Melinda from our most recent episode struggled with anxiety even as a young child. Since tackling worries early can go a long way toward stable (or more stable) mental health in adulthood, we asked friend of the show and children’s librarian extraordinaire Kate Bowman-Johnston to put together a reading list for anxious kids of all ages. Kate picked her favorites for pre-schoolers, elementary-schoolers, and teens. I’ll let Kate take it from here. —HF
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Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett
I usually don’t recommend books that are essentially a litany of scary things that have not yet occurred to your child. But Gravett is herself a reformed worrier—she manages her own fears “through the medium of doodle”—and has formatted the book so children can doodle through their own fears alongside Little Mouse.
Ready for Anything! by Keiko Kasza
Racoon and Duck want to go on a picnic, but Racoon can’t stop worrying about what might go wrong. This gentle, silly story models how to transform anxiety (“but what if…?”) into positive thinking (“Imagine if…!”) and redirect worry into thoughtful planning.
Mommy? by Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorinks
This innovative pop-up book reflects the theme fueling the bulk of Sendak’s work: small children in frightening situations give scary monsters the what-for. Sendak empowers kids to face their fears, using humor and cunning to get the best of them—and the tactile nature of this book puts kids in the driver’s seat.
Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff
What happens when an anxious child’s worst case scenario comes to pass? Annie’s brother Jared has died, and she responds by obsessively playing it safe, constructing ever more complicated methods of mitigating risk. Poignant and sweet, the book illustrates how “worry insurance” only hurts the worrier rather than protecting against tragedy. (A lesson I am still learning as an adult!)
What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner, PhD, illustrated by Bonnie Matthews
Practical and age appropriate, this workbook contrasts tending and feeding one’s anxiety with nurturing a garden of positive, hopeful thoughts. Includes lots of white space for children to explore their own concerns and devise potential solutions alongside a caregiver.
Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
This is a kindler, gentler counterpart to the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Justin’s third-grade concerns may elicit a sigh of relief and recognition from other elementary aged worrywarts. He is especially relatable for kids who may not have full-blown anxiety disorders, but still find the “daily disasters” of life difficult to manage.
I Don’t Want to Be Crazy by Samantha Schutz
From the first lines of the prologue (“I can’t believe / no one else can hear / I am screaming / inside my head”), this memoir in verse reassures teenagers with anxiety that someone else has not only lived their circumstances, but lived to tell the tale. In a prose epilogue, Schutz urges teens to get help and provides resources to point them in the right direction.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
This book’s protagonist suffers from clinical depression, and since that often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety, it’s a useful story—and, indeed, a funny one. Craig’s experience in a psychiatric ward serves as both a cautionary tale and a quirky message of hope. Vizzini’s tragic death by suicide in 2013 underscores the high stakes of living with and continuing to treat mental illness.
Freaking Out: Real-Life Stories about Anxiety, edited by Polly Wells and illustrated by Peter Mitchell
I would’ve given anything for a book like this as a worried teenager. Working through your fears by reading other people’s experiences with them is free therapy that leaves you feeling less isolated. In addition to composite interviews on various topics, from bullying to performing poorly on a test to fleeing a war-torn country, the editor also provides extensive practical resources.
Thanks to the professional library ninjas of Storytime Underground for their help in brainstorming this list! —KBJ
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What books have helped YOUR kids with anxiety?
Give us titles in the comments. Also, if you have an idea for a reading list for kids, tell us that, too!