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Facing Fears and Making Friends: 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.

Wemberly Worried book
#1
Wemberly Worried
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Wemberly worried about everything. Big things. Little things. And things in between. Then it was time for school to start.And Wemberly worried even more. If you ever worry (or know someone who does), this is the book for you.

The Red Boat book
#2
The Red Boat
Written and illustrated by Hannah Cumming
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Posy is afraid of her new house and all the unknown that comes with it, but when she and her dog find a red boat in the garden, she imagines all kinds of adventures and gains confidence despite being the new kid.

The Night Before First Grade book
#3
The Night Before First Grade
Written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Deborah Zemke
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-6

It’s the night before the Big Day—first grade. Penny is excited to start the year with her best friend right beside her in the same classroom. This humorous take on Clement C. Moore’s classic tale has a perfect twist ending that will surprise readers—as well as the “heroine” of the story—and help all about-to-be first-graders through their own back-to-school jitters.

The Doghouse book
#4
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.

Roar and Sparkles Go to School book
#5
Roar and Sparkles Go to School
Written by Sarah Beth Durst
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Roar is worried about his first day at school. He's worried that he'll have to do really hard things, like molt his scales and fly over a volcano. His big sister Sparkles reassures him, but Roar still worries. The first day of school arrives and Roar is pleasantly surprised! Instead of having to breathe fire, he gets to kick fireballs in gym class. He also gets to make popsicle-stick caves in art and to listen to stores about Johnny Apple-dragon and Cinder-dragonella during circle time. And when he's asked to draw something he loves before the day is over, he figures out just how to thank Sparkles for her sisterly support. Roar and Sparkles is a sweet story about the anxieties children may feel about attending school for the first time, as well as a comforting tale about the bond between siblings. Sarah Beth Durst's imaginative and playful script is enhanced by Ben Whitehouse's modern and fresh illustrations to create a book that's sure to squelch first-day-of-school worries for children.

  1. Butterflies on the First Day of School - Rosie's excited to start kindergarten--she's had her backpack ready for weeks. But suddenly, the night before the big day, her tummy hurts. Rosie's mom reassures her that it's just butterflies in her belly. Much to Rosie's surprise, when she greets a new friend, a butterfly flies out of her mouth! Soon, Rosie frees all her butterflies . . . and helps another shy student release hers, too.

  2. The Night Before Kindergarten - ‘Twas the night before kindergarten, and as they prepared, kids were excited, and a little bit scared. It’s the first day of school! Join the kids as they prepare for kindergarten, packing school supplies, posing for pictures, and the hardest part of all—saying goodbye to Mom and Dad. But maybe it won’t be so hard once they discover just how much fun kindergarten really is! Colorful illustrations illuminate this uplifting takeoff on the classic Clement C. Moore Christmas poem.

  3. The Night Before Preschool - It’s the night before preschool, and a little boy named Billy is so nervous he can’t fall asleep. The friends he makes the next day at school give him a reason not to sleep the next night, either: he’s too excited about going back! The book’s simple rhyming text and sweet illustrations will soothe any child’s fears about the first day of school.

  4. Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny - The further adventures of Isabel the Bunjitsu Bunny, packed with action and Zen-inspired wisdom—a fun chapter book with two color illustrations throughout Isabel is the best bunjitsu artist in her class. She can throw farther, kick higher, and hit harder than anybunny else. But her strongest weapon is her mind. Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny, the fourth book in this series by John Himmelman, follows Isabel as she makes friends, faces her fears, and fights her toughest opponent yet—herself! Read the whole Bunjitsu Bunny series: Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny Bunjitsu Bunny's Best Move Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny Praise for Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon: "Isabel does a good job of approaching every challenge with spunk and determination, and manages to do the right things under the circumstances. . . . As part of the Bunjitsu Bunny series, this book is appropriate for children who are beginning to read chapter books, and the stories are fun to read aloud to younger children." —Childrens Literature Praise for Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny: "Cleverly wrapped in an entertaining package, the zen-type morals are edifying but not preachy and serve to genuinely enrich the stories." —The Horn Book, starred review "A series of Zen lessons touched with gentle humor." —Kirkus Reviews "Delightful . . . reminiscent of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad stories or Jon Muth's ever-popular Zen Shorts." —School Library Journal

Ninita's Big World book
#10
Ninita's Big World
Written by Sarah Glenn Marsh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

"The heart-tugging true story of how YouTube star Ninita—a deaf, orphaned pygmy marmoset (the smallest type of monkey)—found family, friendship, and a forever home! Illustrated in full color. Ninita is the only known deaf pygmy marmoset in the world, but that doesn't stop her from making friends and chasing her next adventure! Abandoned by her parents and rescued by the RSCF, this tiny, curious monkey loves exploring her habitat. And when she meets Mr. Big—another pygmy marmoset—she has finally found a friend who likes to eat, climb, and play as much as she does. A YouTube celebrity, Ninita's videos have been viewed nearly 2 million times! "

Lily's Cat Mask book
#11
Lily's Cat Mask
Written and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-6

Armed with a vivid imagination and her trusty cat mask, Lily can take on anything–even a new school… But when her teacher tells her no masks allowed in class, Lily worries, can she make friends without it? Anyone who has been daunted by a new experience, or struggled to put on a good face, will relate to Lily. Whimsical art brings Lily, her father, and her new classmates to life, with text that begs to be read aloud. Perfect for Father’s Day, back to school, and even Halloween–Lily and her grinning cat mask are sure to make you smile back.

Wagons Ho! book
#12
Wagons Ho!
Written by Joan Holub, George Hallowell and illustrated by Lynne Avril
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Two girls move from Missouri to Oregon—one in 1846 and one in 2011. One trip takes five months and the other five days. One trip is in a covered wagon, the other in a car. But both girls will miss their old homes and worry about the long trip. Both girls stop at well-known landmarks and travel the Rocky Mountains. And as each girl reaches her new home, she finds her new room and her new friends. Wagons Ho! is a unique look at both history and the concerns all kids have when moving to a new home.

Piggy: Let's Be Friends! book
#13
Piggy: Let's Be Friends!
Written and illustrated by Trevor Lai
board book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

Piggy proves his heart is as big as his glasses by helping a friend in need in this sweet board book. Piggy loves reading books, having tea parties, and most of all, making new friends! One day he sees a little mole across his garden. Before Piggy can get to know him, the mole hides underground. Miles loves reading books and baking cakes, and he would love to have a friend! But the world above makes him so nervous . . . Can Piggy find a way to help Miles out of his shell? This sweet story of friendship from big-hearted Piggy continues the series that is perfect for fans of Salina Yoon and Dan Santat.

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