features Aubrey, a “rambunctious child”, an adventurer and determined discoverer. ‘The Terrible Yoot’ refers to dad’s depression; he becomes sad, pale, confused and rather lost – “Sometimes he seemed so wispy he might have been made of mist.” Horatio Clare writes openly and honestly about Jim’s battles and Aubrey’s responses to what he witnesses. There is plenty of humour, plenty of adventure and some remarkably adept description. All in all, a very grounded and relatable story.

Eloise Williams
Chapter book

Seaglass is essentially a ghost story but explores and delves into various aspects of mental health throughout. The main protagonist, Lark, is dealing with isolation, worry and prejudice. She also struggles with anger and her coping strategies are explored in the book. There is the underlying theme of mental illness when it comes to Lark’s mother also and how she deals with this differently to how Lark may tackle situations. This is finally discussed in more detail towards the end of the book. An interesting and impactful read for mature upper KS2 children and those in KS3.

Eve Ainsworth
Chapter book

This book (best enjoyed by ages 11+) is about Alfie, who has lost his mother to cancer, and Alice, a mysterious girl who becomes his friend. Alfie is literally lost, as is his father, after the death and neither can speak to each other about how they are feeling. Based on the author’s experience of a child in the same position it explores the feelings around loss and the importance of expressing emotion.​


Cath Howe
Chapter book

A story about two siblings (Maya and Rose) who no longer talk to each other after an accident in the playground, told through alternating chapters from the perspective of each sister. One sister’s narrative will resonate with anyone who has felt a build-up of unspoken anger, resentment or a desire for revenge, while the other’s will be relatable to readers who have ever struggled to speak the right words to influence a situation or relationship that feels beyond their control or who have borne the weight of unfounded guilt. Many young readers will easily empathise with both perspectives.

A week-long residential trip with school is exactly what the two girls need to bring their unspoken tensions to a crunch point that will bring change for good. This is a page-turning story with convincing narrative voices and a springboard into discussions about what happens when very big feelings stay bottled up inside.

Stacy McAnulty
Chapter book

This is about a 12-year-old who became a maths genius after she was struck by lightning. She also developed OCD. Her grandmother, who is her carer, had home-schooled her since. But now that she is 12, she had to go to middle school and make friends of her age. Up to this point, her friends were online math geniuses. Her new math teacher spotted the fact that Lightning Girl was not showing her full potential. Teachers like Mr Stoker are a gift to all parents. The writing is quick paced, rhythmic and page-turning. The characters are compelling. A really good read.

Ewa Jozefkowicz
Chapter book

An authentically-told story that poignantly portrays life during dark times for twelve-year-old Izzy. After a traumatic car accident, Izzy’s mum is in a coma in hospital and Izzy struggles to keep up good relationships with family and friends. While Izzy tries to act bravely and hold everything inside, something even darker is happening inside her mind. Sometimes emotions become so tangled that they are too difficult to put into words and what I liked about this book is how the author weaves into the plot a number of ways of visually representing some of the associated feelings, like the painted mural on Izzy’s bedroom wall whose colours fade one by one. Powerful emotional experiences are handled in a compassionate way, characters are authentically nuanced and the plot is compelling. I recommend this book for Years 5-6+ for opening up important conversations about mental health.

 

Non-Fiction about mental health

Anna Williamson
 & Sophie Beer
Non-fiction

A brilliant resource for UKS2 children to dip into – probably most useful in the transition to secondary school. Anna Williamson is a trained therapist and Childline counsellor. She has packed her mental health guide with support and guidance perfectly pitched in a chatty, informal style which is both practical and reassuring, without being overwhelming. The information is presented honestly and openly which will hopefully encourage questions and discussions. Sophie Beer’s illustrations and the bright colours used throughout make this appealing to pick up and explore. I think this book is spot on in its approach to supporting children to develop strong emotional well-being, resilience and belief in themselves.

Beth Cox
 & Vicky Barker
Non-fiction
Confidence is like a muscle, and everyone's confidence can benefit from a bit of coaching to stretch and strengthen that muscle. Following tried and tested techniques, children will learn how to build empathy and interact with confidence. From dealing with friendship wobbles to embracing mistakes and coping with change, the activities at the heart of this book are designed to help children discover just what they can do.

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