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Depression And Mental Illness: Books For Kids

Looking for a list of the best children's books about depression and mental illness?

Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to depression and mental illness. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about depression and mental illness.

Our list includes picture books and chapter books. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.

When it comes to children’s stories about depression and mental illness, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like My Friend with Autism to popular sellers like The Atlantis Complex to some of our favorite hidden gems like The Tide.

We hope this list of kids books about depression and mental illness can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book! As you explore the list, please comment below to let us know what books you would add.

The Tide
Written by Clare Helen Walsh & illustrated by Ashling Lindsay
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A young girl loves her grandpa so much! When they spend the day at the beach, she holds his hand as they go for a walk, and they build sand castles together. But sometimes, it is difficult, because Grandpa has become forgetful. Grandpa’s memories are like the tide, Mommy explains. Sometimes, they are near and full of life. Other times, they are distant and quiet. A story about families, laughter, and how we can help a loved one with dementia live well.

Sometimes When I'm Sad
Written by Dr. Deborah Serani & illustrated by Kyra Teis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A sensitive and supportive story to help young children recognize and cope with sadness.

“Now when I get sad, I still cry sometimes. I still hide sometimes. But only for a little while. Because now I know ways to feel better.” Sadness can be an overwhelming emotion, especially for young children. But it’s important to know when sadness can be overcome, and when it’s indicative of a greater problem.

Sometimes When I’m Sad is an invaluable self-help resource that helps children identify sadness or depression and offers helpful ways to manage it, such as:

  • Talk about it with a parent or a trusted adult or counselor
  • Draw the sadness with crayons
  • Release tension by squishing clay
  • Run and jump around outside
  • Observe nature

The word depression is never used in the gentle, child-focused text, but this simple story offers an entrance point for both adults and children to identify and address childhood depression symptoms early.

This timely resource is a wonderfully gentle way to take steps toward banishing the stigma around mental illness. A special section at the back of the book provides support for adults, from an explanation of the difference between sadness and depression to helpful tools to manage the illness. Especially useful for counselors, social workers, teachers, parents, and any other adults caring for children who struggle with dark feelings.

Up and Down Mum
Written by Child's Play & illustrated by Summer Maçon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

Living with Mum is a bit like a roller coaster ride. At times, she is excited and full of energy, but at others, she is tired and withdrawn. But she’s always my mum, and we’re sharing the ride. For children who grow up in the care of a parent who has bipolar disorder, life can be filled with anxiety and uncertainty. With the aid of a clear and simple information spread, this story helps us to understand the causes of bipolar disorder and how we can learn to live with someone who has it. Developed in close consultation with families who have a parent with bipolar disorder, and created in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust.

Brave Molly
Written & illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

What do you do when no one can see your monsters but you? At first, Molly runs from them. But they follow her down the sidewalk, getting in the way when she tries to make a new friend, popping up unexpectedly out of shadows, and multiplying. Until finally…Molly faces her fears. Author-illustrator Brooke Boynton-Hughes delivers a modern classic in this moving adventure that honors everyday acts of bravery and the power of friendship to banish the monsters that haunt us.

Rika's Shepherd
Written & illustrated by Orysia Dawydiak
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

Rika is a happy, energetic girl in control of her life and her small flock of sheep and helping her father run their farm and household since her mother died six years earlier. The one thing that would make life even more perfect would be a Border collie pup she could train to herd the sheep. But her tidy life begins to unravel with the discovery of a deadly coyote attack on her flock. With the help of a young veterinarian, and an eccentric breeder of guard dogs, Rika takes on more responsibilities. She encounters challenges which reveal that she has not coped well with the death of her mother, especially when her father and the veterinarian become romantically entangled. Rika is further demoralized when she fails to train a guard dog pup and must return him to the breeder. When the valuable and beloved older dog who guards her sheep is gravely injured because of her poor judgment, Rika slips into a depression. When Rika starts to get better, she takes stock of her blessings, and begins to deal with the changes that are imposed on her. She makes amends with her future stepmother, and the injured dog, now recovered, is returned to her care.

