Supporting Kids and Teens Through Challenges


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Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

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When children and teenagers see characters they relate to having human experiences just like them, it can help them see they’re not alone. In some cases, this can be the first step on the road to healing.

Storytelling with the purpose of healing is known as bibliotherapy.

According to 2018 research, bibliotherapy was found to be significantly more effective at reducing depression and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents when compared with a control. It was especially effective for adolescents with depressive symptoms.

And family reading isn’t just for littles.

Child psychologist and children’s book author Frank Sileo, PhD, uses bibliotherapy in his practice. He says all ages can benefit from it.

“Books provide a safe way to talk about challenging topics and feelings,” says Sileo. “Even though it’s a child therapy technique, parents and caregivers can use it as well.”

Even the most standoffish teen may be yearning for an excuse to snuggle up close and hear a good story. You might be surprised at the opportunities for connection the world of books opens up for you and your kids.

“Reading with a child is a wonderful bonding experience,” says Sileo. “When a parent or caregiver reads with a child, they’re creating memories together.”

Books can be a rich emotional resource for kids, teens, and families.

“When children read [a] book it may validate their thoughts and feelings, provide some type of education around the topic, and provide healthy solutions for them,” says Sileo.

To help you navigate the world of kid lit, Healthline editors created a list of some of the top books on tough topics for children and teens.

While bibliotherapy can be a helpful tool to use at home, books should never replace mental health treatment from a licensed professional.

Looking for ways to support your or your child’s mental health and well-being? Try Healthline’s FindCare tool to connect with mental health professionals nearby or virtually, so you can get the care you need.

The list of books below corresponds to the possible results from Healthline’s Youth Mental Well-Being Quiz, but you don’t have to take the quiz to use this list.

In compiling the list, our team:

Please consider this list a starting place. Your local library, school library, and booksellers may offer many more books that touch on the mental health issues children and teens regularly face.

As is true of any recommended reading, use it with your child’s needs in mind. You and your child are the best judges of what’s appropriate reading for you.

Healthline editors also acknowledge that access to literature is a privilege that isn’t universally available, and we took care to ensure that a variety of voices and identities are represented below.

For those who feel fear about health and safety

Best picture book: ‘Jabari Jumps’ by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari watches the other kids taking their turn on the diving board and knows he’s almost up.

At first, he knows he’s ready. Then he realizes he’s not so sure. With patient, loving encouragement from his father, he’s able to overcome his fear and take the leap — literally.

This sweet picture book was Gaia Cornwall’s debut. It was selected as a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, an Amazon Best Children’s Book of the Year, and a 2017 NPR staff pick.

It’s followed up by a second story about Jabari’s adventures, “Jabari Tries.”

Best middle grade book: ‘Guts’ by Raina Telgemeier

In this graphic novel, Raina wakes up with tummy troubles and assumes it’s just a bug.

After returning to school and facing the typical challenges of a middle grade girl, she realizes this tummy trouble isn’t going away. In fact, it seems to ebb and flow with her worries, whether they’re about friendship, schoolwork, or food.

“Guts” is a true story about facing an illness and the challenges that go with it, from fear of being embarrassed at school to how to share the news with friends.

In it, Raina experiences anxiety and panic attacks about germs and getting sick, something many kids can likely relate to.

Luckily, she’s able to find support in different ways with the help of her friends and family. It’s funny and charming, yet real at the same time.

Best young adult book: ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here‘ by Patrick Ness

This story reframes what it means to be “remarkable,” highlighting that it’s the everyday stuff that shows us who we really are.

From taking a crush to prom and the pressures of academics to more serious concerns about campus safety, this book tackles a number of issues in a meaningful way.

The recipient of numerous awards — including the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Cooperative Children’s Book Center CCBC Choice, Michael Printz Award shortlist, and Kirkus Best Book of the Year just for starters — this book manages to be clever, funny, and profound all at the same time.

If you and your kid love satire, madcap humor, and thought-provoking treatments of real-world issues, this is the book for you.

For those who fear loss or who are dealing with grief

Best picture book: ‘You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus’ by Atinuke

This poignant story follows Anna as she faces the loss of an important person in her life and learns how to cope with the support of her family.

The book is filled with sweet moments of family togetherness, laughter, and tears as Anna and her family navigate a difficult time.

It’s an appropriate tool to help young children deal with grief and loss, especially that of a close family member.

It’s part of a series that follows Anna Hibiscus through a number of realistic experiences set in West Africa as she learns life lessons along the way.

