Teach kids how to identify and manage feelings with these three wonderful picture books!
Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (Princeton Architectural Press; ages 5-7) is a beautiful story of friendship over time.
Gentle pacing and sublime art guide the reader from the start of one new relationship through its natural conclusion and on to the opening of another. We meet Ms. Badger heading out on her weekly walk up the mountain path and a young cat, Lulu, as she spies on Ms. Badger’s activity. A happenstance meeting becomes the start of a long friendship built on weekly walks up the mountain and the natural transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next. Through unhurried pages we watch Lulu go from an anxious, fatigued novice mountain climber to a confident expert who assumes the role of teacher when Ms. Badger is gone. Ms. Badger’s implicit death follows a period of physical decline and illness during which Lulu takes on more independence and caregiving. And when Lulu finds a young bunny watching her pick raspberries on the mountain path, she is more than ready to move onto this next stage in her life.
This book is exquisite in its subtle storytelling of a universal theme — the cycle of life and death. Like many things in life, the plot changes are small but cumulative. It is this unhurried pacing that allows the story, via words and art, to engage the reader in the characters’ multiple emotional shifts. These feelings are not explicitly named in the text, but are readily apparent via expression and story context — a perfect setup for discussing feelings with young readers. Overall, it’s a great book for gently addressing feelings and the loss of a loved one.
A Whole Bunch of Feelings: What do they mean? by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos and Gustavo Mazali (B.E.S. Publishing; ages 8-12) is an excellent book for explicitly teaching kids about a wide variety of feelings.
In a total of 95 pages, this book describes 44 different feelings. Each feeling is briefly described, often with a scenario or question to which young kids can relate, and then accompanied by a statement that normalizes the feeling or offers guidance for how to manage it. A detailed, colorful illustration is paired with each, often with representations of the associated facial expressions and body language.
Overall, this is an excellent book for intentionally discussing emotions, especially those that are more nuanced such as feeling jealous or ashamed. My kids love looking at the detailed illustrations, and I find they greatly enhance the text in our discussions. I’ve also found it very helpful for teaching recognition of facial expressions and body language. Overall, it’s a great resource for teaching emotional intelligence.
Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul (Sterling Children’s Books; ages 4-7) is an elegant story in text and art of a young child working through the emotional rollercoaster of a temper tantrum.
We meet Allie just as her crayon unexpectedly snaps in two while she is coloring with her older brother. The frustration of this event sends her feelings into bold, red-hot, all-consuming anger accompanied by stomping, smashing, and other classic tantrum behavior. Her brother offers a pillow to punch, after which her red-hot anger tempers to a medium orange, not-talking-to-anyone anger. A series of subsequent behavioral suggestions (e.g. deep breaths, counting down from ten) from her brother guide Allie to shed her angry layers until there is only sadness and regular, needing-a-hug Allie left.
The more times I read this book, the more I recognize its brilliance. My children instantly and viscerally connected with Allie’s layers of emotion and her need to progress step-wise to a state of calm. One reading sent them into imitations of the brother’s calming techniques and before I knew it, they were guiding each other through tough emotions. That is a fantastic result from a picture book! But best of all is how the book acknowledges that a good kid with sad feelings underlie the ugly tantrum behavior sending the message that bad behavior does not equate to being a bad person. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is managing little people with big feelings.