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Facing Fears and Friendship: Books For Kids

“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life." So writes Yann Martel in his classic, Life of Pi. Fear can be terribly debilitating in our lives, no matter our age. Children (and adults!) can have fears of all kinds of things, from big things, like fear of failure, to little things, like fear of bugs.

If fear is life's opponent, books may be life's best ally. As C.S. Lewis stated, “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” Children's literature provides a powerful resource for helping children face and overcome fears and challenges. In these books and stories, children will see characters who have challenges or fears similar to their own. They'll see how the characters face these fears and challenges and what they do to manage or overcome them. These characters provide children with someone who understands their fears and challenges yet has also successfully overcome them and can inspire courage and offer comfort and reassurance. In other words, stories provide parents and loved ones a framework for talking about fears in a way that is less personal yet still relatable to children.

In this list, we highlight books about overcoming fears of all varieties. Books cover all kinds of challenges, like leaving home, being alone, stage fright, the dark, or even getting a haircut and more. You can use our table of contents to navigate to specific topics that are relevant to helping your reader overcome a fear, such as having courage to start school, overcoming the monster under the bed, being brave while learning to swim, and many others. You can also limit the list to certain book types: board books, great for babies and toddlers; picture books, perfect for toddlers through elementary school age; and chapter books, best for advancing readers through early middle school age.

We hope you can use this list to help children overcome their fears, whatever they may be. If you have a book that is not on the list that has been helpful in overcoming a fear, please share it in the comments below.

Let's Go, Hugo! book
#1
Let's Go, Hugo!
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

Hugo is a bird that's afraid to fly. I love this story, because he faces his fears and ends up so happy once he's learned how to fly. I also love that he has such wonderful friends along the way that help him practice and help him through his nerves when he's scared. Sometimes it's helpful to have friends that can help you to overcome your fears. :) Plus, the illustrations in this story based in Paris are gorgeous!

Hugo is a dapper little bird who adores the Eiffel Tower -- or at least his view of it from down here. Hugo, you see, has never left the ground. So when he meets another bird, the determined Lulu, who invites him to fly with her to the top of the tower, Hugo stalls, persuading Lulu to see, on foot, every inch of the park in which he lives instead. Will a nighttime flying lesson from Bernard the Owl, some sweet and sensible encouragement from Lulu, and some extra pluck from Hugo himself finally give this bird the courage he needs to spread his wings and fly?

Hopper and Wilson book
#2
Hopper and Wilson
Written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout
board book
Recommend Ages: 3-5
Thoughts from Mom of Boys

I really like this book. As Hopper and Wilson set out on their adventure they are not afraid of anything. Their sight is completely set on the good that could be at the end of the world. I love this optimism. When they come across some trouble they don't hide or shrink, but they look for a solution and try to find one another. I think it gives the reader reason and hope in focusing on the good in the world and not worrying or fearing what may come.

A playful tale about friendship and home "What," Hopper asks his little friend Wilson, "do you think it's like at the end of the world?" Hopper, the blue elephant, imagines a staircase to the moon, while Wilson, the yellow mouse, hopes for an endless supply of lemonade. So the two sail off in a boat made of paper . . . only to discover they already have everything they could wish for in each other, and at home. Maria van Lieshout's adorable new picture book tugs at heartstrings, inspires discussion, and reminds us all how good returning home can feel.

Little Cub book
#3
Little Cub
Written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea
board book
Recommend Ages: 0-3

A young bear cub, who is alone in the world, and Old Bear, who is grumpy and tired of living alone, meet and discover what they have been missing. By the best-selling creator of the Gossie and Gertie books.

Bear Feels Scared book
#4
Bear Feels Scared
Written and illustrated by Karma Wilson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-8
Thoughts from The Book Snob Mom

This book has great cadence and illustrations to accompany the sweet story. The use of repetition "and the bear feels scared" is great for budding readers and also creates a real emotional connection with the reader. It's important to remember when you're scared that you have people who love you who want to help you and bring you back safe, and I think that's the truly fantastic message of this book.

Bad weather frightens Bear, but his woodland friends are there to help him in this sweet, reassuring Bear story from bestselling duo Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman! In the deep, dark woods by the Strawberry Vale, a big bear lumbers down a small, crooked trail… The sun is setting and it’s getting chilly. When Bear’s friends discover that he is not at home in his lair, they march out into the cold to find their pal. Friends don’t let friends stay lost! Wren, Owl, and Raven take to the skies while Badger, Mole, and Mouse search on the ground. Pretty soon Bear is found, and once he’s back in his cave, he feels quite safe with his friends all around.

Thank You for Being My Friend book
#5
Thank You for Being My Friend
Written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Gill McLean
board book
Recommend Ages: 1-4

Cleo is a toy horse all alone in a new house! There's no such thing as monsters, is there? This picture book makes a great bedtime story for children of all ages to share in Cleo's fear of the dark and her joy in finding a new friend. This book's whimsical illustrations and simple text make it ideal for beginning readers.

