Monday, March 25, 2019

ReFoReMo Day 17: Editor Charlotte Wenger Tackles Emotional Topics

By Charlotte Wenger


I’ve been interested in children’s developmental psychology—how children grow and change over time—for at least ten years now. I’ve also realized that this interest often informs why I’m drawn to certain picture books. In particular, I appreciate stories that somehow address emotional development and provide opportunities to talk about feelings. I’ve found that the stories themselves often carry an emotional punch by not shying away from experiences and feelings that can be difficult to process or discuss.

The five books I highlight here show vulnerability and heart with tact rather than with schmaltz or overt didacticism. They tackle situations that spark emotions complex even for adults, but that many people of various ages face. These books thoughtfully contribute three important points to consider when thinking about emotional health:

1.     It is okay to feel, no matter the emotion.
2.     It can be helpful to communicate about what you’re feeling.
3.     Even after experiencing difficult, confusing, or unpleasant emotions, healing can come.
Books like these five have not only the power to portray and evoke emotion, but also the ability to foster healthy emotional development in children—and adults.



Boats for Papa, written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley









The Rabbit Listened, written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld














Ida, Always, by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso
















My Heart, written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken



















The Remember Balloons, by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte















Charlotte is offering a 
copy of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, by Lindsay Leslie, illustrated by Alice Brereton to one lucky winner. To eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must be registered by March 4, comment on each post, consistently read mentor texts, and enter the Rafflecopter drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo.



Charlotte Wenger is an associate editor at Page Street Kids, the picture book division of Page Street Publishing. She earned her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Simmons College (now University) and is a board member of the Mazza Museum’s National Advisory Board of Visitors. She loves connecting with authors and illustrators at conferences and workshops.

Find Charlotte on Twitter at @WilbursBF_Char, and learn more about Page Street Kids via www.pagestreetpublishing.com 
Twitter: @PageStreetKids 
Instagram: pagestreetkids.

154 comments:

  1. Charlotte, these are such great examples for mentor texts when writing these type of books. The effortlessness with which they tap into the emotion and avoid the schmaltz & didacticism is beguiling. It is so hard. Thanks for great suggestions.

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  3. Emotion is at the core of our beings so I love that you've focused your mentor text recommendations on books that tack emotions without being didactic. Thanks for sharing these, Charlotte!

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  4. Each of these is so beautiful. Great recommendations and reminders that emotion in stories tugs our hearts. Thank you, Charlotte.

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  5. Thank you for the mentor texts. Oh, the books that encourage kids and their caregivers to "talk about (their) feelings."

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  6. Wonderful book choices---all with heart, well-done emotional storylines, and healing.

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  7. Books on sensitive topics are so, so important. Often, they are the only way to communicate with children and to get them to open up. Thank you so much for highlighting them and providing some beautiful examples.

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  8. Hi Charlotte! Thanks for these really important mentor texts.

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  9. These examples all provide wonderful ways to express emotions on a level that both kids and adults can appreciate. The writers didn't shy away from tough topics. Thank you for bringing these books to the forefront, Charlotte

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  10. Hi Charlotte, loved this post as on of my CPs and I were just talking about this last night - "not shying away from experiences and feelings that can be difficult to process or discuss." Thank you for the validation that kids DO need books like this.

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  11. I love all of these picture books, Charlotte! Thanks for sharing!

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  12. These are all great books that tackle challenging subjects gracefully.

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  13. Tact over schmaltz! Perfect description! Thanks Charlotte!

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  14. Love these examples. Thanks for the post.

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  15. Thanks for sharing, Charlotte. I connected with all five of the PBs above. I strive for my words to emotionally connection with readers. It's not easy, but worth the work.

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  16. Hi Charlotte, thanks for this great list. I love books that deal with complex issues, especially grief and loss. Bear and Bird is one of my favorites (I know it's not on this list, but just mentioning it because it made such an impact). Thanks again!

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    1. Thank you, Rita, for mentioning Bear and Bird. I looked it up and just put it on hold at the library. I want to read more books with deep topics like these.