The books are great conversation starters for real-world, sensitive topics that parents may want to bring up with their kids.

Best middle grade book: ‘Ms. Bixby’s Last Day’ by John David Anderson

Three boys face the loss of their favorite teacher and go on an adventure to share one more day with her.

Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, this story unpacks what it means to have a mentor, someone who supports you, and someone who sees your true potential, as well as what comes up when you have to say goodbye.

Told from three perspectives at once, the book shows the internal workings of each character and how they’re uniquely touched by this special person, as well as the lengths they’ll go to let her know what she means to them.

Sweet and real, this story will touch anyone who has ever had a special person rooting for them.

Best young adult book: ‘The Boy in the Black Suit’ by Jason Reynolds

At 17, Matt feels he simply can’t face one more challenge. Then along comes a new friend named Lovey who’s been through it all.

Matt admires her toughness — something he wishes he saw more of in himself — and feels drawn to her seeming ability to cope with so much.

In turn, Lovey teaches Matt about resilience and how to keep going when things get bumpy.

And maybe, just maybe, Matt will even find a solution to his loneliness.

Reynolds is a notable bestselling author whose work has earned him plenty of recognition, including being named a:

  • Newbery Award Honoree
  • Printz Award Honoree
  • two-time National Book Award finalist
  • Kirkus Award winner
  • Carnegie Medal winner
  • two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner
  • NAACP Image Award Winner
  • recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors

For those who fear change

Best picture book: ‘Ten Beautiful Things’ by Molly Beth Griffin

In this illustrated book, Lily copes with her fear of change by finding ten beautiful things on her way to a new home with her grandmother.

At first, Lily can’t see the beauty in the slushy roads and muddy landscape while she and grandma make their way to Iowa.

As the trip continues, Lily begins to see beauty in unexpected places. When a rainstorm threatens to dampen her newfound attitude, mirroring her anxieties about change, Lily is able to overcome her doubts.

The story applies many real-life situations children face, whether that’s moving to a new home, accepting a new family member, starting a new school, or something else.

Best middle grade book: ‘Stuntboy, in the Meantime’ by Jason Reynolds

This book follows Portico Reeves and his superhero alter ego, Stuntboy, as he keeps his family and neighbors super safe.

He does this in secret, and it’s no easy job. In fact, it comes with a lot of worries.

Portico finds that these worries seem to have wiggles that go with them, highlighting the physical symptoms that often accompany anxiety.

He’s especially challenged when mom and dad fight and he doesn’t know how to help them. Still, he’s determined to figure it out.

In the process of being so super, he learns how to handle his anxieties and faces an arch-enemy looking to unmask him.

Best young adult book: ‘Black Girl Unlimited’ by Echo Brown

Echo Brown has grown up on the East Side, a place where poverty and addiction runs rampant.

Suddenly, she transfers to a different school on the West Side, where a whole new world opens up to her through the caring support of a special teacher.

This important book tackles a number of essential issues, including depression, racism, and sexual violence, through the eyes of a young girl coming of age and feeling the pull of her roots as she embarks on an incredible new journey.

A largely autobiographical tale and a must-read for fans of magical realism, “Black Girl Unlimited” goes where most YA books don’t: into the depths of pain that can shatter communities, while ultimately transcending those depths with a message of hope.

For those who fear big emotions

Best picture book: ‘Calm Down Time’ by Elizabeth Verdick

This gentle book helps toddlers learn how to calm themselves and cope with strong emotions — especially those that used to lead to meltdowns and temper tantrums.

The simple illustrations are coupled with rhythmic text to help soothe small children when their emotions are feeling a bit too big. It gives them the tools to feel, release, express, and let go.

Through the introduction of the “calm-down place,” children learn they can create a space to cry, get hugs, sing silly songs, be rocked by a loved one, or even talk about their feelings.

They also learn how to use their breath and count to three to calm down their bodies and minds. This book includes tips for caregivers to implement the tools used in the story.

Best middle grade book: ‘King and the Dragon Flies’ by Kacen Callender

After his brother dies, 12-year-old Kingston copes by believing his brother has simply shed his first skin and turned into a dragonfly so he can live closer to their beloved Louisiana bayou.

His brother still visits in dreams, but King keeps this to himself as the rest of his family copes with grief.

Through all of it, King struggles to cope with a friendship with Sandy that may threaten his sense of identity, eventually helping to hide Sandy from his abusive father.

