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Librarians Recommend: 15 Books For Kids Dealing With Anxiety

Nov 29, 2018

Every kid gets anxious at times. For some, though, this anxiety can appear quickly, frequently and be tough and scary to work through (both for them and their parents).

Google “kids anxiety” and you get over 400 million hits offering advice, including a lot of books aiming to guide children and their caregivers on how to deal with anxious feelings. But sometimes the best books are the fictional (or mostly fictional) stories showing how others have been able to work with or mediate their own fears and challenges, stories that offer inspiration or even just recognize that others face similar struggles. Stories with characters who are also anxious can help kids feel seen and understood. They can also serve as springboards for further conversation.

We asked children’s librarians from across Canada to suggest a few picture books and early chapter books that might make good reads for kids with their families.

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You Hold Me Up (Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel)

Recommended by April Ens, Children’s Librarian at the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library

Book cover: You Hold Me Up

This gentle story uses sparse, thoughtful text and bright, warm illustrations to present a meditation on kindness and respect. The reader sees children and adults participating in familiar activities such as singing, playing together, listening and laughing. Throughout everything, they “hold each other up.” This story is a wonderful starting point for caregivers and children to discuss activities and shared moments that help them feel safe, heard and supported. Ages 2 and up.

When Lions Roar (Robie H. Harris and Chris Raschka)

Recommended by April Ens, Children’s Librarian at the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library

Book cover: When Lions Roar

Common noises such as sirens blaring, dogs barking and parents yelling frighten the unnamed child in this book. When thoroughly overwhelmed, the child sits down, closes their eyes and tells “the scary” to go away. These simple calming techniques allow the child to feel a certain quiet, and to interact with the world again. Raschka’s illustrations are minimal but compelling, capturing the tension of anxiety and the flowing joy of calm. Ages 3 to 5.

Breathe (Scott Magoon)

Recommended by Megan Clark, public service librarian, Yellowknife Public Library

Book cover: Breathe

A gently written and sweetly illustrated conversation between a mother beluga whale and her baby. As she guides the (adorable) baby through the ocean, she shows her all the things she can do — play, explore, sing, make friends, face her fears — while reminding her always to “breathe.” A simple story with a comforting refrain perfect for helping children who are nervous or face anxiety. Ages 3 to 8.

Captain Starfish (Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Book cover: Captain Starfish

This is a beautiful story of a boy who is planning to be a starfish in his school’s underwater dress-up parade. He has a great deal of anxiety about everything. He was going to run in a race, but his anxiety overwhelmed him and he couldn’t. He got halfway to a friend’s birthday party, but just couldn’t manage to overcome his anxiety and go to the party. His parents are understanding and don’t pressure him to do things he is not ready for. They accept him and love him for who he is. A really comforting read for anyone who has struggled with anxiety that stops them from doing things they want to do. Ages 4 to 8.

The Worry Box (Suzanne Chiew)

Recommended by Erin Morice, Youth Collection Development Librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

Book cover: The Worry Box

Like many children, Murray the young bear has many worries. He worries about new experiences and making new friends and just when he thinks his worries are done, a new one comes along. After listening to his concerns, Murray’s sister, Molly, shares her method for not letting anxiety get the best of you — write down your worries and put them in a box. Together, they make Murray a worry box of his own and although his worries still exist, writing them down helps him find some relief so he can have fun.

Murray’s worries are relatable (we all know new experiences and making new friends can be scary sometimes), and the use of the worry box as a tool to help overcome his worries, rather than a solution to get rid of his worries forever, is realistic. This story demonstrates that it is normal to have anxieties and that with love, support and the right tools, we can find ways to move past them and have fun. Your child may be inspired to make a worry box of their own for when they are feeling anxious. Ages 4 to 8.

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Is a Worry Worrying You? (Ferida Wolff, Harriet May Savitz and Marie Le Tourneau)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Book cover: Is A Worry Worrying You

While this is an older book and may be hard to find, it’s one that has worked well on the everyday worries of my own six-year-old. It is a silly book, but it gives kids language to use when talking about what is worrying them and helps them figure out what a worry is. It tells kids, “A worry is a thought that stops you from having fun, from feeling good, from being happy… You can feel tired from a worry. Or sad. Or sick.” This book also provides some hints for problem solving that might help them feel better. Your kid may not be worrying about 100 elephants who are expecting tea when you’re out of tea bags, but they might take comfort from the fact that perhaps it will be OK if you offer lemonade instead. Ages 4 to 8.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon (Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen)

Recommended by April Ens, Children’s Librarian at the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library

Book cover: Francine Poulet Meets The Ghost Raccoon

In this wonderfully silly story, animal control officer Francine Poulet receives a fright that causes her to question her skills, strengths and very identity. Drawing on the encouragement and support of friends and neighbours, she stands up to her fears (and a screaming ghost raccoon), reclaiming her sense of self. Readers will see that it can take time to think through situations that overwhelm you. DiCamillo’s humorous tone keeps the story light and fun, and readers of her other books will recognize a brief cameo by neighbourhood pig, Mercy Watson. Ages 5 to 8.