  • Beginners Welcome - The acclaimed author of Where the Watermelons Grow is back with a story perfect for fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Ali Benjamin, about finding friendship after a tragic loss. It’s been eighty-three days since Annie Lee’s daddy died, but she still sees reminders of him everywhere. His record player mysteriously plays his favorite songs, there’s shaving cream in the sink every morning, and the TV keeps flipping to the Duke basketball games he loved. She knows Mama notices it too, but Mama’s been working around the clock to make ends meet. To make matters worse, Annie Lee’s friends ditched her over the summer. She feels completely alone—until she meets Mitch. Though Mitch is tough and confident on the outside, she may need a friend just as badly as Annie Lee. But after losing so much, Annie Lee is afraid to let anyone get too close. And Mitch isn’t the only friend trying to break through Annie Lee’s defenses. Ray, an elderly pianist who plays at a local mall, has been giving her piano lessons. His music is pure magic, and Annie Lee hopes it might be the key to healing her broken heart. But when Ray goes missing, searching for him means breaking a promise to Mitch. Faced with once again losing those who mean the most to her, Annie Lee must make a choice: retreat back into her shell, or risk admitting how much she needs Mitch and Ray—even if it means getting hurt all over again. Just like in her debut, Where the Watermelons Grow, Cindy Baldwin brings her signature twist of magic to this authentically heartfelt story.

  • The War I Finally Won - A New York Times bestseller Like the classic heroines of Sarah, Plain and Tall, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables, Ada is a fighter for the ages. Her triumphant World War II journey continues in this sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning The War that Saved My Life When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. Who is she now? World War II rages on, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, move with their guardian, Susan, into a cottage with the iron-faced Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded home is tense. Then Ruth moves in. Ruth, a Jewish girl, from Germany. A German? Could Ruth be a spy? As the fallout from war intensifies, calamity creeps closer, and life during wartime grows even more complicated. Who will Ada decide to be? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

  • Anxious Charlie to the Rescue - A friend in need causes an anxious pup to confront his fear of change in this thoughtful and encouraging tale. Charlie follows the same routine every day: he hops out of bed in the morning, walks the same route to the market, and lines up his stuffed animals just so in the evening. If anything is slightly different, Charlie worries that something bad might happen. But when friends call one morning asking for Charlie’s help, he forgets to follow his usual routine. Will something bad happen, as Charlie fears? Or will he learn that change can be good? In this touching story by Terry Milne, readers will fall in love with the nervous little dog named Charlie and his ability to overcome his fear of change.

  • The House of Lost and Found - Pixar’s blockbuster UP meets Coraline in this atmospheric and emotional story.Niles lives alone in a big house full of dust and memories of the people he’s lost.Then one day, the boy from next door asks Niles to look after his plant. Reluctantly, Niles takes the pot of dirt. Can he remember how to care for something?As the flower grows, Niles realizes how empty and lonely his house is and begins to care for the plant, his house and himself. By the time the little boy returns the flower has bloomed into a beautiful poppy and Niles, and his house, are filled with hope again.This feel-good picture book from bestselling Swedish children’s author Martin Widmark and award-winning illustrator Emilia Dzuibak digs deep.

My Friend with Autism
Written by Beverly Bishop & illustrated by Craig Bishop
picture book
Recommend Ages: 7-9

Children describe what makes their autistic friend different but also explain the activities at which he excels, in a book with coloring pages and resources for parents and educators on a CD-ROM.

