“Reading Wednesdays” is back! This post was written by media specialist Lauren Davis, as part of my children’s book series in which Lauren and I take turns sharing our favorite kids lit recommendations.
My kids are scared of dogs. I’m not talking about quietly clinging to my leg if they encounter a large German Shepherd on an empty street. That I would understand. I’m talking about a fear of all dogs, big or small. When my boys go to my sister’s house and see their cousins’ adorable golden retriever puppy, all hell breaks loose. If Lulu so much as tilts her head in their direction, they run down the hall screaming, find their way out the front door and try desperately to break into my car. In short, it’s become a bit of a problem. (And, lest you ask— no! There are no bad experiences with animals. They’ve never been chased, bitten or attacked. It’s just a struggle we’ve had since birth).
Little kids have big fears, and getting them to muster up courage in the face of something that inspires sheer terror is not just hard, it can be a monumental challenge. Kids aren’t as rational as we are, because their brains are in a constant state of development. They have a hard time taking a step back from the things that scare them, looking at those fears head on, and rationally understanding the root cause of what it is that makes them so frightened. And getting them to talk about what is going on inside their little heads? Forget it. It’s an awfully difficult task.
Enter books. Stories can help children recognize that they do not sit alone with their fears, that other kids grapple with the same emotions of fright, and that is an incredibly powerful tool. Not only is it beneficial when children can see themselves reflected in the stories they read, but these stories are also tremendously helpful to parents and teachers. They give us an “in” — a simple, safe way to ease into a daunting conversation. They help us explain to our kids that fears are universal; but just as we fear, we can also overcome, if we harness the courage within ourselves.
So whether it’s a fear of dogs, the dark, heights or change, here are eleven of our favorite children’s books about courage. We hope they help you as much as they have helped us!
1) Hannah and Sugar, by Kate Berube
A young girl with a fear of dogs. Is it obvious why this is such a winner in our house? Sometimes, just closing our eyes, taking a deep breath, and reaching out a hand are all we need to take the first step towards overcoming a terrifying feeling. And this book displays that so, so beautifully. Hannah and Sugar has a permanent spot on my big one’s nightstand, and we reread it constantly (and by constantly I mean at least once a week!)
2) Orion and the Dark, by Emma Yarlett
Oh, how we adore this book! It is darkness personified, a brilliant concept and so phenomenal for helping children overcome their fear of the dark. Yarlett so beautifully illustrates how the dark can wrap us up and squeeze us in the most perfect hug, and that the unknown and scary expanse of night isn’t so frightening once you explore it with a friend. I absolutely love how Yarlett explains away the scary noises one might hear when trying to fall asleep. It is a perfect text to help parents and teachers alike help children break down their concerns and explain how fears, in reality, aren’t nearly as scary as they seem once you begin to communicate them to a trusted person.
3) Brave, by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vreithoff
I love this simple story showcases how every child can be a superhero. Every child has what it takes to be brave. Sometimes, kids don’t realize just how brave they are in their daily lives, but this book highlights how they exhibit both big and small acts of courage each and every day.
4) After the Fall, by Dan Santat
How do you get back up when you have been knocked down really, really hard? The fear can be crippling. But if you can muster up the courage to try again, the reward can be liberating. This book is nothing short of exquisite, one I actually keep in my own bedroom and reread often because it is just so incredibly powerful.
5) What Do You Do With a Chance?, by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom
How many of us fear taking chances? Yes, I’m raising my hand and I know many of you are too. It’s much easier to feel safe, sit back and let life pass you by so you don’t risk failure. But what happens if we don’t take said chances? If you are anything like me, you’ve heard the phrase “no risk, no reward” your entire life. Use this book to help your little ones realize that taking chances may certainly be frightening, but the benefits can be nothing short of incredible – even life changing.
6) Little Tree, by Loren Long
This is a forever favorite – a story that, in my opinion, will become a classic. Little Tree focuses on a young tree who clings tightly to his leaves, too scared to shed them and transition into the new season. It doesn’t matter that all the trees around him are happy to change with each passing season. Little Tree thinks life is perfect and sees no reason to change his ways. But one fateful day, Little Tree realizes he has been left behind by all the trees who have grown up around him, and he knows a critical decision is on the horizon. How will he respond? This is a masterpiece – a perfect tale to help children recognize that fear of change is natural and daunting, but the reward is ultimately in the journey that helps us find our way.
7) The Empty Pot, by Demi
Telling the truth is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright scary — especially when you fear that telling the truth will result in grave consequences. But this beautiful story masterfully illuminates how telling the truth can be the most courageous action one can possibly take — and it can result in great, great rewards. This is such a gem and belongs in every home and library collection!
8) Nightsong, by Ari Berk and illustrated by Loren Long
This is a beautiful story about a young bat venturing into the night for the very first time, and he is fearful of not being able to see in the dark. How will he find his way? And, more importantly, will he return safely back to his mother? This is such a tender read about using “good sense” and trusting both your instincts and intuition.
9) The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Ruth E. Harper
Leaving a parent is not easy for many kids. Separation anxiety, much?? Whether its going to school for the first time (or even the 100th time!) or simply being left with a babysitter, that separation can be tough with a capital T. This book has helped us through so many situations, and my boys always remember that wherever they go, I am always with them, even if not physically present. I can’t even recall how many times I have reminded them to make use of their kissing hands – its just become so ingrained in our routines. All the love for this one and its ability to speak so perfectly to children!
10) Brave As Can Be: A Book of Courage, by Jo Witek and illustrated by Christine Roussey
My family and I adore this series of books, and this one is another beauty that is so helpful for kids with various fears. Through sweet illustrations, die cut pages, and discreet but helpful tips — like having a bright nightlight and “superpowered” pajamas — this story empowers little ones to not just face their fears, but to overcome them as well.
11) Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is quite excited to jump off the diving board at the city pool – if, of course, he can first conquer his fear of heights. This book is so true to life and, in short, exudes compassion and tenderness in the best way possible. It is a touching story of how a boy’s trust in his father, coupled with his father’s gentle encouragement, help one small child jump off one big board.
What are your favorite children’s books about courage? Tell us in the comments below!
Lauren shares children’s literature reviews and other bookish fun on Instagram @happily.ever.elephants, on Facebook, on Twitter @KidLitLauren and on her blog Happily Ever Elephants.
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield. We have read this one over and over in my house.
I love this post! I have a fearless little girl but her brother needs a little help and these are great places to start. Some of these we have also read a lot when I have to go back to work at the start of each school.
Such great picks! We have read 3 of these and can’t wait to add a few other titles to our reading list.