Emotions: general

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Judith Viorst (author) Ray Cruz (illustrator)
Little Simon: 2014
ISBN: 9781481414128
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

From the moment he wakes up Alexander feels that he is having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. He decides he’ll go to Australia. Alexander’s day progresses, and he experiences moments of perceived unfairness, times when his complaints are ignored, friends who are a little too truthful, and just plain bad luck. It is indeed a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. But mum has some good advice.

This classic picture book, first published in 1974, remains a funny, poignant and cathartic look at a universal problem for young and old. Viorst is always age-appropriate but also uncompromising—Alexander is allowed to be a grumpy not always very nice kid and the things that happen to him range from annoying commonplaces (e.g. getting gum in your hair) to truly hurtful moments (e.g. when your best friend decides you are not his best friend). There is a wonderful sense of bad things piling one on top of the other and the constant refrain ‘terrible, horrible…day’ accompanied with repeated references to Australia reinforce both the humour and the frustration of a difficult day. The ending is satisfying and honest—some days are just bad days! This is a great story with which to explore a range of difficult emotions.

Happy: A Children’s book of Mindfulness

Nicola Edwards (author) and Katie Hickey (illustrator)
Caterpillar Books: 2018
ISBN: 9781848578883
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Happy begins with a simple definition of mindfulness and its relationship to happiness. Each double-page spread then provides an age-appropriate explanation of how children might practice mindfulness through listening, feeling, relaxing, tasting, touching, discovering, smelling, loving, appreciating, and breathing.

Happy is an instructional book for children, providing a practical guide to mindfulness for young people that may help children and parents tackle strong emotions, especially anxiety and anger. The section on ‘feeling’ is obviously useful for discussing strong emotions, but all the sections can be employed to explore how people manage emotions by staying grounded and connected to themselves and their loved ones.  

The text is clear and concise yet also evocative— ‘we breathe deep and expand like the galaxy’ is sure to encourage any reader to learn a new breathing technique! The illustrations tend to focus on one or two scenes for each sub-topic (i.e. listening, feeling etc.) and depict children in nature or at home. They are relaxed warm images, full of pattern, colour, and detail, well suited to capturing interest in the ideas and concepts presented in the text.  

How are you peeling? Foods with moods
Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
Scholastic: 1999
ISBN: 9780439598415
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

How are you peeling? employs pithy questions, simple rhyme, and photographs of expressive produce to explore a range of emotions. Each page presents one or more fruits or vegetables with expressions that complement the text. Sometimes the text prompts discussion of the expressions depicted (e.g. ‘Happy? Sad? Feeling blue? Feeling bad?’) or makes a statement that reflects on the image provided (e.g. ‘When how you feel is understood you have a Friend, and that feels good’). One persistent theme concerns friendship and touches on feelings of shyness and exclusion, and the comfort derived from friends, another theme concerns conflict and how one responds to it.

This quirky book about emotions is a great conversation starter for pre-primary and early primary school kids! The fruit—mildly enhanced with natural products such as black-eyed peas for eyes —provides an exaggerated but thoroughly recognisable and varied set of human facial expressions. The text is thoughtful and open-ended. It also recognises implicitly that people respond differently to the same stimuli (e.g. How do you feel when someone is mean? Timid? Bold? Or in-between? When you’re angry, do you pout? Cry? Scream? Shout?). It’s no wonder that 20 years after its original publication How are you peeling? is still widely available.

How do you feel?

Anthony Browne
Walker Books: 2011, 2013
ISBN: 9781406338515
Age: 0+

Reviewed by Viv Young

This feelings book for young children begins with the title question: ‘How do you feel?’. It quickly changes to a simple statement about different feelings, linked through the illustrations to a pre-schooler-sized monkey dressed in overalls (e.g. ‘Well, sometimes I feel bored’). Each emotion is accompanied by a different image of the monkey that conceptualises that emotion.  A wide spectrum of emotions is covered (e.g. bored, angry, guilty, happy, sad, silly in the sense of goofy). The last set of feelings may be described more accurately as sensations (e.g. ‘…I feel hungry… full…sleepy’). The book concludes as it begins with the question, ‘How do you feel?’. A collection of miniature illustrations recalls the images that accompany the emotions discussed throughout the book.  

This first book about feelings has some great inbuilt devices to help parents and children explore what feelings are all about. There are the intriguing conceptual interpretations of feelings that involve gestures, facial expressions, use of dark and light, as well as props (e.g. the ‘confident’ monkey is tight rope walking). The transition between classic feelings (sad, angry, happy) and sensations may also help parents and children consider just what feelings involve in mind and body.  Lastly, the text is open-ended at the beginning and at the end, allowing parents to prompt children to explore their own feelings and connect them with the images.

In my heart: a book of feelings

Jo Witek (author) and Christine Roussey (illustrator)
Abrams Appleseed: 2013
ISBN: 9781419713101
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

After likening the heart to a house full of different kinds of feelings, Jo Witek and Christine Roussey present a range of emotions in a first-person voice accompanied by images of a small girl. Each feeling is described in terms of how the heart feels. (e.g. “sometimes my heart feels like it is going to explode….’) and then the feeling is labelled (e.g. ‘this is when my heart is mad’). Happy, mad, calm, broken, sad, hopeful, scared, silly, and shy hearts are described before readers are asked how they feel.

