Emirates Literature Foundation Blog (ELF)

Feeling Lost? 7 Books To Help Kids And Teens Tackle Tough Emotions

By: Karuna Luthar

Vanquish the Monster In Your Mind

Do you remember being a toddler, terrified of the monster under the bed? Too scared to be alone, you might have been soothed and calmed by a loving presence, holding you close and quieting those fears while telling you a bed-time story.

Just like that nebulous and scary monster, manifestations of the beast-like depression, anxiety or an inability to control certain behaviours can come into the mind at any stage of life — adult, teenage or toddler.

Stories, whether bed-time tales or classic novels, have always been a way of learning about challenges and how to overcome them. With a first-hand glimpse into the characters’ lives, they offer a method to help us understand anger, depression, grief, anxiety, fear and a host of other negative emotions.  Recognising difficult feelings and seeing that they live in people like ourselves and those we care about is an important step for dealing with them. 

Reading allows one to become acquainted with the forms mental stress takes, at one’s own time and pace. Here are a series of books for  people of all ages that talk about dealing with negative emotions. 

My Many Coloured Days by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss, whose real name was Theodore Geisel, wrote a rhyming book for toddlers which uses colours and animals to demonstrate that everyone has a wide range of emotions. The simple language and vibrant illustrations make it easy for young children to identify and learn about their own moods. Colours are combined with strikingly expressive animals, like a sad and lonely purple dinosaur or an angry black wolf, creating familiarity and the ability to talk about their feelings. Dr. Seuss wrote the book in 1973, but waited to publish as he hoped to find, as he said, ‘a great colour artist that will not be dominated by me’ to create beautiful illustrations and sensational colours. It was finally published in 1996, five years after his death,  and is illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher in a magical way  that will engage both young and old readers. 

Sad Book by Michael Rosen

Dealing with grief and loss is an immensely difficult conversation at any age. In the Sad Book, a father shares his feelings of grief at the death of his son who died of an illness when he was just 18 years old. Rosen, a highly acclaimed author of  children’s books, says he wrote the book, which he says is for people of all ages, after some young children asked him about his son. The book has vivid drawings depicting the intense emotions that the loss of a loved person will bring about, from despair to hopelessness to needing to find distractions. This book is a straightforward portrayal of life, showing that it is okay to feel sad, to have reactions that others don’t understand, and also that one can find a bit of light in small things. The message and the sensitive illustrations by the well-loved cartoonist and children’s author, Quentin Blake, will be as greatly appreciated by grown-ups as by their children. 

Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson

Wilson brings to life the issues a young girl, Floss, whose dad and mum love her very much but are divorced. She decides to live with her dad when her mother and stepfather need to move to Australia for work, and learns to deal with not having the nice things and clothes she had in her old home. Enjoyment in every-day activities like school, stitching with a friend and looking after a pet kitten slowly overcome the embarrassment and anxiety she feels about her changed circumstances. Friends who work in a travelling fair bring a little bit of relief and enjoyment into the lives of Floss and her dad. The difficulties of dealing with school mates who make fun of her, standing up against bullies and realising what is important to her personally are familiar issues for many kids. In the book, Floss describes her troubles and the way she handles them with humour and warmth, giving insights into how to deal with the unpleasantness from other children.  

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 

Our teen years are fraught with difficulties; with expectations warring with inclinations, the inability to fit in with peers, and relationships with family and friends entering new, uncharted territory. This book — which has since been adapted into a film starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman  follows the life and experiences of Charlie, an introverted, socially awkward teenage boy, (the titular wallflower), as he comes to terms with what's causing his behaviour and how he learns to deal with it. 
     While Charlie loves his family and is in turn loved by them, he still has to grapple with his own thoughts and feelings, which he does in a series of letters to an anonymous person. Unable to fit in with the rest of his classmates, his journey through the schoolyear is fraught with difficulties. He finds support in unlikely places, including from his English teacher who encourages him to write. Charlie makes a few missteps and his learning from them not only keeps the reader totally engrossed but provide some valuable insights on family interactions and their impact. A bit of a warning: the book contains some explicit subject matter and profanity which may make it hard to stomach for some  but this too proves valuable as the book is quite realistic in this regard, and raises real issues that teenagers everywhere face and need to deal with.