The two create a private hideaway where they can get away from scrutiny, and King gives up resisting the power of friendship in the midst of turmoil.

Along the way, he learns that knowing who you are is not so simple.

Best young adult book: ‘How It Feels to Fly‘ by Kathryn Holmes

Sometimes your own worst enemy is yourself. This is particularly true for Sam, a young woman who dreams of being a professional dancer but starts to doubt her chances when her body starts developing curves where dancers “shouldn’t” have them.

As she navigates body dysmorphia, Sam struggles with the tug-of-war of accepting herself and letting go of her dreams.

From diets to negative self-talk to a critical, controlling mother, Sam confronts the pressures of becoming a woman and is met with crippling anxiety. She’s sent to a camp for teens navigating similar challenges and meets a camp counselor who helps her find her inner compass again.

Will she complete the program in time to attend her ballet intensive that summer, or will her insecurities get the best of her? Many young women will relate to this powerful story of challenging the inner critic and becoming who you want to be.

For those who feel overwhelmed

Best picture book: ‘Sometimes I’m Bombaloo’ by Rachel Vail

Follow Katie as she learns how to handle being really mad, especially when it comes to her little brother.

She told him not to touch her castle and what does he do? He knocks it down. How will she ever get it to look that good again? Sometimes Katie gets so mad that she uses her fists and feet instead of her words.

It’s these times that she’s “bombaloo.” She’s just not herself.

This can be pretty scary for Katie, but taking some time out and receiving lots of love from Mom can help her get back to feeling herself again.

This book helps children understand what it means to lose their temper and how to calm down and feel like themselves again. Colorful illustrations accompany this read-aloud story.

Best middle grade book: ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan

Through the use of haunting imaginary landscapes, Tan reminds kids that, even when emotions are difficult, there’s always hope.

The illustrations guide children through the inner journey of their emotions, using color and symbolism to let children know they aren’t alone, even when their feelings are heavy and sad.

While making difficult feelings relatable, the book also offers a hopeful perspective that, not only is it possible to share and express sad feelings, but it’s also possible to overcome them.

The images are vivid and meaningful without being scary or overwhelming, and the message is one of empathy, compassion, and inner strength. Above all, it’s a message of plumbing the depths of sadness and emerging once again.

Best young adult book: ‘Darius the Great Is Not Okay’ by Adib Khorram

Darius Kellner is about to go on his first-ever trip to Iran. He’s Iranian on his mom’s side, but he doesn’t speak Farsi or understand Persian manners.

Plus, Darius never fit in back home. How will he ever make friends in Iran?

Not to mention, he’s navigating clinical depression, and his grandparents don’t get it at all. They don’t understand why he takes medication or why he can’t just feel better.

Once he meets the boy next door, Darius finally realizes what friendship can be.

He and Sohrab spend their days playing soccer and confiding in each other as they look out over the city skyline from their own private rooftop getaway. Sohrab even gives Darius a special nickname.

Darius goes from feeling less than to becoming a special person in someone else’s life, and he feels more like himself than he ever has.

For those who feel disengaged or apathetic

Best picture book: ‘Virginia Wolf’ by Kyo Maclear

A young, fictionalized version of Virginia Woolf gets in “wolfish” moods. She growls, she howls, and she acts very differently from her usual self, sending the whole household into a spin.

Caring sister Vanessa — loosely based on Woolf’s real-life sister, painter Vanessa Bell — tries everything to cheer young Virginia up, but nothing works.

When Virginia confides in Vanessa about her imaginary happy place, called Bloomsberry, Vanessa gets the idea to paint this special place on the bedroom walls.

This encourages Virginia to pick up a paintbrush, too, and the two sisters create their very own garden getaway with a ladder and swing.

Best middle grade book: ‘Ways to Make Sunshine’ by Renée Watson

This book is the first in a series that follows fourth grader Ryan Hart as she finds her voice and comes of age.

Ryan lives in a Black community in Portland, Oregon, and her family is going through changes. Her dad has finally found a job, but finances are still tight and the family has to downsize to an older home.

Luckily, Ryan is always an optimist who looks for the best in people and in situations, even her infuriating big brother.

Though she faces setbacks, Ryan makes her way with grace, courage, patience, and perseverance, especially when it comes to championing a cause she believes in.

In the end, her efforts to be a good community member, sister, and daughter all pay off in this story about a girl who knows how to overcome obstacles.