The design of this feelings book is bound to elicit interest from young readers: a cut-out heart on each page—gradually increasing in size towards the front cover—provides an inviting rainbow effect, suits the topic and seamlessly mirrors the overarching portrayal of the heart as a home for many different emotions. The descriptions of emotions are short and focused on common ‘symptoms’ of specific emotions (e.g. my heart is ready to explode. Don’t come near me it says…’), which should help parents and children relate the emotions described to their lived experience. The juxtaposition of emotions traditionally seen as negative and positive (perhaps neutral too) gives the impression that emotions can be transient as well. The open-ended conclusion leaves room for exploring one’s own emotions. The illustrations are modern with lots of bright colours as well as white space; they leave the reader mental space to explore tricky concepts. They also provide cues for discussion and comprehension through the use of familiar symbols and symbolic colours.

It’s Okay to Feel this Way

Sara Biviano

Starfish Bay Publishing: 2021

ISBN: 9781760361105

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

‘It’s okay to feel this way’ is the reassuring refrain running through this upbeat, colourful book about the broad range of emotions everyone experiences. Most pages explore one feeling but each feeling is carefully paired, so that emotions generally seen as more positive or less positive are discussed one after the other. This clever approach helps to reinforce and elaborate the message, presented early on in the text, that emotions ‘visit’ us but don’t stay forever.

The artwork for It’s Okay to Feel this Way is full of bright, clean colours. Some pages also utilise plenty of white space to highlight the key recurring text that ‘it’s okay to feel this way’. The illustrations both mimic the naïve style of young children and at some points incorporate the finger-painting style and scratchy texta work of preschool children. This approach matches the upbeat tone of the book and also gives it a sense of familiarity for young readers, perhaps even encouraging them to explore how they might feel through their own drawings. The occasional incorporation of photographic images (e.g. grass, a crochet flower) into the mixed media artworks also provides wonderful opportunities for small children to practise pointing and to explore the images thoroughly.

It’s Okay to Feel this Way is a comforting first emotions book to enjoy with even very small children.

One of those Days

John Heffernan (Author) Gwyn Perkins (Illustrator)
Scholastic: 2007
ISBN: 9781741693348
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A school-aged girl narrator talks the reader through ‘one of those days’ when you wake and the ‘air bubbles with excitement’. From bathroom, to breakfast, and the day at school, ‘one of those days’ is filled with thrills, excitement, and adventure. It is unlike ‘most’ days.

One of those days sets up a sophisticated contrast between the kind of day where everything feels fun, and days that are a bit more hum drum. It doesn’t discuss emotions directly, but the creative prose captures the feeling of a brilliant day perfectly while leaving ample room to discuss what the kids involved might be feeling. The illustrations have a bit of a Dr Seuss flavour—dream-like and full of fantasy. They work well with the text to provide clear and distinct facial expressions well suited to discussing feelings with primary aged children.

The Magical Yet

Angela DiTerlizzi (author) and Lorena Alvarez (illustrator)
Hyperion: 2020
ISBN: 9781368025621
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

The Magical Yet is an imaginative introduction to ‘growth mindset’ (see here for a balanced explanation) for young kids.The rhyming text addresses the reader directly, introducing him or her to the personified Yet, a ‘most amazing thought re-arranger’. The Yet, portrayed as a pink fairy-like creature, helps kids (and grown-ups) achieve goals even when they find it hard to believe in themselves.

The creators of The Magical Yet manage the balance between didactic message and creativity masterfully. The story in which the magical Yet plays a part concerns learning to ride a bike. This story does double duty as the text imagines you (the reader) as the learner (‘Like that shiny, new bike you couldn’t ride, and it didn’t matter how hard you tried’) while the artwork invites the reader to identify with a young girl learning to ride too. The artworks also introduce additional characters—both boys and girls—who are portrayed receiving help from their own Yet in other challenging situations.  This focus on when you might need a Yet—when you experience challenges—means that this picture book is a great choice for parents wanting to discuss emotions such as anger, frustration and disappointment. These kinds of feelings are shown in the illustrations and explored from the child’s perspective in those parts of the text that deal with times when success doesn’t come easily (‘…now you won’t ride. No way. Not never. No riding for you, you’ll walk…forever’). There are several useful prompts in the text to help parents scaffold the ‘yet’ concept such as the comment that the Yet doesn’t mind setbacks (‘Yet doesn’t mind warm-ups, fixes, and flops…’) and that the Yet has helped you before when you didn’t realise it was there (‘like when you babbled before you could talk or how you crawled before you could walk’).