When Sadness Is at Your Door
Written & illustrated by Eva Eland
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

In the style of Harold and the Purple Crayon comes a picture-book primer in emotional literacy and mindfulness that suggests we approach the feeling of sadness as if it is our guest. Sadness can be scary and confusing at any age! When we feel sad, especially for long periods of time, it can seem as if the sadness is a part of who we are—an overwhelming, invisible, and scary sensation. In When Sadness Is at Your Door, Eva Eland brilliantly approaches this feeling as if it is a visitor. She gives it a shape and a face, and encourages the reader to give it a name, all of which helps to demystify it and distinguish it from ourselves. She suggests activities to do with it, like sitting quietly, drawing, and going outside for a walk. The beauty of this approach is in the respect the book has for the feeling, and the absence of a narrative that encourages the reader to “get over” it or indicates that it’s “bad,” both of which are anxiety-producing notions. Simple illustrations that recall the classic style of Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon) invite readers to add their own impressions. Eva Eland’s debut picture book is a great primer in mindfulness and emotional literacy, perfect for kids navigating these new feelings—and for adult readers tackling the feelings themselves!

Together Things
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Her mother says you can’t see her daddy’s hurt because it’s inside his head. One in five adults experiences depression in their lifetime, but young children are often left in the dark when their mother or father suddenly can’t play like they used to.

Together Things will resonate with the thousands of young children who know what it’s like to live with a parent experiencing mental illness, helping them to understand — in an age appropriate and sensitive way — that it is okay for them to feel mad or sad about their parent’s illness, but that, while their parent is getting better, they may have to do different things together to preserve their relationship, such as reading stories or drawing pictures, instead of the imaginative play their parent cannot currently envision through the haze of mental illness.

Through wondrous illustrations and a compelling story, young children can understand the importance of mental health discussions and that sometimes they must adapt their interactions while the people in their lives focus on their mental health.

Tea Cakes for Tosh
Written by Kelly Starling Lyons & illustrated by E. B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A young boy helps his beloved grandmother remember an important family story

Tosh loves listening to Grandma Honey tell family stories. His favorite is about the special tea cakes that smell like vanilla and sunshine. They were great-great-great-great-grandma Ida’s specialty when she was a cook in the big house of a plantation. Unlike Tosh, the slave children weren’t allowed to have any of the treats, though Grandma Ida always found a way to put the sugary sweetness into their hands anyway. It was a promise and taste of freedom to come.

Tosh knows this is an important story and he takes care to remember every word. And when grandma Honey begins to forget, he can return the gift of tea cakes and stories. A touching family tale, Tea Cakes for Tosh celebrates the important bond between grandchild and grandparent and the stories that make a family strong.

Everything I Know About You
Written & illustrated by Barbara Dee
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-13

Misfit Tally is forced to room with queen bee Ava on the seventh-grade field trip to Washington, DC, and discovers several surprising things about her roommate—including the possibility of an eating disorder—in this timely new novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Halfway Normal.

  • Good Enough: A Novel - A young girl with an eating disorder must find the strength to recover in this moving middle-grade novel from Jen Petro-Roy Before she had an eating disorder, twelve-year-old Riley was many things: an aspiring artist, a runner, a sister, and a friend. But now, from inside the inpatient treatment center where she’s receiving treatment for anorexia, it’s easy to forget all of that. Especially since under the influence of her eating disorder, Riley alienated her friends, abandoned her art, turned running into something harmful, and destroyed her family’s trust. If Riley wants her life back, she has to recover. Part of her wants to get better. As she goes to therapy, makes friends in the hospital, and starts to draw again, things begin to look up. But when her roommate starts to break the rules, triggering Riley’s old behaviors and blackmailing her into silence, Riley realizes that recovery will be even harder than she thought. She starts to think that even if she does “recover,” there’s no way she’ll stay recovered once she leaves the hospital and is faced with her dieting mom, the school bully, and her gymnastics-star sister. Written by an eating disorder survivor and activist, Good Enough is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a girl who has to fight herself to survive.

  • Where the Watermelons Grow - Fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and A Snicker of Magic will be swept away by Cindy Baldwin’s debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness. When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time. With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations. But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

  • My Grandfather's War - The award-winning team of Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper share this poignant story about a Vietnam veteran and his relationship with his granddaughter. While the relationship is a positive one, the young girl senses her grandfather’s pain and is curious to find out the cause of it. As she innocently seeks answers, she unknowingly opens old wounds and discovers her grandfather’s sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there. This is a sensitive exploration of the lingering cost of war and of the PTSD so many returned servicemen experience. Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh (the Vietnam War’s longest battle), My Grandfather’s War also sheds light on a war that is not always remembered in the same way that the world wars and other conflicts are. Many who served experience a sense of betrayal at the treatment they received on their return, as the conflict came to be regarded as the ‘unpopular’ war, and this is covered in a child-friendly way in a note at the back of the book.

