I’ve recently been expanding my therapeutic book collection, and thought I would start sharing some of the books and accompanying art prompts that I have been using with child clients. Bibliotherapy is a great way to engage kids in discussing various topics or helping them understand experiences through story. And as an art therapist, I love how easily certain books can inspire further exploration through art and creativity. I’ve also found that bibliotherapy has been a great approach as part of my telehealth sessions.
Today I’ll share some of the books that I use with clients around the topics of identifying and expressing emotions, as well as art prompts that can go with them. (Note – this post has affiliate links to Bookshop and Amazon; I receive a small commission, and your purchases through these links help support the blog.)
With books for emotions, I’ll often incorporate a suggestion that I heard in a bibliotherapy training – before reading the page, show the client the picture only and ask them to guess the feeling that it will be about. This playfulness helps to engage kids that might lose their focus or be somewhat reluctant to listen to the book. As part of art therapy, you can also talk about the aspects of the image that convey the emotion.
1. The Way I Feel, written and illustrated by Janan Cain
I love the way this book introduces kids to a variety of emotions but isn’t too long. Kids can hear about what might trigger these feelings in others, talk about their own experiences with the emotion, and see clear images of what these feelings look like on someone’s face.
Art Directive – Choose a feeling from the book or one that was not included and create your own feeling picture. Include the name for the feeling on the page, writing the letters in a way that helps express it.
2. In My Heart, by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey
This book introduces a variety of emotions with charming illustrations. They are all presented in a non-judgmental way, and the book sends the message that everyone can have a variety of feelings in their heart. The heart shaped cutout in the middle of all pages creates a great visual showing all the colors/feelings together.
Art Directive – This book is a great lead in to having the child color the feelings in their own heart. Draw a heart shape on the page or have the client draw the heart. Then have them color in the heart with the colors and emotions that they want to represent. I will sometimes give the directive to “Show the feelings that you have most often” or alternatively ask then to show “What feelings are in your heart today?” You can also suggest that they use more or less of each color to show how big that feeling is for them or how much they experience it.
3. The Boy With Big, Big Feelings, by Britney Winn Lee, illustrated by Jacob Souva
This book is great for normalizing the experience of “big feelings.” The boy in the story struggles with feeling overwhelmed by his big emotions and his sensitivity to the emotions of others. He tries to hide and ignore his feelings but ultimately learns to accept and express all his big feelings.
Art Directive – The illustrations in this book of the boy’s feelings show great examples of abstract expressions of emotions. After reading the book, invite the client to paint one or more of their own big feelings. They could either paint just the emotion on the page or include a self-portrait with the emotions, in the style of the book.
4. The Color Monster, written and illustrated by Anna Llenas
Beautiful, engaging pictures illustrate how the color monster sorts out his mixed up emotions by looking at each one separately. This book includes a shorter list of emotions than some of the other books, so it’s better for kids with shorter attention spans or who need to start with a simpler list of emotions.
Art Directive – Draw your own color monster, including colors for the emotions that you are feeling today. Using a template with jar outlines, fill in examples of triggers for the different feelings covered in the book. (Or send the template home and have the child fill it in during the week as a way to track emotions and triggers as they come up.)
5. A Little Scribble Spot, written and illustrated by Diane Alber
This book is very similar to the Color Monster in introducing the idea of sorting out our jumbled up feelings and accepting that they are all ok to have. One of the things that I really liked was that each primary feeling also had a list of more nuanced words for variations of the emotion. There are also additional emotion spot books by the author that talk more about each of the feelings individually and include coping skills and breathing exercises.
Art Directive – Draw your own Scribble Spot with the colors/emotions that you choose. Or create your own set of all of the emotion spots, cut them out, and add craft sticks to make little puppets. Use the puppets to role play, talk about the emotions, or give the child a tactile and visual way to identify and express how they are feeling (e.g., choose the spots that show your feelings today).
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you have another favorite bibliotherapy book about emotions or a different creative activity that you like to do along with one of these books? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. – I intend to create a small series about bibliotherapy and art directives. I will plan to include books about growth mindset and accepting mistakes, self-esteem, and relationships with others. Any other bibliotherapy topics you want to see included? Let me know in the comments.
Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT-S, ATR-BC is an art therapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, teens, and families. For more information about telehealth and online therapy, individual therapy, child and teen counseling, and art therapy services, please visit: www.therapywithcarolyn.com. Carolyn is also the author of The Balanced Mind – A Mental Health Journal, a guided journal that combines writing and art prompts to support your mental health.
This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health conditions. All directives, interventions, and ideas should be used by qualified individuals within the appropriate bounds of their education, training, and scope of practice. Information presented in this blog does not replace professional training in child and family therapy, art therapy, or play therapy. Art therapy requires a trained art therapist.