Best young adult book: ‘The Memory of Light’ by Francisco X. Stork

When Vicky Cruz tries to die by suicide, she wakes up in the psychiatric ward at Lakeview Hospital. It’s there where she meets surprising new allies who help her learn about herself and find acceptance in unexpected places.

When a crisis drives Vicky’s newfound community apart, she doesn’t know if she can make it again on the outside. Will she be strong enough to go back?

This story is unique in that it focuses on recovery from a suicide attempt rather than the events leading up to it. It details the journey of relearning how to live in the world and embracing life in the wake of suffering.

This story, inspired by the author’s own experiences with depression, sheds light on how to go on living when it doesn’t seem worth it, how to put one foot in front of the other, and how to restore faith in life.

For those who feel angry or pessimistic

Best picture book: ‘Emily’s Blue Period’ by Cathleen Daly

Emily loves to paint. She wants to be an artist, just like Pablo Picasso. She’s fascinated by the way he used shapes and color to mix things up.

But Emily’s family is changing. Like Picasso, she finds a way to use her art to feel better.

Just like Picasso’s paintings, Emily’s life is feeling all mixed up right now after her dad left home. When everything around her is changing, Emily turns to painting to find her center.

And just like Picasso, Emily enters her blue period to create beauty out of the sadness and distress she feels when things can’t be the way they once were.

Best middle grade book: ‘The List of Things That Will Not Change’ by Rebecca Stead

Bea is 10-years-old when her parents get a divorce. When her dad decides to marry his boyfriend, Jesse, Bea can’t wait. This means Bea will gain a sister!

Little does Bea know it takes work to create a family, and the process is full of challenges, surprises, and joy.

Even though everything is changing around her, Bea learns that there are some constants in life she can count on — especially the important things.

Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead tackles Bea’s realistic experiences with feeling, nuance, and empathy, painting a picture that many adolescents can relate to.

Best young adult book: ‘How It Feels to Float’ by Helena Fox

Biz’s dad died when she was 7, but somehow he shows back up in her life. And she’s not telling anyone.

To everyone else, everything seems OK on the surface. Biz knows how to get by. Her mom, friends, and siblings are there to support her. So she should be fine, right?

Biz doesn’t tell anything about her dark thoughts or secret desires and eventually feels herself giving into them. Can she make her dad come back again? Or should she simply float away.

This story tackles difficult topics, like depression, dissociation, loss of a loved one, and intergenerational mental health.

“How It Feels to Float” was named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year and A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best of the Year.

For those who need help finding joy in the little things

Best picture book: ‘Sidewalk Flowers’ by JonArno Lawson

Without a word, this stylistic picture book illustrates the importance of small gifts from unexpected places.

As a little girl is pulled along through the city by a distracted father who doesn’t pay her much heed, she collects wildflowers growing in the pavement cracks to keep her company.

Each flower becomes a gift for a new recipient, and these little gifts of simple attention have the power to transform both the giver and the receiver.

This illustrated picture book needs no words to tell its simple but poignant story about honoring the little things in life and remembering to enjoy the beauty in the things — and people — often taken for granted.

Best middle grade book: ‘Black Boy Joy’ edited by Kwame MBalia

Through art, fiction, comics, and poetry, this collection of stories from 17 acclaimed Black male and nonbinary authors gives voice to the power and joy of Black boyhood.

Whether it’s soaring through the galaxy with your imagination, finding your voice through rhymes, or nailing wicked skateboard moves, there are plenty of ways to experience the wonder of life through the eyes of young Black boys.

This collection of 17 tales told in art, fiction, poetry, and more shares the stories of Black boys.

Contributors to the book include B. B. Alston, Dean Atta, P. Djèlí Clark, Jay Coles, Jerry Craft, Lamar Giles, Don P. Hooper, George M. Johnson, Varian Johnson, Kwame Mbalia, Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Tochi Onyebuchi, Julian Randall, Jason Reynolds, Justin A. Reynolds, DaVaun Sanders, and Julian Winters.

Best young adult book: ‘The Stars Beneath Our Feet’ by David Barclay Moore

Lolly Rachpaul and his mother aren’t celebrating Christmas this year. How could they, when Lolly’s older brother’s gang-related death is hovering over them like a cloud?

Then Lolly faces a new challenge when his mother’s girlfriend brings him two giant bags of Legos. He’s always been the type to follow the instructions, but now he’s faced with the challenge of building an entirely new creation all from scratch.