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  17. Thanks Charlotte. These books are all new to me, so I am excited about reading them.

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  18. Thanks, Charlotte. These books are all beautiful suggestions that can be used to open up discussions with children. They will remain in their hearts long after the last page is turned.

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  19. These are all wonderful books that deal with emotions in a beautiful way. These kinds of books definitely make a place for themselves in the reader's mind and heart.

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  20. With a degree in developmental Psychology, I agree with you. PBs are the perfect medium for helping young kids in each developmental stage to safely explore their harder feelings. You've offered a great list to study!

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  21. Wonderful post, Charlotte!! Thank you for these terrific mentor texts. I cannot wait to read Ida Always and Boats for Papa. I totally agree that authors should not shy away from writing about difficult subjects... which is one of the reasons that I love Jane Yolen’s book, The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye

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  22. Such a fine list of wonderfully effective mentor texts! Thank you, Charlotte.

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  23. I really appreciate this post, Charlotte! Emotion that rings true is a tall order for any age. Thank you for your selections. I loved the Rabbit Listens.

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  24. Such sweet and emotional books! Thanks for sharing, Charlotte!

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  25. Your mentor suggestions are beautiful examples of books that convey so much in so few words. I can't read IDA, ALWAYS without crying! I look forward to reading the one on this list I have not had the pleasure yet to read. Thank you for sharing!

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  26. Thank you, Charlotte! These are some of my favorites too, for the same reasons you stated. It can be difficult for some parents/adults to know how to help their little ones with tough subjects. These types of books can give them the tools to cope.

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  27. Thank you so much for your post and introducing me to a few new ones. :-)

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  28. Thank you Charlotte for pointing out what makes these books stand out for their emotional impact on tough subjects. I work with many teachers and parents who feel any emotion is too much for young children. These books are great examples of how sensitive subjects can be gently shared.

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  29. Thank you for this wonderful post, Charlotte. I am always drawn to books of the heart, ones which really pull on the emotions. I loved these and own MY HEART and THE REMEMBER BALLOONS for that reason.

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  30. Emotional indeed. Sniff. Ida, Always made me cry and I love, love, love the page in The Rabbit Listened where the rabbit “moved closer...Until Taylor could feel it’s warm body.” And there it is, all warm and bunchy, eyes closed, waiting to listen. So well done.

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  31. Thank you for sharing these books. I attended a great program on child psychological development an couple weeks ago. It has really made me think about how children view their world and also how adults help children navigate life at different ages. I think these books are so special because they not only help a child, but they help a parent or teacher move through the process as well. They are mini handbooks to dealing with life issues without being a list of actionable items to handle any situation. They say what we maybe can't find the words to say when we too are grieving.

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  32. These are excellent books. I'm so glad that books are now being published that deal with tough subjects. Young readers face hard things as do all ages, so yay for providing books leading to discussion, understanding, and healing. Thanks!

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  33. Also, THE ROUGH PATCH by Brian Lies. It is about the loss of a beloved pet and the anger and grief it generates--all in kid appropriate manner.

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  34. Charlotte, your words and recommendations inspire me to write from the heart. Thank you for encouraging us to remember these three points:
    1. It is okay to feel, no matter the emotion.
    2. It can be helpful to communicate about what you’re feeling.
    3. Even after experiencing difficult, confusing, or unpleasant emotions, healing can come.
    I too am drawn to picture books like the ones you’ve shared and see how important they are to be shared.

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  35. Thank you for highlighting these books!

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  36. These books have definitely moved me to tears - in a good way. Thanks for a great post!

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  37. Thank you, Charlotte. Great examples.

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  38. These are all such great books. When I reread Ida, Always, I couldn't believe how moved I was.

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  39. These are some of my favorite books. I haven't read Ida, Always, and am looking forward to reading.

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  40. These books tug at the heart and are breath-taking in their beauty. I am sure they will all be considered classic books for children. Thank goodness there are authors who can write so eloquently about touch topics.

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  41. BOATS FOR PAPA is sublime in the way it deals with a missing parent. And THE REMEMBER BALLOONS is profound in the way it illustrates memory loss in older adults. Thank you for suggesting such beautiful stories.