  • Grandma Forgets - When your grandmother can’t remember your name it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her. Grandma Forgets is the heart-warming story of a family bound by love as they cope with their grandma’s dementia. Over the years, the little girl has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can’t remember those memories. She makes up new rules for old games and often hides Dad’s keys. Sometimes Dad is sad because he has to hold onto the memories for both him and his mother now, but fortunately his daughter is only too happy to help him make new memories to share. This is a warm, hopeful story about a family who sometimes needs to remind their grandmother a little more often than they used to about how much they care. She might not remember any of their names but she will always know how much she is loved.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville
Written & illustrated by Beth Vrabel
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Before Stinkville, Alice didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville.

For the first time in her life, Alice feels different—like she’s at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around. In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering—she can’t even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.

This is a stirring small-town story that explores many different issues—albinism, blindness, depression, dyslexia, growing old, and more—with a light touch and lots of heart. Beth Vrabel’s characters are complicated and messy, but they come together in a story about the strength of community and friendship.

Sky Pony Press, with our Good Books, Racehorse and Arcade imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of books for young readers—picture books for small children, chapter books, books for middle grade readers, and novels for young adults. Our list includes bestsellers for children who love to play Minecraft; stories told with LEGO bricks; books that teach lessons about tolerance, patience, and the environment, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

The Color Thief
Written by Polly Peters and Andrew Fusek Peters & illustrated by Karin Littlewood
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A child recounts his experience of losing his father to depression in this poignant and beautifully illustrated picture book. The boy’s father disappears into a world without color. As the father seeks help, color begins to reappear and with it hope. An ideal book for parents and caregivers to share with children to help them make sense of the devastating effects that depression can cause.

Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry
Written by Bebe Moore Campbell & illustrated by E. B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Some mornings, Annie’s mother’s smiles are as bright as sunshine as she makes pancakes for breakfast and helps Annie get ready for school.

But other days, her mother doesn’t smile at all and gets very angry. Those days Annie has to be a big girl and make her own breakfast, and even put herself to bed at night. But Annie’s grandma helps her remember what to do when her mommy isn’t well, and her silly friends are there to cheer her up. And no matter what, Annie knows that even when Mommy is angry on the outside, on the inside she never stops loving her.

A Plan for Pops
Written by Heather Smith & illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

Lou spends every Saturday with Grandad and Pops. They walk to the library hand in hand, like a chain of paper dolls. Grandad reads books about science and design, Pops listens to rock and roll, and Lou bounces from lap to lap. But everything changes one Saturday. Pops has a fall. That night there is terrible news: Pops will be confined to a wheelchair, not just for now, but for always. Unable to cope with his new circumstances, he becomes withdrawn and shuts himself in his room. Hearing Grandad trying to cheer up Pops inspires Lou to make a plan. Using skills learned from Grandad, and with a little help from their neighbors, Lou comes up with a plan for Pops.

Eight Times Up
Written & illustrated by John Corr
picture book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

Ever since his mom left, Riley has been a mess. He feels nervous all the time. His heart pounds, his neck is tight, and he can’t seem to turn off his brain. His dad signs him up for aikido, hoping it will help. In the dojo, Riley meets boys who are much rougher than he is and a girl who is tougher than all the rest of them put together. For Wafaa, aikido is not her first choice. She was disqualified from competing in judo for wearing a hijab. From the first time she steps on the mat, it’s clear she is far more skilled than anyone expected. Through the teachings of their sensei, Riley and his classmates come to understand that aikido is not about winning or losing or about being perfect. Sensei shows them how to tap into their inner strength and find their place in the universe.

