Every year, we create a free and downloadable Classroom Kit for Multicultural Children’s Book Day on a specific theme:
The kits include activities, a discussion guide, a poster, and a book list. I create the book lists myself and keep a copy on my blog so that I can update it as new books come my way.
This year’s theme is mental health support for stressful times. Let’s add to this list! I’d love your diverse book suggestions. Thanks so much!
Children’s Books on Mental Health Support During Stressful Times
Breathing Makes It Better: A Book for Sad Days, Mad Days, Glad Days, and All the Feelings In-Between by Christopher Willard and Wendy O’Leary, illustrated by Alea Marley
But if you watch and really notice,
feelings come and go — just like
your breath goes in … and out,
in each little moment of the day.
Connecting breath with feelings is a great way to empower children to cope with big emotions. Pair this picture book with Breathing Exercise Cards for Kids from Kids Yoga Stories. This book was inspired by the teachings of Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Rachel’s Day in the Garden: A Kids Yoga Spring Colors Book by Giselle Shardlow, illustrated by Hazel Quintanilla
Join Rachel as she and her adorable puppy look for signs of spring in the garden. Rachel uses yoga positions to crawl like a caterpillar, buzz like a bee, and flutter like a butterfly in this exploration that includes the colors of the rainbow. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival
One bad day, Ruby discovers a worry that grows and grows until it takes over her life. It’s a burden until she finds a way to get rid of the worry. It turns out that she’s not the only kid with a worry and that talking helps to make the worry disappear. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or mental health professional, the message of this picture book is on point: talking about feelings helps to conquer worries. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illustrated by Christina Forshay
Mei Mei’s grandpa practices tai chi in the garden, and Mei Mei is eager to join in. As Gong Gong demonstrates the slow, graceful movements, Mei Mei does them with her own flair. Then, Mei Mei teaches Gong Gong yoga. Both tai chi and yoga access a state of meditation through movement. Morning with Grandpa also celebrates the special bond between grandparent and grandchild and the joy of learning new things together. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Avery G. and the Scary End of School by Sivan Hong
The end of school is a celebration for most children, but not all. This picture book is a good reminder for parents to check in with their kids with all transitions, big and small. Avery G. is able to articulate her five concerns, and her parents model how to find solutions by working with Avery, her friends’ parents, and the teachers at her school. Defining the problem is the first step toward finding a solution. Parents might also be inspired by the proposed solutions. This picture book is centered around neurodiverse kids but this strategy to overcome anxiety works for all children (and adults too!). [picture book, ages 4 and up]
What Do You Do With A Problem? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
When a problem shows up, it can cause a lot of anxiety and worry that makes the problem seem bigger. Ignoring it doesn’t help either. But while confronting a problem is scary, it also presents an opportunity to be brave. This picture book takes a “glass half full” approach in framing challenges and utilizing problem-solving skills. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez, illustrated by Jess Golden
Pilar loves dancing but the thought of auditions for the show makes her nervous, and this spills into her school day. Her mom and friend Sebastian remind her to breathe and give her encouragement. She is then able to self-talk positive thoughts and decides she is ready to audition. Despite being nervous, she shines. Performance anxiety can affect kids who are not dancers, singers, or actors. The tools Pilar utilizes model ways kids can help themselves relax in difficult moments. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
A Kids Book About Anxiety by Ross Szabo
I think all of us suffered or are suffering from anxiety and depression from living through a global pandemic. I would pair these books together to show the continuum of how anxiety and depression are not the same but often causally linked together. Ross Szabo is a pioneer of the youth mental health movement. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Danny and the Blue Cloud: Coping with Childhood Depression by James M. Foley, illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez
What can depression look like? For Danny, it can feel like being under a blue cloud that makes him cry, stay in bed, or growl at his friends. Movement through dance and music helps Danny feel better and his friends are there to encourage this side of him. This picture book models Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a way to cope and overcome depression. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Pocket Full of Rocks: Daddy Talks About Depression by Yair Engelberg, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley
“…the more depression fills me up the less I want to do. And the less I want to do the more depression fills me. Imagine if your pockets were stuffed with big rocks that are so heavy that you can’t move. Being depressed kind of feels like that.”