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  42. As a psychotherapist and an author, this post resonated so much with me. IDA, ALWAYS brings me to tears every single time. Thank you!

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  43. What beautiful picture books! Each of these books is so special and comforting in their own ways.

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  44. Just lovely. Thanks for sharing this list of beautiful books.

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  45. I love the books that tackle tough subjects and make an emotional connection. These were inspirational.

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  46. Thank you for all these great examples of mentor texts on tackling difficult emotions.

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  47. Wonderful list, Charlotte. Thank you! I've read them all, but I want to re-read a few to remember the details. The Rabbit Listened is an all time favorite! I re-read My Heart this morning. I love the sparse text and how so few words can say so much.

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  48. Love this! Thank you!

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  49. I love all of these books! Thank you for sharing them today, Charlotte.

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  50. Thank you for sharing this heart touching list. I know I will read with a tear in my eye.

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  51. This is such good advice for PB writers-not to shy away from difficult emotions!
    I love Ida, Always, and I'm looking forward to reading the others. Thank you.

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  52. These books are favorites of mine and are used by the counseling office at my school frequently as well. They're so beautiful, powerful, and important. Thank you for sharing.

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  53. Charlotte! Thank you for an excellent list of picture book titles that depict emotion in a beautiful way to share with young and old.

    Suzy Leopold

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  54. These books really touched my heart. Great mentor texts. Thanks for sharing them.

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  55. Thanks for sharing this list of books on emotion.

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  56. I love these examples of books that have taken on emotional topics so beautifully.

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  57. With gratitude, Charlotte, for sharing such profound books. All of these stories offer children ways to express their deep emotions, one that often come without words. I've read them all, and each time my heart tugged. At our regional KS/MO SCBWI Middle of the Map Conference, Jessixa Bagley spoke through her tears about her writing/illustrating journey that finally gave birth to BOAT FOR PAPA. Her story and book are both warm, authentic tales.
    I thank you, Charlotte, for encouraging us with those three profound points to remember. I will copy and paste and print them for my reference. Right now, I'm struggling through the writing of a PB about my mother's experience as a child. She lived through a time when children called her names and threw stones at her because her mother couldn't speak English well. All of my grandparents came from Yugoslavia. I've written several drafts but none are "there yet." Now, with your encouragement and thoughts, I'll revisit the story again. Children DO FEEL DEEPLY. Thank you for reminding us to touch these places with tenderness, love, and sometimes humor. Blessings!

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  58. Such necessary books for children to have access to. Wonderful post - thank you

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  59. Books have tremendously helped my child understand and use language for her big emotions. What a difference we have noticed over the past 6 months! Thanks for this list- a few new-to-me-titles here.

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  60. Thank you for writing about this important topic.

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  61. Charlotte, thanks for sharing a great list of books dealing with deep, complex emotional topics, like grief, that touch everyone.

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  62. I love these topics and books. I think they have such an impact on children and their families. Thank you.

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  63. Thank you for sharing these books and reminding us that children need to understand that emotion is ok and that as writers there are ways for us to convey those messages. Thanks, Charlotte.

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  64. Charlotte, thanks for sharing these books. It is great to see examples of how to approach difficult subjects. I appreciate your selections and post!

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  65. I enjoyed these books, Charlotte. Thanks for suggesting them.

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  66. Books are such a wonderful way to start discussions on ALL topics. Picture books are powerful. Thanks for this post!

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  67. Charlotte, The three lessons you highlighted point to hope for a better tomorrow. Sharing those lessons empowers our children, and us, to face our own future challenges and adversities. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

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  68. Boats for Papa. I heard Jessixa talk about this book as a keynote speaker at our local SCBWI. Made us all cry. And some of them the first time I read them didn't make much of an impression. But when I really read them, concentrating, I see. Emotion is hard for me to write so these are good examples to show us how.

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  69. That was a rough way to start the day. But I'm glad to have read them. Excellent, emotional books.

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  70. Beautiful suggestions. Shows the power of picture books.