When Lolly and his friend are beaten and robbed, it almost seems like a good idea to follow in his brother’s footsteps and find a “crew.” How else can he be safe?

After he finds a safe haven by building an epic Lego city at the local community center, Lolly finds that his inventive spirit can lead him into new places — and a new life.

This winner of the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award for New Talent is now being adapted into a movie directed by actor Michael B. Jordan.

For those who need to feel a sense of self-worth

Best picture book: ‘All Because You Matter’ by Tami Charles

This lilting ode to Black and Brown children is like a love letter that reminds them how much they matter.

Poetic and stirring, Charles empowers readers with the knowledge and the conviction that, no matter what they see on the evening news, they’re important, beautiful, and loved.

The lullaby-like text flows rhythmically along with illustrations by award-winning artist Bryan Collier, serving as an affirmation of worth for young readers and the people they love.

The storyline takes the reader through early childhood to the pain of adolescence with the assurance that, even in difficulty, they can find strength in their roots, their communities, and their identities. The winner of multiple awards, this powerful conversation starter couldn’t be more timely.

Best middle grade book: ‘Genesis Begins Again’ by Alicia D. Williams

This 2020 Newbery Honor recipient follows Genesis as she struggles with colorism and bullying to find her voice and learn to love herself.

Genesis keeps a list of all the reasons she dislikes herself. So far, she’s come up with 96.

Her dad has a gambling problem, her family is always on the move, and she wasn’t born looking like her mama. She knows, somehow, it’s all her fault.

Still, she’s determined to fix it all singlehandedly, and she’ll go to any length necessary. In the process, Genesis is surprised to find a few things she actually likes about herself.

This leads her to a shift in her attitude that becomes the first step toward helping those she loves.

Best young adult book: ‘We Are Okay’ by Nina LaCour

Marin left home with only her phone, wallet, and a picture of her mother. She hasn’t spoken to a soul from her old life since the day she left.

She’s just trying to move on.

Now she’s a continent away from California at college in New York. Maybe she can finally start over and put the past behind her.

When her best friend Mabel comes to visit for winter break, Marin will have to face her past head-on. She’s not sure she can bear it.

Her inner conflict leads to strain with Mabel, and Marin questions whether she can keep her friendship amidst her pain.

This Michael L. Printz Award winner is an honest look at grief and the lengths a young woman will go to hide from it — until she’s ready to reconnect to those she loves.

For those who need to know they make a difference

Best picture book: ‘Extra Yarn’ by Mac Barnett

This modern fairy tale tells the story of Annabelle and how, using a magic box of yarn, she brightens her whole town.

Bestselling and award-winning author Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen tell a charming, magical story of a community transformed by one child’s caring.

The minimalist illustrations and light humor give this book its charm, and Annabelle’s desire to change things for the better will warm any heart.

“Extra Yarn” is a Caldecott Honor Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and a New York Times bestseller that tells a story of care, compassion, and how a little bit of creativity can go a long way.

Best middle grade book: ‘The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora’ by Pablo Cartaya

Arturo has a lot going on at 13. He’s working hard to save his family’s restaurant — not to mention his entire Miami neighborhood.

In the process, can he make Abuela proud and get his crush to fall in love with him?

Hilarious and meaningful at the same time, this story follows Arturo’s antic, from shooting hoops until dark to sipping mango smoothies with his friends, as he tries his best to figure it all out.

When he discovers poetry and protest, Arturo learns that he may be able to make a difference after all. Can he stop the land developer who just showed up on the scene and preserve his town and community?

This colorful, heartwarming story captures the struggles of adolescence and the real-world issues that go with it.

Best young adult book: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

This William C. Morris Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and Printz Honor Book is a timely and relevant must-read.

It tells the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter as she navigates the poor neighborhood she calls home and the upscale prep school where she gets her education.

The challenge becomes nearly impossible when Starr’s childhood best friend, Khalil, is killed by a police officer while unarmed. The incident throws the country into a frenzy with Starr at the center of the controversy, all in the midst of her grief and pain.

While some are denouncing Khalil as a thug, others are taking to the streets to protest his death. And Starr is the only one who knows what really happened.

What should she say when her words could endanger her community — and her life?

For those who need to feel a sense of belonging

Best picture book: ‘The Day You Begin’ by Jacqueline Woodson

This book takes an honest and encouraging look at what it’s like to be different and how special being your own unique self can be.

