10 best books to teach kids about mental health

We know that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on adult mental health. A survey by the US Census Bureau found that 42% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in December 2020, compared to 11% in 2019.

But new figures show the heart-breaking impact the pandemic has had on children’s mental health, too. Young mental health referrals doubled during the pandemic in England, according to NHS statistics. So, it is the perfect time to focus on how we are all feeling and teach children more about mental health. 

Books are a fantastic way to help children with anxiety and to spark conversations about mental health in general. We asked Georgina Atwell, founder of the UK’s leading children’s book review site, Toppsta, for her top recommendations of books to help.

My recommended reads

1. Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls, illustrated by David Litchfield

Rain Before Rainbows is a really reassuring picture book about a girl and a fox. The illustrations are beautiful and it has a really clear message about not giving up hope. The pair travel together from a place of loss and despair, through uncertain times, towards the hope of colour, light and life. Along the way, they find friends to guide and support them.

Together, they discover there is a way out of the darkness, into the light of the rainbow. A book with immense hope at its heart, this is a wonderful book for anyone who’s ever gone through a tough time.

2. The Problem with Problems by Rachel Rooney and Zehra Hicks

This is a bright and fun picture book that will get children talking about their problems, created by award-winning children’s poet Rachel Rooney and Macmillan Prize commended illustrator Zehra Hicks.

The Problem with Problems is a great conversation starter and encourages children to look at problems from different perspectives. It explains how problems can pop up at the most inconvenient times but there are always things you can do that will help you make them disappear…

3. Ruby’s Worry: A big Bright Feelings Book by Tom Percival

This is a fantastic series and the book cleverly captures how important it is to acknowledge our worries and not ignore them, if we want them to disappear. A perceptive and poignant story that is a must-have for all children’s bookshelves.

4. Rainbow Magic: Ivy the Worry Fairy by Daisy Meadows

This is a great chapter book for ages 5+ and part of an incredibly popular series. The stories are very gentle and introduce various techniques for dealing with worries, including mindfulness.

This story stars Ivy the Worry Fairy, who has a very important job – helping people manage their worries. It explores how everyone gets worried from time to time, and it’s important to know how to deal with it. Young readers embark on a magical adventure to restore people’s inner calm everywhere!

5. You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed 

You Are Awesome is an inspiring non-fiction title written by the journalist Matthew Syed. It’s a great book for showing children 8+ that no one is born talented, and that by changing how you view yourself, you can achieve anything.

If hearing your child say things like “I’m no good at sport…”, “I can’t do maths…”, “I really struggle with exams,” sounds familiar, this is the book for them. Practical, insightful and positive, it helps children build resilience, embrace their mistakes and grow into successful, happy adults.

Georgina Atwell | Courtesy of The Book Publicist

6. Worst. Holiday. Ever. by Charlie Higson

Worst. Holiday. Ever. is a funny story for children aged 10+ about a boy called Stan who writes a list of the 30 reasons why he’s terrified of going on holiday with his friend Felix. It’s about facing fears, dealing with worries, and how it’s OK to be anxious, scared, and sometimes a little bit brave.

7. The Worries by Jion Sheibani

This book shows what happens when your worry doodles come to life. Funny and warm-hearted, it is a great book with lovely illustrations, for helping children ages 7+ gently work through their worries and concentrate on having fun.

8. Jelly by Jo Cotterill 

Nominated for the CILIP Carnegie medal and deservedly so, this is a great book for any child starting secondary school. It has a strong message about daring to show the real you and accepting who you are.

9. Today I’m Strong by Nadiya Hussain

An uplifting and empowering picture book about finding your inner strength when school life gets tough, from the winner of The Great British Bake Off and national treasure, Nadiya Hussain, beautifully illustrated by Ella Bailey. The story is about building the courage to overcome bullying, with a powerful reminder to always be kind.

10. Looking After Your Mental Health by Louie Stowell, Alice James and Nancy Leschnikoff

Published by Usborne and, as you would expect from them, it is an excellent reference book with lots of practical advice covering a variety of issues around friendship, social media, bullying and eating disorders.

To read book reviews and recommendations for the latest children’s books, visit Toppsta.com

Want more information? We’ve created a series of free, easy to use anxiety resources to help parents, teachers and loves ones get kids talking about their worries.

Child counselling can also be beneficial for children and young people. Visit our child therapy hub to learn more about the ways counselling can help, and how to find a therapist.

We also have resources on Happiful, including 50 affirmations to help kids build confidence and How to talk to kids about mental health.

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Written by Georgina Atwell
Georgina Atwell is the founder of children's book review platform, Toppsta.
Written by Georgina Atwell
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