What Do You Do with a Problem? (Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

Book cover: What Do You Do With A Problem?

Using lovely illustrations and evocative words, the author and illustrator share the story of a boy whose problem shows up like a small cloud over his head. As he ignores the problem, it gets bigger and bigger, eventually turning into a storm. The boy finally (spoiler!) finds a light in the eye of the storm, which helps him realize that sometimes, problems bring opportunities. A great choice for starting conversations with children about worry, anxiety and problem solving. Ages 5 to 8.

You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke and Lauren Tobia)

Recommended by April Ens, Children’s Librarian at the Kitsilano Branch of the Vancouver Public Library

Book cover: You're Amazing, Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus lives with her large and loving extended family in an unnamed African city. She is brave and caring, with big honest emotions. In this book — the eighth of a thoroughly delightful early chapter-book series — Anna experiences the illness and loss of a family member, and responds with worry, sadness and regret. The bad feelings are so overwhelming that she lashes out and hurts someone she loves. Anna’s family helps her through her difficulties, teaching her to feel her grandfather’s love within her, accept his loss and make amends. Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus books are excellent read-alouds, each told through a series of connected stories that captivate and inspire. Ages 5 to 9.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants (Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

Book cover: Don't Think About Purple Elephants

This picture book is great for younger readers. The main character is Sophie, whose worries keep her up at night. Her mother can’t find a way to help her until she suggests that Sophie doesn’t think about purple elephants. Don’t think about little purple elephants, big purple elephants at the circus... and suddenly Sophie finds her worries replaced with thoughts of all the silly things purple elephants could be doing. This book can be a great choice to introducing concepts of coping mechanisms to very young children. Ages 5 to 9.

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Alvin Ho Series (Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

Book covers: Alvin Ho series

This fun chapter-book series is perfect for those who are already fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other similar series. Alvin is a second-grader who is afraid of everything — most of all school. When he’s in class, he never says a word, even though at home he can’t stop talking. These stories are both fun and informative, showing how Alvin faces his fears and worries to come out stronger. Ages 6 to 9.

Bird and Squirrel on the Run! (James Burks)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Book cover: Bird And Squirrel On The Run!

This hilarious graphic novel, the first in a series, shows the unlikely friendship between Bird and Squirrel. Bird is carefree and recklessly fearless while Squirrel is kind of a nervous wreck. Similar to the Scaredy Squirrel books, but for older readers, the series shows how Squirrel is forced through his (often-justified) fears by Bird’s antics. While this book is unlikely to help those with real anxiety, it is a hilarious graphic novel where life happens to Squirrel despite his worries and he survives to have a happy ending. Ages 6 to 10.

Small Things (Mel Tregonning)

Recommended by Erin Morice, youth collection development librarian, Halifax Public Libraries

Book cover: Small Things

An unnamed boy is plagued with anxiety. From feeling rejected by his schoolmates to performing poorly on school tests, his anxieties become overpowering and are eating away at him. Feeling alone, he hides his worries from his family until his sister, who recognizes his pain and vulnerability, shares her own struggles with him. The boy begins to recognize that many people experience anxiety, that he is not alone and that a little kindness and support can go a long way.

This wordless picture book lends itself to being shared and discussed. The black and white illustrations are powerful storytellers, masterfully depicting the pain, confusion and loneliness that anxiety can inflict on someone, even the youngest amongst us. Although the format is a picture book, the content is recommended for slightly older readers as there is much to interpret and understand in each panelled illustration. Ages 6 to 12.

Real Friends (Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham)

Recommended by Anthea Bailie, collections strategist, Markham Public Library

Book cover: Real Friends

Much-beloved author Shannon Hale discusses her childhood in this semi-autobiographical graphic novel. While most of the book is about Hale trying to navigate the friendships of grade school, it also talks about her undiagnosed anxiety disorder and OCD. Knowing that the book is autobiographical may help some kids know that they’re not alone in struggling with social situations, OCD or anxiety. Ages 8 and up.

The Nest (Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen)

Recommended by Ann Foster, branch supervisor, Saskatoon Public Library

Book cover: The Nest

In this illustrated chapter book, Steve is worried about his sick newborn baby brother, worried about how his parents are coping and worried about the wasp’s nest hanging from his house. But when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve hopes his days of worrying are over. But agreeing to the wasp queen’s terms seems dangerous. This is a creepy, gothic story that children truly enjoy without necessarily even noticing its anxiety-related plotline. Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman’s CoralineAges 10 and up.

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.