A story of overcoming fear to find common ground among others who don’t think, look, or act like you, the lyrical text aptly describes the experience of feeling like an outsider — something most people can relate to, no matter their walk of life.

It commends the bravery it takes to overcome that feeling to find connection anyway, acknowledging how hard it can be while challenging readers to do just that.

The story encourages others to do the same, creating a cascade of connectedness that invites everyone to share their story and listen deeply to the stories of others.

The book is also available in Spanish, under the title “El Día En Que Descubres Quién Eres.”

Best middle grade book: ‘New Kid’ by Jerry Craft

This graphic novel explores what it means to straddle two worlds as told through the eyes of seventh grader Jordan Banks.

Jordan leaves his neighborhood every day to attend an exclusive private day school where he’s one of the very few BIPOC kids.

He struggles to fit in at the prestigious private school, and he dreams of art school instead, losing himself in cartoons he creates about his life.

At home, he wonders if his old friends will remain loyal when he feels like he’s worlds away.

This winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, Kirkus Prize for Young Readers is perfect summer reading for tweens who love Raina Telgemeier, and for anyone who knows what it feels like to search for their identity while straddling two very different worlds.

Best young adult book: ‘The Night Diary’ by Veera Hiranandani

This 2019 Newbery Honor Book shines a historical light on India’s partition and a young girl’s search for a home in a divided country.

In 1947, India is newly independent of British rule and has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created tension between Hindus and Muslims, and those who cross the borders every day put their lives at risk.

Twelve-year-old Nisha is half Muslim, half Hindu, and doesn’t know where she belongs. To find safety, Nisha’s family become refugees as they embark on a journey to find a new home.

The story is told through Nisha’s letters to her late mother, who she lost as a baby, and offers a window into the heart of a young girl searching for home, peace, and identity.

For those who need to form secure attachment

Best picture book: ‘Coming On Home Soon’ by Jacqueline Woodson

This Caldecott Honor Book tells the story of Ada Ruth as she waits for her mother to return home.

The country is at war and women are needed to fill the men’s jobs. Ada Ruth’s mama has to go away and work in Chicago, and Ada Ruth and Grandma have nothing left to do but wait.

They keep busy and stick to their routine, find strength in their bond with one another, and even make friends with a stray kitten. All the while, they miss Mama to their cores.

This World War II-era story tells of the quiet pain a little girl must endure in the absence of her mother with an ultimately hopeful quality.

For those who want to know what happens before they read the book to their children, the story ends with a heartwarming reunion between Ada Ruth, Grandma, and Mama.

Best middle grade book: ‘When Stars are Scattered’ by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

This National Book Award Finalist is the true story of a brother’s love, making a home, and life in a refugee camp.

The comic book illustrations will appeal to graphic novel fans as they follow the story of Omar and his younger brother, Hassan. The two are the only survivors from their family, and they’ve spent most of their lives in a refugee camp in Kenya known as Dadaab.

They never have enough food, enough medical care, or enough to do for fun.

When Omar gets the chance to go to school, he’s torn between the possibility of changing his family’s future and leaving his nonverbal brother alone every day.

This beautiful yet heart-rending tale is told with great care and gentle humor, championing the efforts of a young boy to create a family in a difficult situation.

Best young adult book: ‘American Street’ by Ibi Zoboi

This powerful coming-of-age tale details the experiences of a young Haitian immigrant as she finds her way in an entirely new place: Detroit’s west side.

Fabiola Toussaint is hoping for the good life when she gets to America, but she’s left alone to navigate her new home when her mother is detained by U.S. immigration.

She has to confront her noisy cousins, a brand new school, and even a romance in the midst of it all, eventually being faced with a difficult choice that throws the true cost of freedom into stark relief.

The book has earned a number of accolades, including being named a New York Times Notable Book, Time Magazine Best YA Book of All Time, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, ALA Booklist Editors’ Choice of 2017, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Kirkus Best Book of the Year, and BookPage Best YA Book of the Year.

For those who need to learn big feelings are OK

Best picture book: ‘Big Feelings’ by Alexandra Penfold

In this sweet, relatable picture book, a group of kids face many feelings but learn to share them and work together.

A great way to bring up emotional challenges with your kids, this story provides tools and conversation starters to deal with anger, frustration, and overwhelm in constructive ways.

From talking it through to finding compromises to seeing from another point of view, this book’s introduction to conflict resolution skills and effective communication is great for even the littlest readers.

