Teaching Emotional Intelligence with Children’s Picture Books
By Hannah Atchison, Children’s Librarian
Everyone feels things differently. Even for grownups, understanding our feelings and putting them into words is difficult. For a child it is even harder. Teaching a child what a complex emotion feels like and how it should be processed and expressed is hard work for everyone involved. Have no fear; your local children’s librarian is here. In the children’s section at the public library there is a variety of picture books about characters who are learning about their emotions and how to understand and express them in a healthy way. Here are a few of my favorites.
“Joy” by Corinne Averiss. A girl tries her best to bring joy to her grandmother. She gathers some useful objects for catching things and takes them to the park to look for ‘joy.’ She has trouble catching it and worries that she won’t have any to give to her grandmother.
“This Beach is Loud!” by Samantha Cotterill. A boy goes to the beach with his dad. He is very excited, but when they get there he becomes overwhelmed and experiences sensory overload. His father is patient with him and talks him through it until he feels better.
“Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts: A Book About Anger” by Ian De Haes. Whenever Simon gets mad, his anger turns into a beast. The beast gets bigger and fiercer until one day Simon gets mad for no reason at all and his beast becomes a dragon. Simon must learn how to control his temper.
“The Snurtch” by Sean Ferrell. When Ruthie goes to school, the Snurtch, which appears as a floating ‘beast,’ is always with her. He throws crayons, pulls hair, burps loudly and makes the other kids not want to play with her.
“The Little Bit Scary People” by Emily Jenkins. The girl in this book talks about some of the people she sees who scare her a little because they look or act a little different, but then she thinks about what kinds of nice qualities they have, things they do when they are home or having fun, and that helps her not feel afraid of them.
“Can I Keep It?” By Lisa Jobe. This book is about learning empathy. A boy catches different animals outside and asks his mother if he can keep them. His mother tells him what the animals like to do and asks him where he thinks they would like to live.
“How it Feels to Be a Boat” by James Kwan. In this book you learn empathy while imagining you are a boat. The book tells you about all the things you are experiencing and how it might make you feel.
“F is for Feelings” by Golden Melanie Millar. This book is an alphabet of feelings with examples for each.
“The Brain Storm” by Linda Ragsdale. This book is about a boy who wakes up in a very bad mood, which is pictured as a scribbly ‘storm’ that follows him around above his head. He can not make it go away and brings it to his grandmother who tries to help him understand it. This book is entirely made of pictures. There are no words.
“I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness” by Susan Verde. This book is about finding peace and making sense of emotions using yoga.
“My Blue is Happy” by Jessica Young. This book uses colors to talk about emotions. The girl in this book talks about how colors feel differently to her than to other people.
It is important for caregivers reading these stories to ask their child questions while they are reading to make sure they are engaging with the story. This is always a good thing to do when reading to children but is especially important when the stories are about complex subjects like emotions. With books like “The Brain Storm” and “How it Feels to Be a Boat” where there are pictures without words, caregivers can use these as an opportunity to ask questions. For example, “How can you tell Simon is feeling angry? What is his body doing?” This is a difficult subject to teach. If you need more resources or suggestions, your librarians are here to help.