Books have the power to transport children outside of their own lives, into magical worlds and places they never could have imagined seeing. Reading books for mental health can be extremely powerful.
They can be hugely important in helping young people come to grips with serious issues that might hit closer to home – like stress, anxiety and grief.
Whether it’s a picture book visually representing different emotions or relatable Young Adult (YA) poems, books can open up conversations around mental health, and hopefully help children better understand some of the things they might be feeling.
Here are some of the best books of 2022 so far exploring these themes on World Mental Health Day, which is today, and beyond.
Reading books for mental health? Try these
The Drama Llama by Rachel Morrisroe, illustrated by Ella Okstad
The Drama Llama is a really visual and accessible way for younger children to get to grips with ideas of anxiety. It tells the story of Alex Allen – a kid who worries about things, like everyone else – except his worries materialise into a real-life llama.
The llama is a visual representation of how anxiety can be a burden, as it just keeps on getting in the way of Alex living his life. It’s colourful and lighthearted, while also giving practical tips on how to manage fears and anxieties. Perfect for opening up any conversations you might want to have with your little ones.
The Worries: Shara And The Really Big Sleepover by Jion Sheibani
After the success of Pixar’s Inside Out in 2015, there’s been a huge trend for books, films and TV shows visualising emotions to make them easier for children to grapple with – and you can see why. Shara And The Really Big Sleepover is another example of this, and is the third instalment in Jion Sheibani’s successful series, The Worries.
Each book has a new main character, who brings with them their own set of unique worries. This book follows Shara, who’s trying to be brave for her little brother when their mum goes on holiday and they stay at their grandfather’s house for the first time. Shara might be trying her best, but anxieties soon start to creep in for both her and her brother – including a slimy creature called Scared and a dinosaur-style worry called Reece Sponsable, who are all set on causing chaos.
It’s sweet, action-packed and a brilliant way for kids to explore a whole range of different emotions.
Sadé And Her Shadow Beasts by Rachel Faturoti, illustrated by Rumbidzai Savanhu
Older children might be more interested in delving a bit deeper when reading books for mental health. Individual stories can help them do so. Take Sadé And Her Shadow Beasts, a captivating tale of 12-year-old Sadé, who is struggling with the loss of her mother. Things are so different now her mum’s gone – both at home and even in her colourful imaginary world, which feels like it’s slowly going dark.
Despite some initial reluctance, Sadé starts working through her feelings in an online counselling group – and the book isn’t just about grief, it’s also about the trials and tribulations of being a 12-year-old, who has loving best friends and mean girls to face up to.
While children who have lost someone will no doubt be able to relate to the most – there’s something in there for everyone, as it explores themes of stress, anxiety, and how talking to someone is massively helpful when you’re struggling.
These Are the Words by Nikita Gill (Macmillan Children’s Books, £7.99)
These Are the Words is Nikita Gill’s YA debut, and it’s an empowering collection of feminist poems teens can dip in and out of whenever they want. It covers many things young adults might be dealing with – whether it’s their first love, navigating fat-shaming or trying to figure out who they truly are.
With 655k followers on Instagram, Gill is hugely popular – and this collection is everything she wished she’d had growing up. It’s honest – if sometimes a bit cheesy – but teens will no doubt find much power in her words, and perhaps feel more able to understand and even vocalise the complicated emotions they’re feeling.