  1. Somewhere Else - George has absolutely no interest in exploring the world. None at all. He's far too busy enjoying his home life and baking delicious pastries. Or so he tells all his friends when they invite him along on their wonderful adventures. But when George's friend Pascal digs a little deeper, the real reason George refuses to travel away from home is finally revealed . . . From the children's book author of the acclaimed Herman and Rosie comes Gus Gordon's Somewhere Else.

  2. Pablo in the Snow - What is soft, fluffy, and white? Pablo’s wool, of course. But this little lamb soon discovers that there’s something else as well: SNOW! From making trails to sledding with friends, having snowball fights and crafting snowmen, there’s tons of fun to be had in the snow. But winter days grow dark very fast, and Pablo finds himself lost on his way home. Not to worry―Mama and Papa help Pablo get back to the cozy barn so he can talk about his adventures.

  3. Brave Molly - 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.

  4. Super Spooked - Although she has battled supervillains, Ellie has recently become scared of the dark, so when she is invited to a Halloween sleepover at her best friend's house she is apprehensive--but when the villainous Fairy Frightmare sprinkles the girls with bad dream dust, trapping them all inside their nightmares, Ellie must squash her own fears to rescue her friends.

Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star book
#10
Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star
Written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-6

Have you ever wanted your very own star? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have your own star for a nightlight? It is this thought that begins Hopper and Wilson's second adventure. They fill their airplane with lemonade and soar into the night sky. So many stars to choose from! One is too pointy. One is too heavy. Another is too bright! Taking a break on the moon, the two friends look directly above and spot it—the perfect star! As Hopper lays down for a nap, Wilson ventures off on his own, to the dark side of the moon. Yet now he is lost! How can he find his way back to Hopper? The perfect star, of course. Wilson spots it in the sky and follows it back to his friend. In another deceptively simple story, Maria van Lieshout shows how sometimes the best part of nature is that it's found only in nature—and that everything has its proper place . . . be it stars or even best friends, who always belong together.

The Doghouse book
#11
The Doghouse
Written and illustrated by Jan Thomas
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

Mouse, Pig, Cow, and Duck are playing a carefree game of ball when (horror of horrors!) their ball gets kicked into . . . THE DOGHOUSE. Who will risk a run-in with scary Dog to get it back? Hysterical high anxiety ensues as Mouse volunteers each animal to do the dirty work—but you’ll never believe what’s really going on in the doghouse! With Jan Thomas’s fun, fresh art and priceless animal expressions, this timeless tale of fear and friendship will have young readers howling.

Andy & Sandy And The Big Talent Show book
#12
Andy & Sandy And The Big Talent Show
Written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Andy and Sandy hit the stage in this fourth book of an easy-to-read picture book series about friendship—from Caldecott and Newbery Honoree Tomie dePaola and Emmy Award–winning writer for the Muppets Jim Lewis. Outgoing Sandy convinces shy Andy to do a dance at the big talent show. The only problem? Andy doesn’t know how to dance! Luckily, Sandy is a good teacher. But when showtime finally arrives, it’s Sandy who freezes up! A true friend through and through, Andy overcomes his shyness to save the performance. Let’s give a standing ovation to friendship! Written in simple words and short, declarative sentences, this book is perfect for little ones just learning to read on their own.

The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark book
#13
The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark
Written by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna
picture book
Recommend Ages: 0-4

Mr. Fish wants to help his friend Ms. Clam when she loses her pearl, but though he's fast as a sailfish, as smart as dolphin, and as strong as a shark, Mr. Fish has a secret: he's scared of the dark! Very young children will swim along with Mr. Fish as he journeys deep into the ocean to new and mysterious places. They will discover, as Mr. Fish does, the power of friendship to light the way through the big-big dark.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King book
#14
Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

Like a bolt from the blue, Jack's little sister Maddy is gone—carried into another realm by an ogre. When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything . . . except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive. Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters—as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below. But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king! Ben Hatke, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Zita the Spacegirl, concludes his latest middle-grade fantasy-adventure graphic novel series, Mighty Jack, with the energetic finale to his retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk.

  1. The Cook and the King - The king searches his kingdom far and wide for the perfect cook. He’s very particular, and none of the cooks can get the job done just right. Until the king meets Wobbly Bob. The king thinks Wobbly Bob might be the perfect fit, but there’s just one small hitch—Wobbly Bob is afraid of everything. He’s afraid that he’ll nick himself with the sharp kitchen knives, and he’s afraid he’ll get dirt from the vegetable garden on his new apron. Wobbly Bob needs a companion to help him feel brave, so the king himself tags along every step of the way. This tale of unlikely friendship is a fun and hilarious romp from a bestselling team.

  2. The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee - India Wimple can spell. Brilliantly. Every Friday night, she and her family watch the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee on TV. When the Wimples suggest she enter the next bee, India finds the idea disconcerting. She's sure she's not good enough—but her family won't accept that and encourages her to sign up. There are plenty of obstacles to reaching the finals, and the whole thing seems rather calamitous to India. But with hope, hard work, and a little bit of heart, something splendiferous might be on the horizon…

  3. The Most Marvelous International Spelling Bee - "India Wimple can spell with the best of them. How else would she have won the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee and garnered an invitation to the Most Marvelous International Spelling Bee? India couldn't be more thrilled to travel to London along with the rest of the Wimples. And at first, it seems like a dream come true; she reunites with her spelling bee friends, and they even get to meet the Queen! But there is skulduggery afoot, with some rather mysterious goings-on going on and a series of accidents that seem to be not-so-accidental after all. India has her suspicions about who is behind the duplicitous demonstrations. But can she solve the mystery in time to save the competition?"