Easy to follow with a cast of diverse characters, the sing-song rhymes will help children remember the steps to cope with their feelings and come out on the other side with a renewed desire to connect, engage, and share.

Best middle grade book: ‘The Golden Hour’ by Niki Smith

A Kirkus Best Middle-Grade Book of 2021, “The Golden Hour” tells the story of Manuel as he deals with the aftermath of a traumatic, violent event.

Manuel has anxiety after a difficult experience but finds peace through photography as he snaps scenes with his cell phone camera.

He struggles with loneliness until he’s teamed with several classmates for a group project and finds himself making new friends — and even finding love.

Manuel learns to open up to those he cares about and confront his fears as he and his friends prepare for the local county fair.

This graphic novel from the author of “The Deep & Dark Blue” tells a story of healing, friendship, and hope.

Best young adult book: ‘Who Put this Song On?’ by Morgan Parker

Seventeen-year-old Morgan feels trapped in small-town suburbia. She’s almost always the only non-white person at the sleepover, and she’s no stranger to getting teased for being different.

She’s even been told she’s not “really” Black.

Morgan spent the whole summer crying in bed. She feels like the whole world is in a trance, listening to the same song on repeat that brainwashes them into feeling, voting, and believing a certain thing.

When will she get to turn down the volume and live her life outside of these stifling norms?

This important debut by award-winning author and poet Morgan Parker is loosely based on her own life. It’s an inspiring, uplifting story of a young woman who finds the courage to live on her own terms.

For those who need to learn about safe spaces and safe people

Best picture book: ‘Ruby Finds a Worry’ by Tom Percival

Ruby learns how talking about and sharing your worries has the power to make them go away.

Although she’s usually happily exploring her world, one day Ruby finds something she doesn’t expect. It starts out as a little worry, and then it grows… and grows… and grows some more until her worry takes over her thoughts.

After she makes friends with a young boy, she finds out that everyone has worries. Plus, her new friend teaches her the power of sharing her feelings and how that can help worries go away.

This book is a great tool to start introducing young children to managing their thoughts, feelings, and anxieties, helping them to understand they’re not alone.

It’s part of the Big Bright Feelings picture book series that’s full of accessible, age-appropriate ways to explain emotional intelligence topics to kids.

Best middle grade book: ‘Some Kind of Happiness’ by Claire LeGrand

In this fantasy tale, 11-year-old Finley Hart is facing challenges in her family.

When her parents are having problems — though they’re pretending they’re not — they send Finely away to her grandparents’ house for the summer.

Unfortunately, she’s never met her grandparents.

To escape her uncomfortable circumstances, Finley creates the forest kingdom of the Everwood in the pages of her notebook.

Eventually, she discovers that the woods behind her grandparents’ house just might be the fantasy land she’s dreaming of.

With the help of her cousins, Finley fights to save her magical forest, learns how to cope with family problems, and faces her own anxiety and depression in the process.

Best young adult book: ‘The Poet X’ by Elizabeth Acevedo

Growing into a young woman in Harlem, Xiomara Batista can’t hide her curves. Instead of hiding, she’s learned to let her fists do all the work.

At the same time, she wants to be heard.

As a solution, she pours her fierceness and fire into a leather-bound notebook, along with her secret feelings for a boy at school.

She knows her mami will never go for it. All she wants is a God-fearing daughter who obeys the laws of the church.

When she’s invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she wants to perform her poems. But she’ll have to figure out a way to get there without her mami finding out.

Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award, this book tells the story of a young woman finding her voice and listening to her inner calling to be seen, heard, and valued.

For those who need to learn positive coping mechanisms

Best picture book: ‘Breathe’ by Scott Magoon

Enjoy a day of play and adventure with a baby whale.

It’s his first day out to sea all on his own, and he’s got plenty of things to explore along the way. He meets new friends, finds new places, and learns about his marine habitat.

In the end, the little whale returns to the comforts of home and the safety of his mother, understanding there’s a time to explore and a time to rest.

He learns to swim, play, and pause for breath in this illustrated picture book that tells its story through images and simple phrases.

Best middle grade book: ‘Five Things about Ava Andrews’ by Margaret Dilloway

Shy 11-year-old Ava is full of ideas and plans. It’s just that no one knows it.

Everyone except her best friend, Zelia, thinks she doesn’t talk or is just being aloof. The reality is Ava feels anxious a lot. On top of that, she has a heart condition that no one knows about.

With middle school starting, Ava’s hoping for a clean slate. Then, Zelia moves across the country.

