Last month was mental health awareness month, so we’ve been taking a close look at children’s books that deal with this sensitive topic.
Fortunately, in this day and age, we understand that acknowledging and unpacking those big feelings that can overwhelm us all from time to time, is the most constructive way to ensure we have a positive relationship with our mental health. Once upon a time it was a subject to be avoided, now it’s a subject to learn about.
Starting with the youngest age group, let’s talk about picture books; we really love this special and poignant book, ‘When Sadness Comes to Call’ by Eva Eland. It is such a wonderfully accessible book about befriending sadness, and letting it in until it’s ready to leave.
The unique personification of this emotion makes the topic far more digestible for youngsters to comprehend, and the illustrations have a simplistic beauty to them.
Another picture book we love which is slightly more advanced, is ‘The Big Book of Feelings’ which is reminiscent of 'Michael Rosen’s Sad Book'. However, Mary Hoffman takes this idea and expands on it, alongside some fun and creative illustrations by Ros Asquith.
As children get a little older, school comes with a whole new array of stresses and emotions that are complex and hard to break down. This is where an amazing book called ‘The Unworry Book’ by Alice James comes in to play.
Imagine, if you will, an activity book for feelings. It uses creativity to calm the mind - writing down words, deciphering maze puzzles, drawings, scribbles, discussions, designing, you name it. It is absolutely packed full of brilliant tricks that both draw awareness to the emotions that you’re feeling, and alleviate stress with a creative outlet. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, everyone should have one.
A book that goes hand-in-hand with this, is ‘50 Ways to Feel Happy’ by Vanessa King. Like The Unworry Book, it gives positive and proactive solutions as to what you can do to protect your mental health, but it in little more depth.
For our YA choice, we went for ‘All The Bright Places’. First and foremost, I think it’s important to note that this book deals very closely and carefully with the subject of suicide. That said, there is a strong undercurrent of hope, but the narrative is strewn with heartbreak, so it is a very emotional read. I commend Jennifer Niven for writing so eloquently about an issue which is so often avoided. Understanding a heavy topic such as this is the first step in learning how to beat it.
Our Chief Book Tester, Juliet, has a few more YA recommendations to add, and these are: ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ and ‘Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes?’ both by Holly Bourne.
As for our adult pick, we couldn’t leave without a quick word about ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig. He talks about his darkest times, his constant struggles with mental health, and how he overcame it all to be the author we know and love today.
When you start opening up about your feelings, that’s when you learn that these difficulties are far more widespread than imagined – no one needs to battle their demons alone.