  4. The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street - A girl unravels a centuries-old mystery after moving into a haunted house in this deliciously suspenseful read that Kirkus Reviews calls “just the ticket for a cold autumn night.” Tessa Woodward isn’t exactly thrilled to move to rainy, cold Chicago from her home in sunny Florida. But homesickness turns to icy fear when unexplainable things start happening in her new house. Things like flickering lights, mysterious drawings appearing out of nowhere, and a crackling noise she can feel in her bones. When her little brother’s doll starts crying real tears, Tessa realizes that someone—or something—is trying to communicate with her. And it involves a secret that’s been shrouded in mystery for more than one hundred years. With the help of three new friends, Tessa begins unraveling the mystery of what happened in the house on Shady Street—and more importantly, what it has to do with her!

I Am Not Scared book
#19
I Am Not Scared
Written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-8

Two fuzzy friends go to an amusement park. They try to convince each other that there are much scarier things than the roller coaster. Hairy spiders! Aliens! Fried ants! They soon discover that sometimes being scared isn’t as “scary” as they thought. With expressive illustrations and simple text, this giggle-inducing tale about (not) being scared features the endearing characters from the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award­ winner You Are (Not) Small.

Room 555 book
#20
Room 555
Written and illustrated by Cristy Watson
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

Fourteen-year-old Roonie loves hip-hop almost as much as she loves her grandmother. She cannot wait to compete in her school’s dance competition. But as her grandmother’s health deteriorates, Roonie becomes more and more reluctant to visit her in the care home. These feelings of guilt and frustration cause Roonie to mess things up with her hip-hop dance partner and best friend, Kira. But while doing some volunteer hours in the hospital geriatric ward, Roonie meets an active senior recovering from a bad fall. Their shared love of dance and the woman’s zest for life help Roonie face her fears, make amends with Kira and reconnect with Gram before it’s too late.

The Haunted House Next Door book
#21
The Haunted House Next Door
Written by Andres Miedoso and illustrated by Victor Rivas
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

Meet Desmond Cole! A fearless eight-year-old who runs his own ghost patrol, looking for ghosts, monsters, and mischief makers everywhere. Oh, and he just so happens to be my new best friend…and thank goodness! Because I’m afraid of everything. Welcome to Kersville, a town with a spooky history and a collection of ghosts and spirits who are major mischief-makers. Most kids spend their days without ever seeing or dealing with a ghost, but some kids get stuck with a haunt. When that happens, they call Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol. Desmond is the hall monitor of ghosts and monsters. There’s no job too spooky, icky, or risky for Desmond. I’m not like that at all. My name’s Andres Miedoso. I’m Desmond’s best friend. We do everything together…including catch ghosts. Seems cool, right? There’s only one problem: I’m afraid of everything. With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, the Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol chapter books are perfect for emerging readers.

Ella and Penguin Stick Together book
#22
Ella and Penguin Stick Together
Written by Megan Maynor and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Sometimes all you need is a good friend to help you be brave. Ella has a surprise for Penguin—glow-in-the-dark stickers! But to see the stickers glow, Ella and Penguin must be in the dark. And the dark is so . . . dark! If only they could see the stickers glow in the light—but that won't work. Soon Ella and Penguin find out that if they stick together, they can face anything. Megan Maynor's sweet and lively text, paired with Rosalinde Bonnet's irresistible illustrations, will have readers clamoring for more Ella and Penguin.

Albert's Tree book
#23
Albert's Tree
Written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

Waa! Waa! Why is Albert's favorite tree crying? And how can he cheer it up? From artist Jenni Desmond comes a warm and funny story about finding a new friend in a very unexpected place. Awake after his long sleep, Albert the bear can't wait to spend time in his own special tree, which is always so quiet and peaceful. But not today. Today Albert's tree is crying. How can he cheer it up? Albert's friend Rabbit suggests digging holes for Tree to play in, but the wailing continues. Eating grass always makes Caribou happy, but an offering of grass does nothing to stop the noise (which is getting to be a bit much). "STOP CRYING!" roars Albert, but the bawling only gets louder. There's just one thing to do: Albert climbs up to his favorite branch and gives Tree a hug. To Albert's surprise, he hears a little voice say, "I'm afraid of the big hairy monster." Who said that? And just who is the big hairy monster?

  1. May I Come In? - When thunder roars and lightning flashes, Raccoon is afraid to be alone in his home. So he hurries out to see if any of his neighbors in Thistle Hollow have room to spare for a friend in need. When Raccoon knocks on the doors of Possum, Quail, and Woodchuck, he is turned away. But then Raccoon spies a bright light in the storm. Will this next neighbor open up her house and heart to Raccoon? A tender story that reminds readers of all ages that a kind heart will always make room for one more.

Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!