The concept of Yet presented in the text is inspiring and the tone uplifting. The artwork not only meets the challenge of the text in these respects but elevates it further. The illustrations resemble our world but the magic is on every page, conveyed in the combination of bright strong colours, the striking use of dark and light tones, occasional but distinctive use of pattern and hyperbolic perspective (e.g. the young girl painting a huge picture of a bird from a trapeze-like swing). This book thinks big and that breadth of thinking is realised in the beautiful artworks.   

Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day

Davina Bell (author) and Allison Colpoys (illustrator)

Scribble: 2021

ISBN: 9781925849462

Reviewed by Viv Young

In lyrical, rhyming text the story of two girls and their day of questionable choices unfolds but don’t worry, they’ll be fine; tomorrow is a brand-new day.

The illustrations for this fabulous book about mistakes and moving on from them follows two female friends as they navigate a tricky day. The text works with the images but simultaneously addresses the audience, thereby encouraging all kids to identify with the challenges and emotions explored in the story. The central characters variously act impulsively, push, pull faces, chuck tantrums and fail to share as the difficulties they encounter and their feelings about them snowball throughout the course of the day. Most kids should, therefore, be able to recognise aspects of their own challenging days in the pages somewhere, if not the overall tendency for bad days to get worse. The fact that the friends fall out and make up again is also useful for parents looking for books about friendship, both its up and downs.

While bad days aren’t usually all that fun to talk about, Davina Bell and Allison Collpoys bring out the humour in ‘bad’ behaviour, moreover they empathise with the emotions at the heart of it all (‘You were tired! Worried. Scared’). With guidance, this empathy can help kids make important connections between feelings and poor decision making. This approach can also help kids feel understood too. The resolution of the story is uplifting as the two characters find ways to make up with those who they have hurt. There is also the overall feeling of acceptance and focus on the future that helpfully puts mistakes in their place as things everyone experiences and that we can all move on from.

The artwork for Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is bursting with colour and this matches both the positive treatment of mistake-making and the chaos that sometimes leads to mistakes. The exaggerated expressions of the two central characters are fantastic for exploring a range of emotions with young kids. Moreover, various spreads interpret the open-ended text and lead to lots of humour and opportunities for kids to follow the pictures and work out what happened to encourage certain feelings. The end pages are worth pondering with young ones. They are a mass of great swirling rainbows, intertwined and confusing. For this reader they encapsulated the messiness of mistakes and self-acceptance that this book celebrates so sweetly.

One of several recent books that speaks to a growth mindset, Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is an intelligent and fun story that normalises making mistakes and moving on from them.

Tricky’s Bad Day

Alison Lester
Affirm Press Kids: 2018
ISBN: 9781925712513
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Tricky (Patrick) is the eldest of three feline siblings and he’s having a bad day. It all starts when he wakes everyone up early while trying to get milk like mumma would do. From triangle toast when he wants square to a favourite jumper with a loose thread, Tricky’s bad day goes from bad to worse. But Dad knows what Tricky needs: an adventure to the ‘cubby trees’.

This realistic story is packed with gentle humour and understanding. Patrick and his dad both get grumpy, but the caring father figure sees past behaviour he finds irritating to provide what his child needs—some one-on-one time and an outdoor adventure. There are references to popular parenting techniques that some kids may be familiar with, for example the ‘clear-thinking chair’. There are also opportunities to discuss anger, frustration, disappointment, and joy, even though the focus is not on emotions per se. The satisfying conclusion sends a clear message that parents are there to help and that unpleasant feelings do pass.

We Feel Happy: A Fantastic First Book of Feelings!

Katie Abey

Bloomsbury: 2022

ISBN: 9781526619914

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

We Feel Happy! encourages children to explore the rainbow of emotions we all feel by investigating the antics of a host of colourful, quirky critters.

The reassuring introduction to We Feel Happy! emphasises the wide range of potential emotions and asserts that it’s okay to feel them all. The whole-page spreads that follow begin with a statement alerting readers to the emotion the animals on that page are feeling and asks a question that prompts readers to investigate the illustrations (e.g.: ‘We feel calm. What are the animals doing to feel calm?’). Speech bubbles sometimes explain what the animals are doing or thinking or present dialogue between the animals that helps readers work out what’s going on. Occasionally, an animal states that they don’t know how they are feeling, which may help take the pressure off for kids who find identifying emotions challenging. A monkey in the right-hand corner always asks the reader about their own experience of that particular feeling and occasionally gives tips about how to manage emotions like fear (e.g.: by thinking of something happy instead). This approach gives children plenty to do while talking about a subject that can sometimes be fraught. There are also some helpful hints for parents and teachers to provide even more practical and fun ways to explore feelings (e.g. making a happy recipe or a worry jar).

The colour palette for We Feel Happy! is super bright and bold! The almost fluorescent front cover is sure to attract attention. Then there’s the thick icy-pole stripes on the end pages that invite you into the book and of course the animals. With a pink unicorn, a rainbow dog, a cat with a polka-dot tie and many more fabulous creatures, most kids should find at least one animal to identify with. The busyness of the spreads draws the reader in and encourages the reader to follow the animals around the page and throughout the book.  

We Feel Happy! is a clever resource for families looking for a practical book about emotions that will engage children again and again.

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