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  71. Perfect picks, Charlotte! I love all of these books! Thank you for sharing!

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  72. Thank you, Charlotte, for this wonderful post about emotional books. I had an aunt who had Alzheimer's, and when I read THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, I cried, because it brought back memories of her. These books can heal.

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  73. I love Boats for Papa. Thank you for posting these books that can help heal.

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  74. I appreciate emotional books, especially when they’re subtle. For some reason, they seem more impactful!
    Thank you for this post.

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  75. LOVE all of these books. So simple yet so poignant and meaningful. Thank you for sharing!

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  76. These are all brilliant books, thanks for the reminder!

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  77. Thank you, Charlotte, for these examples of emotion and heart. I have a couple of them on my bookshelf :)

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  78. These books are so powerful! I love them! I'm wondering what others think about their intended audience - Obviously "Boats for Papa" and "Ida, Always" would be good to read with children who had suffered some kind of loss. They would be a great starting point for conversation. Do you think parents would read these with their children who have not suffered a loss? And if so, what age of child?

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  79. Thanks, Charlotte. I love books that deal with emotion the way these five do. I also love books that encourage empathy and compassion.

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  80. Thanks for the post Charlotte. These are some great books.

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  81. These are wonderful choices. They take difficult topics and deal with them in a way that helps children and the adults reading to them. Thanks!

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  82. I love these titles. They get me every time!

    Thanks!

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  83. Charlotte,
    The titles you’ve chosen do connect with emotions. I can’t wait to read The Remember Balloons.

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  84. Love these, especially The Rabbit Listened!

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  85. Thank you for these excellent mentor texts on very difficult topics. Sometimes books can help a child deal with life's circumstances in ways people can't. It is wonderful to know that these wonderful books exist. Everyone should read My Heart for a reminder that we can control the choices we make. The Rabbit Listened reminds us that sometimes we just need to be there for another person. I always cry when I read Ida, Always!

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  86. Emotional issues are always tough to deal with, especially for kids. They need some books that they can read and learn that they are not alone in their feelings.

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  87. Great books for tough issues! Thanks for the reminder!

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  88. Thank you for these recommendations, I especially loved Boats for Papa, but see how how each of them gives a parent and child an opportunity to talk about feelings, not in a preachy way. Thanks, again.

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  89. Thank you for this list-- such a challenging and important category... and so magical when done well.

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  90. Hi Charlotte! Very thoughtful mentor text suggestions!

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  91. What great mentor texts today. "Boats for Papa" was beautiful as was "The Rabbit Listened." "ida, Always" actually brought me to tears - such a wonderful, gentle way to show grief.

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  92. Fabulous mentor texts with HEART. Thank you!

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  93. These books are so important. So often we try to minimize or avoid hard emotions, whether our own or in children. I also cried reading "Ida, Always" and "Boats for Papa". And "The Remember Balloons" somehow ends on a note of hope, even after the child loses his grandpa without quite losing him yet. lThanks for sharing this list.

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  94. Love these books and actually cried at an SCBWI conference when one of the presenters read Ida Always.

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  95. I have read the first three examples. I need to get the Remembering Balloons and my heart. It is always amazing to me when a picture book brings on such strong emotions. With so few words it pulls on the heart. So beautiful.

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  96. I love books that tackle tough topics. They're so important to read to kids and can be used as mirrors (to know you're not alone) or windows (to build empathy and understanding).

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  97. I love books with heart, and with so many of our kids committing suicide, it would be nice to see books that show kids it's okay to talk about what you are feeling early on.

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  98. All my library's copies of The Remember Balloons are checked out! It looks terrific as do all the books.

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  99. Lovely list of books. It is amazing how well they help children deal with their emotions in a non-didactic way.

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  100. Great list--thank you. These are all among my favorites!

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  101. Charlotte's titles have been added to the list TOUGH TOPICS: mentor texts here:
    https://www.facebook.com/notes/reforemo/tough-topics-mentor-texts/2100823426828667/

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  102. These books make you feel. And they do it so masterfully in an authentic, real life way. It is okay for everything not to be tied up in a neat bow in the end--that's part of life. These books provide a safe space to explore various emotions.