Ella’s dad can’t get out of bed to play with her. He explains to her about his depression and how he is treating it — with exercise, feelings doctor, and medication. With simple language and a metaphor that kids can relate to, this picture book explains depression and how to help a loved one. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Kids Book About Depression by Kileah McIlvain
Kileah shares her personal story about depression and how she found help. Her experience is useful as a tool to visualize what depression can look like, and that those suffering from it are not alone. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Balloons for Papa: A Story of Hope and Empathy by Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia, illustrated by Erika Meza
When a parent suffers from depression, it can be the child who has the emotional intelligence to notice and want to help. In Arthur’s case, his mother is in the hospital and his papa is struggling to find his smile. Arthur’s simple act of sharing balloons that he has longed for helps his father break through his pain and worry. This book is a gentle reminder that sometimes the parent is strong for the child but, also, the other way around. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Three kids are starting school in America. Maria is from Guatemala. Jim is from South Korea. And Fatima is from Somali and wears the hijab. They worry about making friends, especially since they are learning to speak English. But friendships can begin with an invitation to play soccer, a drawing to admire, or teaching someone a new language. Moving to a new country is a difficult transition and can also include traumatizing circumstances. This picture book models kindness and empathy for all new students.[picture book, ages 5 and up]
A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhất Hạnh
Nhất Hạnh, a Buddhist priest, was known as the “father of mindfulness.” He shares his practice in this “how to picture book manual” using four pebbles, making mindfulness accessible to everyone, including young children. Not only does he model his mindfulness practice but he uses the second half of the book to encourage readers how to make it their own. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Kids can practice mindfulness through exercises and crafts. This book is grouped into six chapters around the themes of Focus, Calm, Move, Change, Care, and Reflect. Readers can flip through the book to find what they need when they need it. A mindfulness practice is just like learning a sport, language, or musical instrument. It requires practice, and this is a fun way to encourage kids to incorporate it into their daily routines. [nonfiction picture book, for ages 6 and up]
Mindful Kids: 50 Mindfulness Activities for Kindness, Focus, and Calm from Barefoot Books
Pair this card deck with A Handful of Quiet and let kids choose cards from this deck to facilitate their own mindfulness practice. The cards are color-coded and categorized by theme: Start Your Day, Finding Calm, Focus, Open Your Heart, and Rise & Relax. Mix them up or choose a particular sequence to make mindfulness a practice with something different every day. [activity card deck, for ages 4 and up]
Breathing Exercise Cards for Kids from Kids Yoga Stories
Mix the cards up or have kids choose different breathing exercises to try. With more than 30 ideas, this card deck helps children learn breathing techniques to release stress and tension. They also have fun names like Balloon Breath, Bee Breath, Flower Breath, and Bunny Breath! [activity card deck, for ages 4 and up]
Yoga Pretzels from Barefoot Books
My yoga teacher friend put together a sequence for kids using Yoga Pretzels cards. The back of each card gives detailed instructions on how to get into the pose. This is a fun way for adults and kids to practice yoga. [activity card deck, for ages 4 and up]
all is well
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Second grader, Alvin Ho, is afraid of many things from elevators to airplanes, thunder to kimchi, but most of all school. And yet, he is not afraid of explosions. And, at home with his family, Alvin is a superhero — Firecracker Man! His older brother gives him advice on how to make friends by trading baseball cards. His grandfather shows Alvin and his classmates how to throw a baseball. But, it’s Alvin’s father who gives him the best advice about making friends with his beloved vintage toy, Astro Boy. With the help of his family, Alvin faces his fears and finds his voice. Lenore Look brings humor to anxiety and phobias, but her underlying message is the importance of acceptance and support from family and friends. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Stuntboy: In the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raul the Third
Portico Reeves is a superhero and his power is making other heroes stay safe. This is a difficult task as his family unravels into constant bickering. His best friend Zola Brawner offers support through meditation and yoga practices, and this helps Portico. Herbert Singletary, their classmate and neighbor, is the worst until they get to really know him when he offers insights to Portico about life after divorce.
Integrating a mindfulness practice helps with the chaos in Portico’s life. While the tone of the book is breezy and action-filled with references to superheroes, Reynolds slides in a deeper message about the trauma of divorce. [notebook novel chapter book, ages 7 and up]
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla
[Gramps] says, “I tell you, Stanley, I have been in the war, you know. The world can go crazy out there. People cope in different ways.”
That’s true. People do cope in different ways. Sometimes they desperately prepare, like Principal Coffin. Or they get kinda bitter and grumpy, like Gramps. Or they get mad, like Cal. Or they tune it out with work, like Mom. Or they find a good reason to leave, like Dad.
And then, there are much worse ways to cope. Dugs and drink and whatnot.
Stanley has started dreaded middle grade, but things aren’t right with his best, and only friend, Joon. To shore up their friendship, Stanley agrees to compete with him in a Trivia Quest scavenger hunt of San Diego’s landmarks in order to win tickets to Comic Fest. But when Joon ditches him for another friend, Stanley decides to enter anyway despite his sensory processing issues. His new homeschooled neighbor, Liberty, joins him as his partner. Together, they help each other out when they both need it most. Stanley discovers that his superpower might not be just his extensive knowledge of comics trivia. Perhaps there is a superhero inside him as well.
Sally J. Pla encourages readers to be more empathetic to those around them by gently exposing the stresses and anxieties that all of us carry around inside. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Being Clem by Lesa Cline-Ransome
When Clem’s father is killed in the Port Chicago explosion, his mother battles depression as she tries to find work to support her family. His older sisters have to step up to help their mother cope with daily life. Despite her secretarial college degree, she faces racism and has to take work as a maid. Clem’s strongest memory of his father is as a Navy man who could swim like a fish. He wants to be like his dad but he has a deep fear of water.