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini 

Teenagers and young adults perhaps endure the maximum stress amongst all age groups, especially with the extent of all the changes that happen in their lives. Not only do they have to deal with growth and raging hormones, but they need to meet the challenge of getting good grades, getting accepted by higher education institutions, entering the job market, and keeping up with their social life, extra curriculars and family — and that is before factoring in personal and health circumstances. Ned Vizzini’s story about fifteen-year old Craig Gilner who suffers the stress of  his own expectations to perform well is one that will resonate with many. The author, who suffered from depression himself, has created a realistic account of all the pressures a teenager faces, against a backdrop informed by his own experience of a psychiatric ward where he had admitted himself in his early 20s. Parents and young adults alike will be drawn into the book, getting a fresh perspective on the pitfalls of growing up as a gifted child with a brain chemistry that makes it difficult to deal with stress. The subject is dealt with lightly, with humour and frankness, and one ends the book feeling glad one has read it. 

Anxiety for Beginners by Eleanor Morgan 

A non-fiction book by journalist Eleanor Morgan, Anxiety for Beginners is a forthright, honest account of her own anxiety and depression, her debilitating experiences with both and how she dealt with the different phases she went through. Morgan, who had panic attacks first as a teenager, has brought together a great deal of information that helps to understand what anxiety is to begin with. While this is a word often used relatively lightly, anxiety also denotes such a high scale of distress that it can destroy lives and careers unless dealt with appropriately. Her book covers a wide range, being based on interviews with other people who suffer from these issues, as well as medical experts in fields such as psychiatry, nutrition  and gastroenterology. She gives us insights on the effects of nature and nurture, genetic and environmental influences, hormones and parenting choices. Difficult areas like shame, social stigma, discrimination and the reactions of loved ones are dealt with openly, including in the context of media.
     Morgan's extensive research on different methods of treatment provides a great deal of useful information for individuals wanting to learn about the options available. The book ends on an encouraging note, talking about future treatment options that would be more tailored to the individual and her eventual acceptance of her own anxiety disorder. As she says, it is completely essential that "young people become more emotionally literate and know what mental health problems look like, in case it ever affects them." The same applies to adults who might see these symptoms in themselves or the people they love. 

Peanuts by Charles M. Schultz

One of the most-loved characters of all time by people of all ages, Peanuts' round-headed hero Charlie Brown is shown as a child who never wins a ball-game, is often bullied and is always on the outskirts of anything that’s happening. Despite his  feelings of inadequacy, Charlie Brown always comes back for another game, another go at kicking the ball – which Lucy pulls away at the last moment again! A must-read for anyone feeling low, Peanuts is filled with an infectious resilience and belief that things will get better, as well as including a good dose of honest feedback and philosophical thoughts in the humorous  daily happenings Charlie Brown and his young friends. Their social interactions demonstrate complex situations and feelings that could happen in the life of any individual, young or old. Perfect for readers of all ages, Peanuts deftly handles feelings of nervousness and inferiority, and layers them in alongside its signature doses of sarcasm, honesty and ambition, while still seeing the humour and warmth in every situation. With its thoughtful social commentary and inclusiveness, Peanuts remains evergreen, educating and entertaining people since 1947. 

For more news on what the Emirates Literature Foundation is up to, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And to keep up with the rest of our book-filled discussion, you can listen to the latest episode of our Boundless Book Club podcast, featured down below!

Karuna Luthar is a freelance writer on anything that catches her imagination. Her motto is ‘Grey hair, grey cells’, signifying her belief that growing older brings with it the enthusiasm to explore old and new delights in every aspect of life. Karuna’s other passion is mentoring social enterprises to improve their impact and effectiveness, an area she has actively participated in throughout her career. She is a long-standing Board Member for the India arm of  international NGO Operation Eyesight and previously spent  a number of years in the corporate sector, working with international banks and consulting companies.