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  103. I love these books. Nothing like them when I was young. Truly a gift and a resource for children today, and talking points with their adults.

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  104. These are such good books regarding emotions. Having a parent with Alzheimer's, the one that means the most to me is The Remember Balloons.

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  105. I think I've read all but two of these, and look forward to reading them soon. Ida Always tears at my heart-strings. Thanks for this list.

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  106. Oh my, these books tug hard at my heart! They are so beautifully written. Love Boats For Papa and ida, Always. What great helps for kids going through the emotional trauma of loss.

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  107. I was wowed by THE RABBIT LISTENED. And I can't wait to read THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. Thank you for sharing.

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  108. Balloon memories - lovely image

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  109. "Ida Always," has been our go to PB for loss for several years ... you have added to our list of powerful books that help us grow and cope and live. Thank you.

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  110. The first thing I grab when we have a new challenge in our family is a picture book -- my son loves them and so do I. Emotional pb's seem to open up the conversation! Thanks for your list of mentor texts.

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  111. Boats for Papa is so powerful and sweet. Thanks for a great list to study . Finding a way to help kids without that dreaded 'didactic label is not easy.

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  112. Ida, Always: I went in expecting a cute story about polar bear friends, and ended up bawling my eyes out. I'd love to be able to write something like that, someday!

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  113. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of THE REMEMBER BALLOONS! The central topic closely parallels what my family experienced with my grandmother. Thanks for this list!

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  114. I enjoyed this list. I have long loved boats for papa, and the rabbit listened is such a great way to show the cycle of grief. Ida, Always really got me. Tears. Thank you for sharing.

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  115. I love all of these recommendations. They are such powerful picture books. I love how these PB's teach important lessons about vulnerability in a non-didactic way! Thanks!

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  116. I really liked The Remember Balloons and thought it was a nice way to relate memories to balloons. I also liked Always, Ida, although it was sad. I usually like happy books but these kind of stories are necessary for kids to understand tough situations in life.

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  117. Each one of those books makes me tear up! So well-written!

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  118. Thank you. I need to order these.

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  119. I love these books and feel they are super important for kids to have and learn from! Thank you!

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  120. Charlotte, this may be my most favorite selection of books so far. Thank you! Still waiting for The Remember Balloons - on hold at the library. But the others? Just beautiful. So important that these kinds of books are being published.

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  121. Thank you so much for these beautiful examples. I'd read "Ida, Always," but the rest of these are new to me. Such artistry to be able to address these topics in such gentle and appropriate ways. I hope to be able to write half as well about difficult topics, as my background is in social work and these are the kinds of topics I'm working on as well.

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  122. Over the years, as I have studied, read and written picture books and immersed myself in the kidlit community, I am always so deeply moved by the way these heartfelt, tear jerking, emotional stories have been able to affect me so deeply as an adult. Ida, Always is one of my top favorites in doing this. As an animal lover who has studied and is passionate about my own feelings about animals in captivity as well as the emotional bonds they are capable of, this story resonated so much with me. It was real and raw. And boy, did it make me CRY. I have also shared this story with children, and witnessed the emotional journey it takes them on.
    I do this in my writing. I write with emotion ABOUT emotion. I write with passion ABOUT passion. I write with love ABOUT love. It is important to FEEL all those things, while also identifying with the characters, and becoming emotionally involved. To be able to do that in 500 words (give or take) or less and 32 pages, well, that's a heck of a thing :) These books do it oh so well. Thanks for being here and sharing this post, Charlotte.

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  123. I've read each of these books and two really resonated with me - Boats for Papa and The Rabbit Listened. Boats for Papa is and will always be one of my favorite picture books. It makes me emotional every single time I read it - I think it's that the son is able to look outside of himself and acknowledge his mom's grief, too. That is so powerful. Thanks for the post, Charlotte!

