We are living in difficult times. Between the Pandemic, racial and ethnic tensions, economic uncertainty, and school closures and re-openings and re-closures, many children are experiencing trauma (as are many adults).
Children who are traumatized show trauma symptomology: they can be dysregulated or disassociated or over-regulated or a combination of the three. It is hard for children to articulate what they are feeling and then to move forward. Books can help.
Rather than focusing on books that mention the word “trauma,” which itself is traumatizing for many, the books identified here speak to restoring some of what trauma takes away:
- subtly (personalization and sense of self)
- and someone(s) (individuals who believe in you)
These are children’s books that can be labeled “trauma-responsive” because they enable children to see creative problem-solving in action; belief in self is a central theme, as is the support of others (often surprising others). The topics within the stories themselves are not, by design, traumatic.
In the following stories, the central character or characters shows courage when facing difficult situations. The goal is to enable children to see how others (it could be animals or humans or paper blobs) find bold and creative ways to move forward despite the odds.
These books foster problem-solving and open the door for children to talk to adults about the many ways in which seemingly impossible problems can be addressed successfully.
All of these stories are launch pads for reflecting on how to overcome obstacles and hurdles. These stories are fictional, although there are certainly non-fiction stories that address similar issues.
The books referenced here can be read to children, read by children (depending on age), and read with children. While there are some classics among the selections, there are newer books that will engage children and adults alike. The key is to use the stories to ask questions and reflect on the many ways we can address the problems and hurdles we face in our lives.
Table of Contents
1. The Knight Who Was Afraid of the Dark
Barbara Shook Hazen
This is the story of a knight who is afraid of the night, although he keeps this fear to himself. When the castle bully makes it difficult for him to visit his beloved Lady Wendylyn, Sir Fred comes up with an ingenious solution. Rather than giving up, Sir Fred meets his fear head-on and, in the end, is rewarded for his efforts.
With marvelous and funny illustrations, this is a story that can be read again and again. It allows children to explore their own fears and discover ways of overcoming them.
2. Lady Lucy’s Quest
Inspired in part by the Knight Who Was Afraid of the Dark and an actual person named Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, who was a fashion designer and survivor of the Titanic, this is the story of a feisty multi-racial heroine who wants to become a knight.
Told that she could never pass the tests of knighthood, she perseveres with strength, endurance, and courage, and yes, she becomes a Knight. I wrote this book (and the Lady Lucy series) as a way of empowering children to believe in themselves and to dream big.
This story enables children to see how someone can succeed in the face of obstacles, including the lack of support from her family, her community, and the other Knights. Children can ask themselves how they would respond to each of the tests Lucy faces and then smile with glee when she succeeds.
With wonderful, evocative illustrations, this story can be read again and again, and readers can follow Lady Lucy in subsequent books as she proceeds on many quests as a Knight, all of which call yet again on her strength, endurance, and courage.
Note: This book has been translated into Spanish as La Saga de la Senorita Sofia. Both stories have accompanying activity books, one in English and one in Spanish.
3. Giraffes Can’t Dance
This is a charming and uplifting story of a giraffe who desperately wants to dance but cannot seem to do so successfully, given his long legs and long neck. But, he is encouraged to try and, in the process, finds that he can dance – in his own way, to his own tune.
With fanciful illustrations, readers are encouraged to see that one can pursue one’s dreams, even if it seems improbable at certain times. It is a story about courage and overcoming setbacks.
Children can use this book for displaying their own dances and also to describe ways in which they, too, can overcome whatever is holding them back.
4. The Kissing Hand
In this touching story, a raccoon is concerned about going to school for the first time. His mother shares a secret with him to ease the difficulty of the impending separation. Her secret enables the raccoon to go off to school successfully. And, the raccoon learns too that he can reciprocate his mother’s love for him.
The difficulty of separation, something that is traumatic for many, can be eased in many ways, and this story uses a form of object constancy to enable separation. Transitional objects are an antidote to trauma, and this book will encourage adults to see pathways for improving how their children manage a separation.
Related: 9 Great Books for Busy Parents
5. Brave Irene
William Steig (First Edition 1986)
This is a story of a young girl who struggles to help her ill mother in a storm by delivering a dress to a duchess for a palace event. While the story does reflect different socioeconomic strata in ways that are more troubling now than decades ago, Irene shows fortitude and courage as she travels through a storm.
She encounters many hurdles but, importantly, achieves her goal with a nice twist at the end about her mother’s recovery.
The illustrations are appealing and carry the reader along and enable all of us to consider what we would do in a terrible storm – whether the storm is actual or a storm of problems that block our pathway forward. For anyone who has trudged in a storm, this story makes Irene a true heroine.
6. Little Blue and Little Yellow
In this classic story, with characters made from shredded paper, two friends end up in a “color” jam, where neither of their families recognizes them. They figure things out in a story of plentiful illustrations and few words. It is a story about finding a solution and recognizing the value of friendship.
The book begs for us to consider questions like identity and what makes us who we are. The visual imagery of color blending is also a powerful message about how we are all connected, whatever our differences.
Related: 18 Best Children’s Picture Books of All Time
7. One Grain of Rice: A Mathematic Folktale
This is a fantastic story based on an ancient tale about a young girl who finds a way to feed her whole village, which is starving. While it operates off the mathematic principle of compounding, it is a story about problem-solving and helping others, even in the face of opposition.
The illustrations, some of which fold out, are spectacular and encourage children to appreciate the magnitude of the heroine’s success. In addition, it allows for children to test out the mathematic approach through Cheerios or buttons, or other objects.
For me, the heroine’s success fosters the concept of success in others and perhaps of greatest importance, the heroine is not a princess or someone famous; she is just a young girl, trying to help her village. And she dreams big!
8. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Molly is an amazing heroine who, despite looks that lead one boy to tease her, overcomes his bad acts through a display of talent. Courageously, she accepts who she is and how she looks. With the support of her grandmother, she navigates forward in school, roadblocks notwithstanding. As her grandmother says, if you believe in yourself, the world will believe in you.
The illustrations are wonderful and funny, and one can’t help but feel that Molly is role modeling behavior for children everywhere – even those who don’t have her creativity and talent. With humor and goodwill, Molly convinces us all to be our best selves.
This is a book for every child who is worried about fitting into new situations.
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