Emotional literacy includes being able to understand other people’s feelings, understand your own feelings, and know appropriate ways to express those feelings. One way to teach these skills to young children is by reading books about emotions. Here are some books that are suggested for 1 – 4 year olds.
These are all good books, well worth reading. Personally, rather than buying just one or two of them, I might get several from my library or find them online so we could learn the different lessons that different books have to teach. (Look here for more thoughts on Choosing Books for Children and resources for finding books online.)
When you read any of these books, read them with feeling! Use your voice, your facial expressions and your body language to illustrate / echo the feelings being described on the pages. Stop and discuss some pages with your child: “Have you ever felt that way?” “Remember yesterday, you felt like that… how do you feel today?” “I feel that way sometimes. When I feel that way, I ____.” “If you felt that way, what could you do?”
The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Llenas. Video. Great attractive illustrations that pop up! Monster’s feelings are all jumbled up, and they sort them out into jars. “This is sadness. It’s gentle and blue… when you’re sad, you might want to cry or be alone. This is anger. It blazes bright red. When you’re angry, you want to roar and shout… this is calm… all your feelings are in their places now. They are easier to understand when they’re not all mixed together.” It’s a nice approach to understanding the different types of feelings, and could be a good companion to some of the ideas about helping children understand the different intensities of feelings and zones of regulation, as I discuss in my Big Feelings post.
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr. Video. Colorful goofy illustrations. Each page shows one feeling: “Sometimes I feel brave… sometimes I feel like making mud pies… sometimes I feel lonely… sometimes I feel like trying something new…. No matter how you feel, don’t keep them to yourself… share them…” It’s just a nice sampling of all the different ways we can feel and how our feelings change and move on all the time.
When I Am / Cuando estoy (Bilingual) by Rosa-Mendoza. (Video) Nice illustrations of diverse children. Each page addresses an emotion and an action: “When I am angry, I stomp my feet… when I am sad, I hug my bear.” Nice simple overview – I would use it as a springboard to discuss other options for things they could do when they have those feelings.
How Do You Feel? by Browne. Video. “Sometimes I feel bored…. I feel confident, but I can also feel shy.” I like that at the end, it asks “how do you feel” and shows images from all the other pages that allows you to review the feelings. The illustrations of an anthropomorphic monkey do a nice job of illustrating the feelings with color, body language, and other visuals – like on the lonely page, he’s very small.
Lots of Feelings by Rotner. Video. “We have lots of feelings. Sometimes we feel happy. Sometimes sad. We feel angry at times. Loving other times.” Each page has multiple photos of diverse children showing the facial expressions and body language of that emotion. I like the end papers on this book that are filled with feeling words: kind, furious, enthusiastic, perturbed, and many more.
A Little Spot of… by Albers. One of my students recommended: A Little Spot of Feelings: Emotion Detective. (Video) She said she thought there were a LOT of feelings covered and it’s too much to read all at once, but her 3 year old has been referring back to it and talking about the feelings it describes, so she says maybe it’s a good reference book. It is part of a larger series: A Little Spot of Emotions is 8 books and matching plushies: anger, anxiety, confidence, happiness, love, peacefulness, sadness, and scribble (tangled). Reviewers talk about how when their children are having a hard time explaining their feelings, they will fetch the plushie that represents how they’re feeling. A Little Spot of Feelings books cover: belonging, boredom, calm, empathy, flexible thinking, frustration, worry, and the emotion detective. (You can get plushies separately.) I like the … Frustration book It talks about what you can and can’t control, and when you get frustrated you can choose to “flip” the feeling around. Check out the video.
Book series Feelings for Little Children, which includes When You’re Mad and You Know It by Crary or If You’re Angry And You Know It by Kaiser (video). These books can be sung to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It, and each gives options for a variety of ways to express that feeling. ” “blow air out,” “shake it out” and “give a shout.”
The book series called Let’s Look at Feelings. Video. It includes books like What I look like when I’m Scared, which shows photos of people looking frightened. It very concretely teaches expressions – “when I am scared, I pull my chin in and frown.” This might be most appropriate for children who really have a hard time intuiting people’s feelings and need this to be very literal, such as autistic children.
The Way I Feel Books books, like When I Feel Sad (video), or Angry (video) talk about some of the reasons someone might feel that way, lets them know it’s OK to feel that way, and that the feeling will pass. They’re great for age 3 – 5.
A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet by Boynton. Video. Although I’ve read HUNDREDS of books to my kids, I own only a very few favorites. This is one of my favorites. “A is for Angry Anteater, B is for Bashful Bear… O is for Outraged Opossum.” So fun to read… with feeling! It just teaches words / moods – doesn’t provide info on what to do with your feelings.
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning has a long list Books for Supporting Social Emotional Development. They also have a Book Nook section on their website, where they have a selection of about 20 books, where each has a companion PDF including rhymes, songs, games and craft activities to reinforce the SEL lessons in the book. For example, the lesson plan to accompany I Can Share by Katz talks about group time activities, a song, center stations and activities for snack time and outdoors to reinforce sharing.
There are lots more options, like Today I feel silly by Curtis; The Way I Feel by Cain, My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, and Glad Monster / Sad Monster by Ed Emberley. Find more ideas in this list from Zero to Three. And here are more videos from the Feelings Channel.
I have lots more recommendations for books, including: toddler favorites, “books that sing”, books about science, children’s books about autism, and more. Find all the links at the bottom of my post on Choosing Books for Your Child.
If you’re teaching online classes now, be sure to check out my post on best practices for Sharing Picture Books in Online Storytime.
Note: In the list above, the book title is an Amazon affiliate link which will take you to all the info on the book. If you then purchase anything on Amazon, I do get a small referral fee, with no additional cost for you. The “video” links are to YouTube videos where you can see the book and hear it read aloud. Some of these videos were created by people with permission to do so; others may be copyright violations – I encourage you to purchase the books you like best and support their authors and illustrators.
You might also appreciate my posters on “When I feel mad, I can___”, “When I feel said I can___” that address how to recognize and express emotions. Plus these posts on emotional literacy, calm down skills, and the Zones of Regulation tool for noticing and managing emotions.
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