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  124. This post is speaking my language. I’ve mentioned in a few past comments the importance of feeling all emotions, regardless of what they may be. I love books that create that shifting sensation in your chest, the feeling that occurs at the onset of some emotional truth winking out at you from the pages of a book like a piece of gold uncovered from the earth. All these titles have those moments in spades.

    Although the individual titles each address a specific issue (death, aging, the expression of feelings), I feel like the real thing that all the characters in these texts is grappling with is time. In a sense, these books could act as the collective introduction for children on the concept of time. Namely how it inexorably moves forward, how people and situations change as it moves forward, and how we ultimately can do nothing to keep it from moving forward or changing what has already occurred in its wake. Gus cannot keep Ida alive, Buckley cannot bring his father back, Taylor cannot rebuild the structure exactly, and the young boy cannot keep his grandfather from losing his treasured balloons. To answer the question of “why” all this happening is immaterial; instead these books focus on answering the question of “how”, as in “How can I learn to live with this?” or “How can this bring about change for the better?”

    The tone of these books is consistent as well. As Charlotte says, they tend away from “schmaltz” and “overt didacticism” and go for a feeling of quiet acceptance. The books don’t give off an air of a lesson being taught but of heartfelt advice being delivered from someone who has lived through time’s ceaseless tide. They seem to say, “Yes, it does hurt, but I promise you it will be okay.”

    And having these books close at hand surely makes it feel that way.

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  125. my feelings about the difference between sentiment and sentimentality: one is earned, the other isn't. Earned sentiment is often subtle, making changes at a deeper level in one's understanding. Thank you for this post.

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  126. Thank you for this post. I have read these with second grade students - not all at the same time but I just let the words sink in and sit for a minute. They all have such interesting thoughts about the books.

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  127. A beautiful selection of titles. And instead of didactic writing, just letting emotional growth be witnessed and internalized by kids (and their adult readers) is fantastic advice!

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  128. Had read Boats for Papa and loved it. I was charmed by The Remember Balloons, so sad and so hopeful! Beautiful!

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  129. It's helpful to have it broken down like this. Each title is so powerful. They all share that sense of living with the discomfort that is, I think, why they don't seem schmaltzy or preachy.

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  130. I want to be able to write books just like this when I grow up!!!

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  131. Thank you Charlotte! Loved reading these books.

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  132. So important to understand children's development when thinking about writing picture books. Thanks for the post!

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  133. I think it is so hard to get these types of books right and all five of these do it so well. Thank you fo sharing!

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  134. Thank you for these perfect examples. Three of them are my all time favorites that I refer to often. Great post!

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  135. Thank you for this beautiful list. I'll make sure our school counselor has access to these as well. And I LOVE This Book is Spineless! Yet another book to be added to this list for processing feelings and bibliotherapy!

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  136. The Remember Balloons is the best portrayal of Alzheimer's disease I've come across. The book is sensitive, explains an abstract subject, and leaves the reader with a way to cope with the feelings of loos. What a gift! Perfect for children and adults.

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  137. These book choices are my go-tos for kids at school-I've recommended Boats for Papa and The Rabbit Listened for our counselor's bookshelf. Thank you!

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  138. Oh. My. The Remember Balloons had me in tears. Thank you for this list.

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  139. These books are special. I love how you described them as stories that show "vulnerability and heart with tact rather than with schmaltz or overt didacticism." What I love about them too is the way they express the themes in a universal, inclusive way that feels like a personal invitation for the reader to embrace the story in the way they need it most. Just beautiful. They all stayed with me long after I read the last page (most of which brought me to tears). This is a mentor text list I will be revisiting often.

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  140. Several of my favorites here. And I really appreciate knowing about the others for my mentor list. These small books can hold such big emotions!

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  141. I needed a tissue for quite a few of these! Incredible books!

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  142. I love your three points about emotional health. So simple, even adults can understand it.

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  143. The Remember Balloons is a beautiful way to help a child cope with a loved ones memory loss. (I'll be adopting this mindset, too!) Thank you for sharing this list.

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  144. Great books that focus on emotions.

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  145. These are powerful texts that tap into the emotions we often need to deal with. Thank you for selecting them for us.

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