7 Children’s Books for Exploring Emotions and Feelings


Exploring emotions can be one of the most important lessons of early childhood. Yet, emotions and our reactions to them (our feelings) are sometimes difficult to fully explain to young children. Luckily, there are so many wonderful children’s books that can help us identify and discuss these important concepts.

When reading with my 5 year-old son, I like to take a moment to observe the illustrations and have him look for context clues. What can we learn from the facial expressions and body language of the characters? By the end of the story, I usually ask my son to describe how he would feel in a similar situation. By exploring emotions through reading, young readers learn to not only communicate their own feelings, but also better understand the feelings of those around them. 

1. In My Heart: A Book of Feelings

Author: Jo Witek

Illustrator: Christine Roussey

My heart is full of feelings. Big feelings and small feelings. Loud feelings and quiet feelings. Quick feelings and slow feelings. My heart is like a house, with all these feelings living inside.

This whimsical book explores emotions with language and metaphors that young children can easily understand. For example, describing sadness, the author explains how on “some days my heart feels as heavy as an elephant.” Or, for describing anger, “my heart feels as if it’s going to explode!” Young children will also enjoy the book’s die-cut heart shapes which reveal how wonderfully layered our feelings can truly be!

2. After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

Author and Illustrator: Dan Santat

But the higher I got, the more nervous I felt. I didn’t want to admit it: I was terrified.

This imaginative story explores what happens to Humpty Dumpty after his famous “great fall.” It turns out that the beloved nursery rhyme character becomes quite fearful of heights. Fortunately, through determination, perseverance, and courage, Humpty is able to overcome his fear. This book is a great way to introduce the concept of grit with young children. It also comes with a fabulous surprise ending that is sure to put a smile on a young reader’s face! 

3. Grumpy Monkey

Author: Suzanne Lang

Illustrator: Max Lang

Are you still grumpy?

Yes, said Jim, but I’ll probably feel better soon enough, too. For now, I need to be grumpy. 

It’s a wonderful day to be grumpy, said Norman. 

Jim agreed. And he already felt a little bit better.

Grumpy Monkey is a favorite book in our house! This story is about a monkey named Jim who awakens one morning not feeling like his usual self. Could Jim be feeling grumpy? His animal friends sure think so! They really want to help Jim feel better and give their best suggestions for ways to feel happy again. Yet, it turns out that what Jim really needs is a quiet moment to simply acknowledge his own inner feelings. It also helps to have the support and understanding of a good friend by your side until the bad mood blues pass. 

4. Thankful

Author: Eileen Spinelli

Illustrator: Archie Preston

The gardener’s thankful for every green sprout. The fireman, for putting the fire out. The poet is thankful for words that rhyme. The children, for morning story time.

This sweetly illustrated book shows young readers how much there is to be thankful for in everyday moments. From playing outside with a sibling to reading a book with mom or exploring nature with dad, spending quality time with family members is something to be cherished. In addition to exploring emotions such as thankfulness and gratitude, the illustrations in this book will get young readers thinking about feeling happy, silly, thoughtful, and kind.  

5. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates

Author and Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins

When she got home, her dad asked about her first day of school. I didn’t make any friends! Penelope cried. None of the children wanted to play with me! Penelope Rex, her father asked, did you eat your classmates?

Meet Penelope Rex as she gets ready for her first day of school. She is nervous to meet her new classmates and quite surprised to discover that they are children (and not dinosaurs!). Penelope has to learn that certain behaviors are acceptable in school, while others are not (like eating your classmates, no matter how delicious they look!). This book does a wonderful job exploring empathy and kindness and how important these feelings are for making friends at school.

6. I’m NOT Just a Scribble

Author and Illustrator: Diane Alber

But you’re not being nice! Scribble shouted, quite mad. The fact that I’m different doesn’t make me so bad. My colors are special, and my lines are just fine. If you’d give me a chance, we could have a great time!

This creative book explores what happens when a colorful free-form scribble meets the outlined drawings of a house, a sun, and some clouds. At first, the representational drawings are not sure what to make of the scribble. They use unkind words to point out how different scribble looks from them. How does this make scribble feel? And how will scribble handle the situation? This book explores individuality, empathy, and kindness. 

7. When a Dragon Moves In

Author: Jodi Moore

Illustrator: Howard McWilliam

If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in. He’ll settle in all cozy and peep at you from inside… and you’ll wonder how you ever got so lucky.

What happens when a dragon comes to play with an imaginative young boy at the beach? Lots of fun, but also lots of antics! The wonderful and richly detailed illustrations in this book capture a wide range of facial expressions providing ample opportunity to explore emotions. Is the boy feeling happy? Excited? Frustrated? Sneaky? Ashamed? Sad? Have fun taking your time paging through this creative book! There is a lot to discuss that is not explicitly spelled out for the young reader, which makes it a great book to come back to time and time again! 

Are any of these children’s books favorites in your home? What are your go-to books for exploring emotions with young children? What are other examples of other ways to teach children about their own feelings and the feelings of others? 

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  1. This list is wonderful! I’m wondering which of any of these books maybe appropriate for a two-year-old who does mostly board books and some books that are slightly longer (e.g., The Snowy Day) but isn’t yet ready for wordy readings.

  2. So glad you like this list!! Thank you! I think the best one to start out with for a two year old is In My Heart: A Book of Feelings. It feels like a large board book and the cut out hearts on each page (and the bright colors) will capture the attention of any young kiddo. It’s really a beautiful book!

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