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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002

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  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Picture Books We Love

Picture Books for Navigating Tough Emotions

We think picture books are an excellent medium to start conversations with people of all ages about their feelings. In honor of Mental Health Awareness this month, the booksellers at The Carle have selected a few recommendations for three important picture books that can help readers navigate complicated feelings. 

Cover of book shows a girl dressed in brown, wearing a mouse mask on a grassy green hill in front of a polluted city.

Hi, this is Hannah from The Carle Bookshop.

Like other artists that have recommended I Go Quiet by David Ouimet (Norton Young Readers, 2020), I too wish I had something like this as a kid. Mental health understanding is always evolving, and as long as it has been a topic, people have wondered how to discuss it with children. Loneliness is especially difficult, I think, because it seems so easy to solve: you’re feeling alone, so go be with other people. That’s not always the solution, though even as a young adult I still don’t have the language to quite describe why. Some feelings are easier seen than explained, as this book demonstrates beautifully.

Interior page of I Go Quiet shows a young girl in grey hooded jacket and skirt walking about to walk down some stairs.

interior image of I Go Quiet shows a large crowd of sad looking children walking down a big staircase through an industrial interior.

double page interior of I Go Quiet shows black and white illustration of a girl sitting in a tree reading.

Everything from the typeface to the color scheme and the reoccurring images of ravens gives the feel that this was ghost-written by Edgar Allen Poe. Uniform, machine-like cogs and lines transition into wildly running roots and dashes of shadow, a symbolic critique of the ordinary and the expected. Beyond the inherent darkness of the illustrations and the theme, it’s an inspiring story about embracing individuality, for yourself and for the beauty of the world.

Cover of Me and My Fear shows a girl in the arms of a large white being, her red backpack close by and a city behind.

Hi, it’s Sara from The Carle Bookshop

and I have been enamored of Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books, 2018) since it first came out.  Fear is something that all of us live with every day and this book, with youthful yet ageless, heartfelt text and warm, dreamy illustrations, shows us that fear itself need not be feared.  

A young girl who has just come to a new country tells us about her secret, that she has a little friend named Fear. 

Interior page of Me and My Fear shows a girl crouched to look at a small white being who stands on a rock next to a beetle.

Interior page of Me and My Fear shows a girl in a room with boxes. A white being climbs around the space.

As we progress through the story we see how Fear grows in new environments and how it can change our feelings and our perception of reality. “Fear hates my new school. When the teacher says my name wrong, she grows angry...even though I know it was just an accident.” 

Interior of Me and My Fear shows a girl wrapped in the arms of a large personification of fear as she sits at her desk.

There is an image near the center of the book, where the girl’s Fear has grown so big that it does not fit fully on the page. It has a suspicious look and sits with arms and legs tightly crossed, holding the girl tight. “I don’t understand anyone and they don’t understand me.” This depiction of the emotional and sometimes even physical constriction that fear can create really strikes me. It feels true, something I have felt before but with a gentler rendering than what I had in my mind and I must say, I vastly prefer Sanna’s imagery.

This book also uses a design element that I find particularly delightful: the endpapers are different from front to back! 

Endpapers show multiple eyes interspersed with pebbles, pigeons, crayons and holes.  Similar to previous image, but now we see the eyes belonged to the cute, ghost-like white bald creature named Fear. You see the creature performing various activities with different emotions, playfully holding a toy dinosaur, joyfully hula-hooping, angrily hoarding a carrot, or pensively looking at crayons.

In the beginning of the book there are just multiple sets of eyes interspersed with pebbles, pigeons and crayons, but after the last page you can see the same scene with the eyes surrounded but the cute embodiment of fear created by Sanna: an adorable white being with a round domed head, draping limbs and expressive eyebrows. Me and My Fear has helped me to think of my own fear as a small friend who needs my protection instead of a great, frightening beast. Fear is a companion on the journey, but it doesn’t need to be the captain of the ship, just part of the crew. 

The final spread of the book shows a group of children (and one dog and one adult) who all have tiny white beings that sit on their shoulder or follow at their feet. We all have fears, each and every one of us, but instead of keeping us apart, sharing our fears can bring us closer together.

Cover of Small Things shows a troubled looking boy in bed with his head resting on a pillow.

Hi Everyone, It’s Ariel from the Carle Bookshop

here to share a closer look at a great book! Told in grayscale with wordless comic panels, Small Things by the late Mel Tregonning (Pajama Press, 2018) is a story of a child's struggle with anxiety. Nic, a grade-schooler, tries to make friends and join in at school, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. Each time Nic is rejected the shadows in the panel either grow or begin to morph dark fingers reaching out. Even when Nic finds a reprieve in the form of a friend, the reaching shadows still, but don't disappear. The anxiety grows from short licked fingers to amorphous shapes with sharp angles, tiny teeth, and too many eyes- always watching...seeming to wait for Nic to make a mistake, so that they can take bites from him and pull him apart piece by piece. Each little bite is only a small thing, but every small thing leaves Nic more frustrated, angry, solemn, and unable to cope. No amount of ignoring the missing pieces – or the bandaging of the figurative hurts to conceal them, makes them go away. The "tiny demons of worry" (Barbara Coloroso; in the afterword) keep going and growing until they consume Nic's everyday life and all his thoughts at night. 

double page interior spread of Small Things shows a progression of school children walking with shadows behind them.

Taking a closer look at the full spread on pages 10 and 11, we see Nic in the gutter of the book. Stuck. Surrounded by classmates, but alone. Being eaten away even as he tries to move forward.

Two page interior spread with a series of sequential images of a boy in pajamas sitting on his bed.

In the spread on pages 32 and 33, Nic takes a breath and begins learning to cope. In panel 1, notice how small Nic looks. He is hunched over, looking down, surrounded by tiny demons, torn to pieces, and in a dark space. Panel 2, something changes. Nic is a little larger, the demons start to lose their sharpness, and the tears begin to fade; Nic inhales (shoulders up). The exhale (shoulders down) begins in Panel 3. The demons retreat into finger licks of shadows. The room lightens around Nic. In panel 4, Nic almost returns back to full size. The anxieties are nearly faded and while the tears remain we can see pieces of Nic reforming (his hair, his ear, and arm). Take a closer look at Panel 5. Nic is back. He's full sized with eyes open. The demons have vanished for now though the damage remains. Nick takes up nearly the full panel- he doesn't have to share space with his anxiety now. 

interior image of multiple comic panels showing Nic approaching his family with a letter to help express his feelings.

It isn't until his sister reveals how her own struggles have also taken bites from her that Nic is able to ask for help. His family rallies around him, making the tiny demons less effective. He discovers that many people are dogged by fears and anxieties. People we might not expect. Even our friends. Nic reaches out to a friend in the end and so can we. 

What books have you found help navigate tough emotions? Share your recommendations in the comments below and check out our Little Books, Big Feelings booklist for even more suggested reading.

 

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