Luckily, Ava’s writing piques the interest of some of her classmates, and she’s invited to join their improv group, making up stories on the stage.

Ava discovers that she can speak up, despite her anxiety, and she becomes a member of a team.

Best young adult book: ‘Zen and Gone’ by Emily France

Essence feels older than most other 17-year-olds. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her mother, but her mom seems to be high most of the time.

That means it’s up to Essence to take care of her 9-year-old sister, Puck.

Then Essence meets Oliver. He’s only in town for the summer, and Essence isn’t sure what to make of this brainy, indoorsy outsider from Chicago.

Eventually, she ends up showing Oliver all her favorite spots in Boulder, and the two find their way to the local Buddhist community.

When the two embark on a 3-day survival expedition in the Rocky Mountains, they discover Puck has stowed away and followed them into the wilderness. After a stormy night, Essence finds her sister missing.

Can she use her newfound skills to stay strong and calm in the face of an emergency?

For those who need positive ways to release stress

Best picture book: ‘The Hike’ by Alison Farrell

Part picture book, part field guide, this lush book teaches the joy and wonder of being in nature.

It follows the adventure of three young female explorers who set out to explore their local forest.

The images capture the picturesque beauty of nature, while the characters and storyline enchant readers.

This book is full of opportunities to dive deeper into the natural sciences, learn about plants and animals, and inspire a budding naturalist — complete with a glossary and labels throughout.

It’s a celebration of the little wonders you can find in your own backyard.

Best middle grade book: ‘Ghost’ by Jason Reynolds

The first of the “Track” series books, this exciting novel tells the story of Ghost.

He’s one of four very different kids who might one day be on a track team headed for the Junior Olympics. Of course, that all depends on whether they play their cards right.

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter in school, but his past keeps rearing its head and slowing him down.

Running is all he’s ever known, but it turns out that running might not always be the answer.

When Ghost meets ex-Olympic Medalist, Coach, he just may get the opportunity to harness his raw talent and learn how to overcome the challenges of his past.

Best young adult book: ‘Four Weeks, Five People’ by Jennifer Yu

In this realistic story, five teens get to know one another as they work to overcome their difficulties.

Clarissa has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She wants to get better simply so that her mom will stop asking her if she’s OK.

Andrew has dreams of hitting it big with his band, but he has to overcome his eating disorder before he can play again.

Ben wishes he could trade reality for the movies, and Mason just thinks everyone is completely lame.

Then there’s Stella. She’d rather be anywhere on earth than wilderness therapy this summer.

The group finds themselves unexpectedly forming bonds they never thought they would. In the process, they discover new truths about themselves as individuals and members of the crew.

Sileo has a few suggestions for introducing bibliotherapy to your family.

Check for resources

Some books offer guidance on how to discuss the theme or topic, often in the back of the book. Some also offer discussion questions for parents and caregivers to ask a child before, during, and after reading the book.

Wait until they’re ready

“Never push a child into doing something they’re not ready for,” says Sileo. “Kids build walls, because they may need some protection from difficult conversations and strong emotions.”

Still, you can come up with creative ways to make reading together a joyful shared experience.

“Make the activity fun! Make some hot chocolate, grab a comfy blanket, use different voices to read the book,” Sileo suggests.

Choose the right time

He also recommends choosing an appropriate time to read, depending on the content.

“Sometimes, these kinds of books may be difficult to read before bedtime, as they may stir feelings and thoughts up a bit,” Sileo adds. “Always offer lots of comforting words, hugs, and reassurance.”

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is out there. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 for free, confidential support 24/7.

While reading isn’t a silver bullet, it can be a powerful way to get into your child’s world, engage their imagination, and empathize with what they’re going through.

“One of the best gifts we can give our children is an understanding, empathic ear,” says Sileo.

Pick a book, and carve out a quiet space to share it with your kid or teen. It may be just what they needed to hear to feel OK.

Having spent much of her career at the CDC on the birth defects, developmental disabilities, and autism teams, Debbie Nurmi is passionate about children’s health — especially kids with special needs and those coping with mental health conditions. In 2018, she joined Healthline’s editorial team to help create a safe place to go for honest and understandable health information. Debbie raised two boys and homeschooled them before it was the norm for working moms. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found shuttling kids to college, enjoying the houseplant habit she acquired during the pandemic, or playing with the newest member of her family: a chocolate labradoodle named Kahvia.

Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses at You can find her on Instagram.


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