There are limited opportunities to learn to swim for people of color in Chicago during WWII. Clem feels ashamed that he wastes several chances to learn to swim. As the baby of the family, he is determined to face his fears and make his mother proud. In learning to swim, he discovers that he can still honor his father while being himself. It’s a major step in his family’s healing journey.
Pair this with Each Tiny Spark and How to Make Friends with the Sea. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Sea in Winter by Christine Day
Ballet has been the center of Maisie Cannon’s life, and she dreams of dancing professionally. But when Maisie tears the ACL ligament in her leg which requires surgery and a lengthy year or more recovery, she struggles with anxiety and depression. Her life feels empty without the structure of ballet training and she feels cut off from her dance friends. Her family takes her on a family vacation to hike near her stepfather’s native home, but the uneven terrain causes her to stumble and reinjure her leg. Maisie’s mother suggests therapy and shares her own painful mental health struggles after Maisie’s father died in combat. To find joy again, Maisie must fill the void with new interests and friendships.
Day weaves in Native American history of repeated forced relocation including Residential Schools, the backlash against the Makah Nation after a whale hunt, and The Piscataway people from the Maryland area. Maisie’s mother draws strength from her people’s ability to surmount difficult change; a lesson for Maisie as she recovers from her injury. For kids who train at a high level, whether it is in sports or dance, interruptions from Covid-19, concussion, or long-term injury, can trigger anxiety and depression. Maisie’s reactions are realistically portrayed, as well as the difficulty and opportunities in making huge changes in her life. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Golden Hour by Niki Smith
Manuel Soto suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after witnessing gun violence in his art class at school. His teacher has had a lengthy recovery in the hospital, and his school is very supportive of his mental health. Still, he wrestles with nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, guilt, and anxiety. His art class has a new teacher and a new group assignment. His new friends, Sebastian and Caysha, bring him to Sebastian’s farm and encourage him to join an agriculture club with them. Manual finds farm life soothing and his new friendships support him as he experiences PTSD. Will his friendship with Sebastian bloom into something more?
School shootings inflict damage not just to those who are injured or killed but also to those who witness the violence, and this affects them long into the future. Art as therapy, the support of others, and the grounding practice that Manual works on with his therapist show different coping mechanisms. [middle grade graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
Five Things About Ava Andrews by Margaret Dilloway
Ava Andrews has two invisible disabilities: a heart condition and severe anxiety. It turns out that her conditions are related; panic attacks cause her heart to stop working. Now, Ava must face starting middle school alone after her best friend Zelia moves across the country. Her comedic writing talents catch the eye of classmates who encourage her to join their Improv Group. Not only are the kids friendly and inclusive, but Improv turns out to be a kind of therapy for Ava’s anxiety. But her new friendships seem to be threatening her old friendship with Zelia. Now, her Improv Group might lose its space to real estate developers. Can Ava and her Improv Group use their performance skills to stop the gentrification?
Improvisation as a means to treat social anxiety? On the surface, it seems like asking someone to learn to swim by throwing them into an ocean. But Improvisation actually does work as therapy for social anxiety and anti-bullying because the performer gets to “practice” social situations and learn that mistakes are ok. The outcomes are risk-taking, self-advocacy, and learning to speak up. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
How To Make Friends with the Sea by Tanya Guerrero
Pablo’s extreme fear of the ocean started when he was very young; ironic given that his father is a famous marine biologist. And now Pablo feels like he has lost his father after his parent’s divorce and his mother moves them from country to country. His fears and OCD are getting worse but his mother doesn’t seem to notice. When they foster Chiqui, a young orphaned girl with a cleft lip, Pablo discovers that he can face his fears to be the big brother she looks up to. It’s time for him to finally make friends with the sea, and use his voice to save his family … one that includes Chiqui. [middle grade, ages 8 and up] *I have an OCD book list here.
Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“My favorite part of this was the coping strategies Jillian uses when she feels out of control in the situation. Biting the back of her tongue in order to be still, and using a “neutral face” when things are uncomfortable; are helpful for just about everyone. It’s good to see depictions of children missing grandparents since that’s an unfortunate loss that many students face. I was also glad to see a classroom that was very interested in academics, where the most accomplished student is also the most popular. Young readers will be amused by Jillian’s different fashions, and interested in all of the different things she does with her hair. While Jillian is a very anxious character, she is really trying to work in a positive direction, and utilizing solid coping skills.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
Emilia Torres is neurodiverse and needs her mama’s help to stay organized but now her mother is on the side of the country for her work and her father, who has returned home from deployment, will step in. But things are not the same with her father. He suffers from PTSD. Emilia has trouble reconnecting with her father, but working on rebuilding a car together gives her hope that they have something in common. But now a school project on redistricting is tearing her friendships, and her town, apart. Will she have to choose sides? At the of the story, Emilia finally hears her father explain how he has been struggling with processing his emotions and now is ready to seek professional help. Emilia also finds her voice as a filmmaker in addressing the racism she encounters. Each Tiny Spark is a good reminder that when a parent suffers from PTSD (or other mental health conditions), their loved ones are affected as well. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
p.s. Related posts:
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.