12 Picture Books to Help Little Ones Handle Big Emotions

Emotions are tricky. At an early age, we learn that they can easily overwhelm and contort our thoughts, reactions, and even personalities. One negative emotion, such as anger, left unchecked can spiral and cause us to react and do things that lead to other negative emotions, such as shame or guilt. Teaching children to manage their heavy feelings is no easy task, but picture books about emotions have proved to be an amazing resource in getting girls and boys to think and talk about their own and others’ emotional states.

So, if you’re looking for books for preschoolers and kindergartners about emotions, we can help you out. We carefully chose for you 12 awesome picture books to help little ones handle big feelings.

(spoiler alerts)

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Life is not always fair or predictable. Bad things can happen out of nowhere and little ones often learn this lesson early in life. Taylor built something amazing, something he was proud of. But he lost it. He is shocked, hurt, and confused. Different animals try to help him and each one of them fails and leaves… until the rabbit arrives. The rabbit will listen to Taylor and stay close to him. And sometimes that’s all we need to feel better and get ready for a new beginning.

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Anh’s Anger by Gail Silver, Illustrated by Christianne Kromer

In this colorful book, five-year-old Anh is encouraged to observe the practice of “sitting with” his anger after being asked to do something he doesn’t want to results in a burgeoning temper tantrum. As Anh watches his anger, he externalizes it and comes to understand it as something separate from him. With guidance from his grandfather, Anh begins to craft a more peaceful relationship with his fury.

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I Can Handle It (Mindful Mantras Book 1) by Laurie Wright, Illustrated by Ana Santos

“I Can Handle It” encourages children to be resourceful and think of solutions instead of feeling helpless in front of problems. Positive self-talk is important at any age, and the sooner kids get into the habit of speaking kindly to themselves the better. This book helps them manage anxieties by getting them in the habit of telling themselves “I can handle it!” when curveballs are thrown their way. Young Sebastian, the book’s protagonist, recounts multiple events that upset him. Whether he’s faced with being forced to leave the pool or adults not listening to him, he tells himself “I can handle it!” and comes up with three ways he can make the situation better for himself.

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Waiting Is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

Modern times are often referred to as the era of instant gratification. Both kids and adults seem to want everything here and now. But growing up with the idea that all our demands should be satisfied without delay can cause a great deal of frustration. If frustration is not dealt with correctly, it can lead to anger and despair. In this book, Gerald, the Elephant, and Piggie teach children a very valuable lesson about patience in a fun, simple, and effective way.

Piggie has a surprise for Gerald. Elephant can’t wait to see it… but he’ll have to. His frustration will provoke both laughter and sympathy in young readers. The beautiful ending will show them that some of the best things in life do take time, but are definitely worth waiting for.

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The Fed-Up Cow by Peta Lemon, Illustrated by Maria Dasic Todoric

In a delightfully fun and light way, this book deals with the complex feelings of boredom and dissatisfaction. Hilda is fed up with being a cow. Is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence? Looking for a more interesting and fulfilling life, she tries to become a sheep, a pig and a chicken. Hilda’s hilarious but unsuccessful efforts help her understand that the only way to be truly happy is to be herself.

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A Flicker of Hope by Julia Cook, Illustrated by MacKenzie Haley

“I have all of these dark clouds hovering over me, but they don’t feel like clouds. To me, they feel like mountains.” Sometimes we’re worried and anxious and dark clouds overhead feel like mountains. Through the metaphor of the little candle whose flame is not so bright and strong as it used to be, this book shows kids that, even when everything looks dark, there is always a flicker of hope. Reaching out to others and borrowing some light can help us rediscover our unique gifts and shine brighter than ever.

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Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, Illustrated by Max Lang

It’s not always easy to pinpoint why we’re not feeling okay. Even though it’s a beautiful, sunny day, Jim the chimpanzee wakes up to discover that nothing feels right. As all the animals notice his grumpiness, he tries to loosen up and put on a happy face. Faking happiness makes things only worse. Jim eventually learns to accept that sometimes bad days just happen and that, luckily, they don’t last forever.

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The New Small Person by Lauren Child

Elmore Green is the only child and his life is just perfect the way it is. But one day everything changes. The arrival of a ‘new small person’ complicates even simple things like watching Elmore’s favorite TV show or eating his favorite, orange jelly beans. Elmore is jealous of the ‘new small person’ and he wants it to go back to wherever it came from. As time goes by, the boy discovers that it’s nice to have someone there when scaries are around and that jokes are funnier with two people laughing at them than one. And ‘the new small person’ slowly but steadily becomes ‘his brother Albert.’

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Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama series has stood the test of time to become a classic. Through simple situations, little llama learns to cope with complex emotions, such as fear, anger, or anxiety. In this book, Llama Llama starts preschool and struggles with being away from his mom for the first time. But he’ll soon realize that new friends and new toys can be a lot of fun and that mommy always comes back.

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The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson

“The Invisible String” is another story that helps kids cope with sadness and anxiety over being temporarily or permanently separated from their loved ones. One stormy night, twins Liza and Jeremy run out of their room to be close to their mom. They’ll happily accept to go back to their beds after they discover that, when they miss mom, their love travels all the way along an invisible string until it tugs on her heart. No matter how old you are, there’s something sweet and hopeful in the idea that people who love each other will always be connected by an invisible string.

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Ida, Always by Caron Levis, Illustrated by Charles Santoso

Gus is a polar bear living in a zoo with his bestie Ida, who he does everything with. Life is so good it seems nothing could ever make it change. Until Ida becomes sick and there’s no hope of her recovering.

Tearing up yet? This book reminds us that that’s totally okay. As is feeling all the complicated, heavy emotions that come with losing a loved one. Gus finds out that sometimes you can laugh and have fun when someone you care for is leaving, and sometimes you can only cry.

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After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat

We’ve all heard of Humpty Dumpty’s great fall but few of us know how he got back up again. After he was broken into pieces and was lucky enough to be put back together by the king’s men, it’s not surprising that Humpty became terrified of heights. This story shows how fear can prevent us from being happy and fulfilling our potential in life. Kids get a chance to see how struggling, persisting, and overcoming his fear led Humpty to hatch and turn into what he was always meant to be. What a brilliant idea!

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Even if your child doesn’t struggle with any of these emotions on a regular basis, introducing these books to their reading repertoire can be a great way to get them thinking about the subject. Then, the next time they’re faced with anger, jealousy, fear, or grief, they’ll have an extra set of gadgets in their toolbox. Besides, experiencing emotions through book characters can stimulate conversations and inspire little ones to think not only about their own but also about others’ feelings and boost empathy.


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