Feelings 101: Teaching about emotional life through literature

February 1, 2005

In telling their story, children's books often paint vivid pictures of human emotions. Some single out happiness, anger, or depression, to name a few, as their obvious focus; others weave together these and other feelings to enhance the tales they tell.

In telling their story, children's books often paint vivid pictures of human emotions. Some single out happiness, anger, or depression, to name a few, as their obvious focus; others weave together these and other feelings to enhance the tales they tell. Regardless of how authors choose to add meaning to their works, children's books introduce even the youngest children to the richness and complexity of human emotions-and thus help them learn to read emotions like an open book. In doing this, books introduce children to invaluable life skills.

The very young child Feelings: A Baby and Blue Book. by Jenny Miglis, Simon & Schuster, 2002 (12 pages, $5.99, board). A durable book partners photographs of expressive baby faces (to which young readers are typically drawn) and the appealing and lovable dog Blue (of Blue's Clues fame). Highlighted on each page are babies who are happy, sad, cranky, or sleepy. The book is designed to withstand the approving drool of young readers. Caregivers are implicitly encouraged to use this book in their everyday efforts to help babies and preschoolers learn about facial expressions and how they convey basic, yet powerful, emotions. 2 to 5 years

I Am Happy: A Touch-and-Feel Book of Feelings by Steve Light, Candlewick Press, 2003 (14 pages, $12.99, hardcover). The author creatively extends a basic portrayal of feelings beyond words, evoking emotion through shapes, colors, and textures. The net effect of combining these features-especially the touch-and-feel objects-is that the emotions described become dynamically palpable and all the more tangible. 2 to 7 years

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain, Parenting Press, 2000 (32 pages, $16.95, hardcover). With more than 600,000 copies in print, author and mother Cain has achieved her goal of giving children the language to express their emotions-not only through her choice of words but through the use of provocative colors, mood-enhancing illustrations, and the font and flow of the words, some of which weave, stagger, or twirl themselves across the page. Brief, rhythmic verses describe everyday feelings-from disappointment and frustration to silliness and pride-and the book nearly cries out to be used as an interactive tool by parents and caregivers who want to help children understand and express emotions. 2 to 8 years

When I Wished I Was Alone by Dave Cutler, Greycore Kids, 2003 (36 pages, $16.95, hardcover). A boy's anger at his family leads him to say things he doesn't mean, including that he doesn't love them and that he wishes he could always be alone. The story depicts what happens when his wish is granted in his dreams. Only after enjoying his solitude does the boy realize that life experiences are meaningless to him without his family to share them with, and anger eventually turns to sadness and isolation. Finally, he is able to tell his parents how he really feels. The book stands apart from many others that address children's anger by the insightful way the author acknowledges a child's need to be given the time and space to work through anger. 2 to 8 years