book list, social-emotional

Book List: Respecting Our Emotions

The Way I Feel (Parenting Press)
Written & Illustrated by Janaan Cain

For ages: 2-4
The Way I Feel is an excellent book for its age group. You’ll see other books on this list that go deeper and build vocabulary, but this is a great place to start. Janaan Cain delivers some exceptional pastel illustrations that are full of expression to model each of the emotions showcased in the text. Each feeling is part of a rhyming couplet. The emotions are given a two-page spread, each space having a color palette matching said emotion. There’s not much of a wow factor here, but it’s a direct, concise summary of the basic human emotions. 

Today I Feel…: An Alphabet of Feelings (Abrams Appleseed)
Written & Illustrated by Madalena Moniz

For ages: 3-5
Similar to our previous book, Today I Feel’s approach uses the 26 characters of the alphabet to present emotions. The illustrations are closely linked to the feelings and the letter represented. For example, with J is for Jealous, a boy stares out his window looking at a kite he’s not flying. The ribbons on the string are a messy tangle of letter Js, implying that this is a complicated emotion that can get you tied up in knots. You would assume rightly that some of the letters are difficult to match with an emotion. X is XOXO’ed is undoubtedly pushing the boundaries. Much like The Way I Feel, this is a very competent start.

When Sadness Is At Your Door (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Eva Edland

For ages: 3-5
The looming cloud of sadness we feel from time to time is an emotion not addressed often in children’s literature, especially not with as much sensitivity as found here. The text even lets us know that “Sometimes Sadness arrives unexpectedly.” It also pushes the importance of naming our sadness and understanding it as a thing that is both part of you but also not something that can define you. Sadness isn’t our enemy either; it’s something that comes to visit and eventually leaves. The front endpapers show people turning their backs on their Sadness. In contrast, the back endpapers show characters engaging in and facing it down. Those thoughtful touches speak volumes.

Tough Guys Have Feelings Too (Flying Eye Books)
Written & Illustrated by Keith Negley

For ages: 3-5
It’s imperative that we encourage our boys to express their emotions and know that the foundations on which American society is built will push in the opposite direction. In this book, traditionally male characters of superheroes, pirates, Lucha libre, and more are shown working through hard times. An astronaut holds a photo of his wife & child, whom he misses. A superhero eats lunch alone on a rooftop. A biker weeps on the side of the road over a poor squirrel who has been hit. Our young men need to know and be okay with showing vulnerability. Unfortunately, as you look out across the landscape of American society, the lack of that comfort with emotions has fueled a dangerous right-wing movement. Books like these could save a life.

Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day (HarperCollins)
Written by Jamie Lee Curtis
Illustrated by Laura Cornell

For ages: 3-5
The little girl at the center of Jamie Lee Curtis’ ode to emotions is a roller coaster of them. What I enjoyed most about the text was that often the girl isn’t sure why she feels a certain way. Sometimes they are purely reactive, coming out of a negative social encounter. Other times she wakes up feeling grumpy and can’t quite articulate why. Curtis makes sure the reader understands that you don’t have to be able to know why; feel it and communicate with the people around you. Laura Cornell provides vibrant, fluid illustrations that capture the rise and fall of our protagonist’s thoughts and feelings.

The Boy With Big Big Feelings (Beaming Books)
Written by Britney Winn Lee
Illustrated by Jacob Souva 

For ages: 4-8
The main character of this book is a young boy who has always felt things strongly. Over time, he learns to stuff his feelings down inside because he worries his peers will laugh at him. Finally, he meets another child who shows the same level of empathy. Through this friendship, the boy learns to embrace his emotions. Big blooming blobs of color represent the emotions, often overwhelming the main character and swirling around him like a comforting blanket. I love how animated the illustrations make the story and capture the feelings involved. 

The Rough Patch (Greenwillow Books)
Written & Illustrated by Brian Lies

For ages: 4-8
Evan is a farming fox who does everything with his pet dog. Then, one day, his dog dies, and Evan finds himself stuck in grief. The story then takes us through the stages of grief as seen in our protagonist, including anger as Evan destroys a big chunk of his garden. But one pumpkin in the garden helps him clear his mind and puts all his effort into growing something extraordinary for the fair in honor of his late friend. The Rough Patch is a great book not just for explaining emotions but for children who may be going through a grieving process. The illustrations by Brian Lies perfectly capture the moods that grief can bring and the inevitable celebration of life that waits for us when we can heal.

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