Picture Books Can Save the World

Apr 4, 2018Pat's Chat, picture books

Picture books can save the world . . . I’m sure of it. I addressed this topic focusing only on anxiety in Pat’s Chat – May 2017, but it’s worth revisiting in more depth. Picture books are not just a sweet, innocent source of entertainment for children, but they can be a valuable tool to provide hope and power to heal and grow. I will show you how.

“By reading to children, by turning pages together with them, we can learn bit by bit about what they are thinking and help them to negotiate the complex cultural messages that are continuously being given to them.” – Ellen Handler Spitz in Inside Picture Books.

Children are sponges that soak up the world around them, good and bad! They have strong emotions and react to the world around them as they observe with an innocent heart. Picture books can help reconcile these emotions and help children make sense of all those crazy feelings.

(Hypothetical situation) A little boy, Sam, chooses a colorful book and curls up on his dad’s lap before bedtime. His environment is safe, non-threatening, and comfortable. Now, what if this little boy had been bullied that day at school and this picture book is about bullying? Sam might empathize with the main character and see himself on the page. That happened to me today! He thinks to himself . . . Every picture book follows a principle of character agency. This means the main character solves his/her own problem in a story (mom or teacher doesn’t fix their problems for them). In this story of bullying, the character resolves his conflict and Sam identifies a way he could solve his issue, or maybe he at least sees the bullied child being strong and working toward a solution. After reading the story, Sam is in a comfortable environment and may even open up a discussion with his parent about the situation he is struggling with.

If Sam reads, Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, he may see another boy deciding how to manage his ENEMY #1 by baking up a special pie. He may find a friendly resolution that he had never expected.

A child that may have recently experienced the death of a grandparent may read, Ida, Always by Caron Levis and see how a polar bear at the zoo copes with the loss of his life long friend. When snuggled on your lap, the complicated emotions of grief may be expressed more willingly. 

If anyone in a position of power would read How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham they would grasp the concepts of kindness, compassion, hope, and empathy. Not only children can learn from picture books.

Picture books can address many topics such as bullying, gender identity, anxiety, autism, fear, shyness, anger, grief, first day of school, empowerment, math skills, problem solving, diversity, creativity, and so much more. As a physician, I see kids struggling with issues every day. As parents, teachers, grandparents, we want to provide support in any way possible, and it can be as easy as reading with our kids.

I will be posting an extensive list of picture books to reference on my website over time. I am compiling and reading and researching reading some more! There are so many picture books to add to this list. You can always look for a picture book topic by utilizing your librarian! You can search online on Amazon, Goodreads, or other book sites for topics. Here is the start:


Scaredy Squirrel – Melanie Watt                            

There Might Be Lobsters – Carolyn Crimi

You’ve Got Dragons – Kathryn Cave

Wemberly Worried – Kevin Henkes

The Fun Book of Scary Stuff – Emily Jenkins

There’s a Big Beautiful World Out There – Nancy Carlson


First Day of School:

First Day Jitters – Julie Dannenberg

Sam and Gram and the First Day of School – Dianne Blomberg



Sometimes I’m a Bombaloo – Rachel Vail

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! – Mem Fox

Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst

Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse – Kevin Henkes

Llama Llama Mad at Mama – Anna Dewdney



Ida, Always – Caron Levis

The Heart in a Bottle – Oliver Jeffers

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf – Leo Buscaglia


Fear of the Dark:

Ella and Penguin Stick Together- Megan Maynor

No Such Thing – Jackie French Koller

Fun Book of Scary Stuff – Emily Jenkins

Creepy Things Are Scaring Me – Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey


Gender Expression/Identity

Red: A Crayon’s Story – Michael Hall

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress – Christine Baldacchino

Worm Loves Worm – J. J. Austrian

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed – Mo Willems


How to Heal a Broken Wing – Bob Graham

Be Kind – Pat Zietlow Miller

Each Kindness – Jacqueline Woodson


Being Different

The Junkyard Wonders – Patricia Polacco

The Invisible Boy – Patrice Barton

Superbat – Matt Carr

Strictly No Elephants – Lisa Mantchev



This Morning Sam Went to Mars – Nancy Carlson



Noah Chases the Wind – Michelle Worthington

A Friend Like Simon – Kate Gaynor


Stay posted to website and I will update this list over time. Here are some other excellent resources for bibliotherapy booklists grouped by specific topics.






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