  • The Day Abuelo Got Lost - A touching story about a boy and his grandfather who enjoy a special relationship—until Abuelo starts to lose his memory. Instead of building model planes and cooking together, Luis and his father have to search the neighborhood for Abuelo, and Luis and Abuelo have to find new activities to enjoy together.

  • Jammer Star - Sixteen-year-old Robin Ellis (aka Robin CookieJars) wants to be the best jammer on her roller-derby team and maybe one day play for the Creek City Roller Derby All-Stars like her idol, Annie Mossity. But star junior player April Reid (aka April Powers) always seems to be one lap ahead. Until recently, that is. Robin has noticed that April has been losing a lot of weight, and her game is suffering. This may be Robin’s chance to finally grab the mvp title. But her success may come at a very heavy cost.

  • Someone Else's Shoes - Twelve-year-old Izzy’s life just seems to get more and more complicated: she is upset by her father’s new marriage, and a new baby on the way; she is expected to look out for her ten-year-old cousin, Oliver, who has moved in with her family since his mother committed suicide, because his father is depressed and having trouble coping; and now Ben, the rebellious sixteen-year-old son of Izzy’s mother’s boyfriend, is also living with them—but when Oliver’s father disappears, the three children put aside their differences and set out to find him.

  • The Atlantis Complex - Dabbling in fairy magic has led Artemis Fowl to develop the Atlantis Complex (aka multiple-personality disorder). And now, with the subterranean city of Atlantis under attack from vicious robots, he is too nice to be of use to anyone.Can Holly get devious Artemis back before they strike?

EveryBody's Different on EveryBody Street
Written by Sheree Fitch & illustrated by Emma Fitzgerald
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Playful words lead you into this beautiful children’s book and invite you to celebrate our gifts,our weaknesses,our differences and our sameness. Fitch displays her wit and mastery of words in quick, rollicking rhymes that are complemented by Emma Fitzgerald’s lively illustrations. EveryBody’s Different on EveryBody Street was originally produced in 2001 as a fundraiser to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Festival of Trees in support of the Nova Scotia Hospital and to raise awareness for mental illness and addiction.

The Dreamway
Written by Lisa Papademetriou
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

New York Times bestselling author Lisa Papademetriou delivers her most fantastical, emotional story yet in this tale of a young girl’s journey into her dreams to save her brother from the darkness that surrounds him. Perfect for fans of A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Echo. Every night, your sleeping body stays in your bed, while the you of you travels deep beneath the earth to ride the complex rails of the Dreamway…. Stella Clay thought it was just another ordinary day at her drab gray school. Then her twin brother, Cole, is attacked by a shadowy creature on their way home, and Stella’s world turns positively peculiar. Suddenly, her brother seems different, almost dimmer, like a candle about to flicker out. And then a talking mouse shows up in her bedroom. Stella discovers that the real Cole has been taken prisoner in the Dreamway. Determined to find him, she sets out with the “help” of a stuck-up rodent, a nervous dragonfly, and a mysterious pirate, and finds her way to the darkest edge of the Dreamway to bring her brother home…before he’s trapped forever. In this allegorical exploration of childhood depression, with a moving author note that follows, Lisa Papademetriou gently and safely illustrates for her readers the emotional effects of anger, anxiety, and insecurity—and illuminates a pathway to hope and recovery.

Ruby in the Ruins
Written & illustrated by Shirley Hughes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

From beloved British storyteller Shirley Hughes comes a touching tale of unconditional love as a family puts itself back together in postwar London. Ruby and Mum cling to each other while they live through the terrifying London Blitz, waiting for Dad to come home from the war. Day after day they hope for his return — but when the moment to meet him at the station finally comes, Ruby hardly recognizes the tall man who steps off the train. He’s big and sunburned, and he doesn’t seem to be as engaged as he once was. It’s easier to play outside in the wreckage of the bombings than to stay at home with a dad she doesn’t know anymore. But when Ruby hurts her knee in the ruins, there’s only one person who can rescue her and make her feel all right.

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