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30 Children's Books That Promote Emotional Intelligence, Empathy and Resilience

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Tanya Hoover is a Registered Social Worker who holds a Master of Social Work degree. She is a Certified Play Therapist with the Canadian Association for Play Therapy. She holds a certificate in Early Childhood Education, and has taken extensive training in attachment-based models for supporting children and parents/caregivers, including being certified in the Circle of Security model for individual therapy. She is also a Registered Circle of Security Parenting Facilitator. Tanya works as a therapist at a non-profit community agency in Winnipeg. She can be reached through her blog at https://joyandcompany.wordpress.com/

As parents home with our children during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have many demands on our time and energy. Working from home, homeschooling, and finding the energy to care for our children without outside supports can be exhausting. One way to spend time with your children in a relaxed way is to read children’s books together. Snuggle up under a blanket and enjoy some books. I have always loved children’s books. So often, I find that they condense important topics down to the needed details. They are invaluable resources for introducing and reinforcing meaningful topics to children. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order, for promoting emotional intelligence, resilience and empathy. These books share topics in a thought-provoking way, and I have found them to be captivating to children – which to me means that they are interesting, they are open-ended enough to invite children’s own thoughts/ideas, they have good illustrations, and they are not too wordy. With libraries and businesses closed, these books can be located in a couple of ways. Many books can be found read aloud online by searching the book title plus “read aloud”. Ordering books online is also an option.

Nibi’s Water Song by Sunshine Tenasco, Illustrated by Chief Ladybird One of our new favourites! Nibi’s Water Song follows Nibi as she finds brown water from her tap and in her river. She asks for water in a neighbouring town. She is heard by a community of people who advocate with her for clean water. This is a story of problem-solving, resilience, advocacy, care and love. At the back of the book, readers are encouraged to follow through on bringing awareness and contributing to bringing clean drinking water to Indigenous communities. Sunshine’s website, Her Braids, sells beaded pendants with a portion of the profits going to the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Movement, which supports the right to a clean environment. Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, Illustrated by Jen Hill In this book, a girl considers how to be kind to her friend Tanisha. Be Kind explores both the simplicity and the complexity of being kind. The main character’s thoughts and intentions are thought-provoking and touching. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (author and illustrator) This book provides a beautiful example of the concept of “being with” someone through their uncomfortable emotions. Taylor experiences something negative in their life. A variety of animals come by with their own agenda: to talk about it, to shout about it, to pretend nothing happened, to throw it all away. Finally, the rabbit comes to be with Taylor and to listen while Taylor moves through a range of emotions and is finally ready to rebuild what they lost. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (author and illustrator) This is a long-time favourite of mine for introducing emotions to children. The author calls it a word book, which is a great description. Without judgement, emotions are described in poetic rhyme. The book ends with the rhyme, “Feelings come and feelings go, I never know what they’ll be. Silly or angry, happy or sad, they’re all a part of me.” In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, Illustrated by Christine Roussey Another book that gives descriptions of feelings without judgement. This book is longer and a little more complex than The Way I Feel. This book also introduces the concept that feelings move. Introducing emotions in this way without judgement invites compassion for self and others. Ahn’s Anger by Gail Silver, Ilustrated by Christianne Kromer Of all the books I’ve read on helping children receive and manage their angry feelings, this is my favourite. After Ahn gets angry, he goes to his room to “sit with his anger”. His anger becomes a personified character who explains that they can make Ahn do mean things, but can also help Ahn. When Ahn “takes good care” of his anger by sitting with it, dancing around the room, and breathing, his anger goes away. The book ends with Ahn and his grandfather coming together with warm support and understanding. This book is followed up with the sequel Steps and Stones in which Ahn’s anger visits him at school. Another absolutely excellent book. Bubble Riding: A Relaxation Story by Lori Lite, Illustrated by Max Stasuyk A turtle and a sea child imagine riding on bubbles in all the colours of the rainbow in order to help them relax. Using visualization, also known as creative imagery, this book promotes creativity and relaxation while helping to lower stress and anxiety levels. Angry Octopus by Lori Lite, Illustrated by Max Stasuyk An octopus gets angry when his rock garden is broken. A sea child teaches the octopus to use active progressive muscular relaxation and deep breathing to calm and find a solution to his problem. Readers are invited to join in with the techniques. A great book for teaching kids to acknowledge the feelings they have, and to use techniques to calm their emotions. Lori Lite has many other excellent books. I have also found her books Sea Otter Cove and A Boy and a Bear to be engaging and useful. What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, Illustrated by Tim Mack Together with her mom, a girl named Nalvana wonders what her superpower is. While she wonders, she notices other children’s super powers including running fast, swinging so high they are flying, building things, and swimming like a fish. At the conclusion of the book, Nalvana’s mom tells her that she sees that Nalvana’s superpower is helping others feel good about themselves. A touching book that honours and gives depth to the concept that noticing and affirming others is a gift we need more of in this world. Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard In this touching book about a beautiful relationship between a girl and her grandfather, the girl asks her grandfather to say something in his language of Cree. The grandfather shares that he does not know Cree. With the help of her school teacher, the little girl sets out to help her grandfather remember and learn Cree. This sensitive story gently shares the experience of lost language and identity through the residential school system, and how a little girl and her grandfather can move towards healing together. Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams, Illustrated by Catherine Stock In this book, a boy visits family and friends around his African community looking for wire to make a toy. He encounters obstacles and finds ways to overcome them. This book is about persistence, about believing in your own ability to accomplish something, and about community. I Wonder by Annaka Harris, Illustrated by John Rowe A girl and her mom wonder about the mysteries of life and about cycles of change in this beautifully illustrated book. My favourite line is, “A mystery is something for everyone to wonder about together.” This book approaches the vastness of the universe and the wonders of our world in a way that invites curiosity, gratitude and openness. Annaka Harris’ author’s note says that she wrote this book when she noticed that her young daughter avoided answering questions that she didn’t know the answer to. Annaka notes that a great gift we can give our children is the confidence to say, “I don’t know.” Mama Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse, Illustrated by Barbara Lavallee This is one of my favourite books about a parent’s unconditional love. A young child asks, “What if…?” and poses different scenarios of things she could do that might upset her mother. Her mother makes it clear that she will always love and hold her dear one near her heart. Something significant in this book is that the mother addresses emotions. For example, after the daughter poses one of the scenarios, the mother says, “I would be very angry. But still, I would love you.” A beautiful example of acknowledging feelings and letting children know that love is stronger than anger. Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Illustrated by Scott Magoon In this delightfully creative book, Spoon thinks about how much better he imagines life to be for his friends Fork and Knife. His mother acknowledges his feelings, and then points out all the things Spoon can do that his friends can’t. The book ends with Spoon feeling satisfied with what he is able to do. Creative, fun and delightful, this book addresses the feelings of jealousy and comparison that children often feel, and it lands on gratitude. One of Those Days by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Illustrated by Rebecca Doughty Another fantastic book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. The book begins with the narrative, “Some days are just not as great as others. Some days are one of those days. And the thing is, there isn’t just one kind of one of those days—there are tons….” Each page describes a scenario that can lead to one of those days: being late day, you think you’re right but no one else thinks so day, annoying sibling day, big day kinda disappointing day. The book lets readers simply acknowledge that some days are just one of those days. It ends with the hopeful concept that each day ends and a fresh new day starts tomorrow. Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willems (author and illustrator) In this Elephant & Piggie book, Piggie has a surprise to show Gerald, and it is very hard to wait. Gerald says several times, “Waiting is not easy! Groan!” In the conclusion, both Gerald and the reader learn that the surprise couldn’t be shared before dark, and that it is worth waiting for. My children know this book, and sometimes when they are having a difficult time waiting, I say, “Waiting is not easy! Groan!” and somehow, just that, makes waiting a little easier! Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg (author and illustrator) Through demonstrations of spills and smears, this fun, interactive book shows readers that mistakes are okay. In fact, mistakes can be something to celebrate as they get turned into something new. A striking book that children don’t forget – easy to reference later at moments when a beautiful oops occurs in your child’s life! Circle by Jeannie Baker (author and illustrator) This is a breathtaking book about the migration journey godwits take – flying along an “ancient and invisible pathway” for many days straight, finding new places to rest as their old ones become inhabitated by humans. Beginning and ending with graphics of a boy who makes a journey of his own, this book leaves the reader in awe and wonder at the cycles and circles of nature. The Christmas Day Kitten by James Harriet, Illustrated by Ruth Brown A stray cat named Debbie is welcomed into a home, but only comes for food and shelter occasionally. However, when Debbie is ill, she brings her brand new kitten to the only place of comfort she has ever known, the home that welcomed her in. After Debbie dies, her kitten remains, living a warm and happy life here. Death is such an important topic to talk about with children on a regular basis. This book very gently addresses the death of Debbie, and then the joy of new life. Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Lydia Monks A crab struggles to find a shell for a home. He finds a shell, and then an anemone hitches a ride. The crab transports them around, while the anemone scares off big fishes. They happily help one another. Soon, a bristleworm joins, offering to keep the shell clean. The three friends enjoy one another’s company until they outgrow their shell and things become crowded. Crab and anemone get mad at each other, part ways, and have too much pride to tell each other they miss one another. The book ends with the three friends joining together again in a bigger shell. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds (author and illustrator) Vashti doesn’t know what to draw in art class. With her teacher prompting her to do something, she makes a dot. Her teacher frames the dot, which inspires Vashti to do more. Vashti uses creativity and gains confidence as she draws and creates dots in many forms. The book ends with Vashti passing this inspiration on to a younger student. Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Millier, Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf Sophie and her parents buy a squash for supper at the farmer’s market. Sophie quickly adopts the squash as a friend, calling it Bernice, and her parents order in pizza for supper instead. Sophie brings her squash everywhere with her until it starts to decompose. Finally, Sophie rests the squash in the ground, hoping it will feel better. Winter comes. When spring arrives, Sophie finds that the squash seeds have sprouted a new plant, and she is delighted to see two baby squash growing. A book about friendship, cycles, loss and new growth. This book definitely passes the test of being appealing and memorable for children: each year since first reading this book, my young daughter adopts a squash out of our garden, draws a face on it, and cares for it like a baby doll! The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson Another one of my very favourites!! A mother teaches her twins, Liza and Jeremy, about the invisible string that keeps us connected to everyone we love, even when we’re apart. The book ends with Liza and Jeremy imagining how everyone in the world is connected by invisible strings. Itty Bitty Bits by Anita Daher, Illustrated by Wendy Bailey Molly’s mom says her friend Yen can’t come over until Molly cleans her room. Molly moves through her house and yard, looking for help to clean her room. Finally, she goes to her thinking spot. When she notices how an ant carries food itty bitty bit by itty bitty bit, Molly realizes that she can get her room cleaned by doing itty bitty bit by itty bitty bit. The book ends with Molly enjoying a sleepover with Yen. This book is about perseverance, problem-solving and resilience. Another great book to reference with children at other times – “We can get this done together! Itty bitty bit by itty bitty bit!” The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken (author and Illustrator) This incredibly creative and delightful book, both in words and illustrations, describes an artist making mistakes and turning them into something wonderful. The concept grows much larger as the reader is invited to reflect on how each mistake is part of a person becoming and growing into the person they can be. Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, Illustrated by Sue Cornelison This is the true story of a family who brought their cat, Kunkush, with them when they escaped Iraq with the help of smugglers. After arriving by boat in Greece, Kunkush climbs out of his broken carrier and gets lost in the forest. After an unsuccessful search, the brokenhearted family must leave their cat behind and continue their journey. A few months later, volunteers find Kunkush and set out to return him to his family. The book ends with their reunion. In addition to the print version, this book can be viewed on DVD. In the video, at the end of the story, there are photos and a short video clip of Kunkush’s family. We are cat lovers in our family, so this story of Kunkush’s journey resonates with my children and is a meaningful way to talk about the journey of this refugee family and other refugees. Mateo Finds His Wow: A Story of Wonder and Gratitude by Gabi Garcia, Illustrated by Charity Russell The day is rainy and Mateo is bored and grumpy. His parents encourage him to find something to do. After a while, Mateo begins to draw shapes on the condensation on his window. Then he notices the skill of a hummingbird outside. Soon, he decides to notice, on purpose, all the wonder around him. This is a book of mindfulness and gratitude. Gabi Garcia has some other wonderful books as well. The book Listening to My Body does a fantastic job of explaining how emotions feel in our bodies and how to care for emotions. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, Illustrations by Julie Vivas Wilfrid makes friends with the elders at the care home beside his house. When he hears that his elderly friend, Ms. Nancy, has lost her memory, Wilfred sets out to learn what a memory is, and to help Ms. Nancy find her memory. With a basket of things he has collected, Wilfrid succeeds in helping his friend remember, as she shares stories from her past. This is a touching book about aging, valuing the gifts of the old and the young, and connecting with others. Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart, Illustrated by Barbara Reid In this book, a grandmother travels the world, and brings her granddaughter memories from many places. The book ends with the granddaughter telling her own child that she will pass memories and experiences on to them. This book is about relationships, giving, enjoying, experiencing, and passing on to the next generation what we received from the generation before. I am a big fan of Barbara Reid’s award winning plasticine artwork. When I look at her art, so full of detail and holding so much insight, I feel inspired by the wonder of taking the time to observe and create something so carefully. I find that children are intrigued with this artwork as well. And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, Illustrated by Erin E. Stead This is an unassuming book – basic, simple text, slow moving, not much action. It follows a boy who plants seeds and waits for them to sprout. The illustrations are sweet and the waiting is gentle, albeit with a hint of worry in the middle. I’ve included this book on the list because each spring as we wait for our own garden to sprout, the text of this book runs through my mind, reminding me that there is always a wait before the growth begins…and that wait often holds some impatience. Where we live in Canada, spring takes a long time to arrive. First, there is a long, slushy snow melt, then there is a lot of brown…and finally, as this book concludes, “…all around you have green.” I love the way this book concludes with green arriving, as though green is enough to bring joy. And it is. This is a book about waiting, hoping, and then basking in the joy of new growth. This collection of books is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many amazing books! Please use the comments section below to share your favourite children’s books that promote emotional intelligence, resilience, and empathy. I look forward to hearing from you!

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