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Facing Fears and Swimming: 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.

Jabari Jumps book
#1
Jabari Jumps
Written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
Thoughts from The Book Snob Mom

This was a fantastic book about conquering your fear. The illustrations are so fun—I love all of the different angles and perspectives the illustrator shows Jabari's situation from and how that really pulls you into the story. Jabari's dad is patient and understanding, and doesn't tell Jabari to just hurry up and jump, but waits for him to be ready and coaches him through a technique that might help him be ready to make the leap.

Working up the courage to take a big, important leap is hard, but Jabari is almost absolutely ready to make a giant splash. Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.

Shark Nate-O book
#2
Shark Nate-O
Written by Tara Luebbe, Becky Cattie and illustrated by Daniel Duncan
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Nate loves sharks. He reads shark books every day, watches sharks on TV, and talks about them nonstop. He even likes to pretend he's a shark wherever he goes! However, there is one small problem. . . . Nate can't swim. When his older brother points this out, Nate works hard to overcome his fears and learn how to blow bubbles, use a kickboard, and finally swim without help, as quickly and as gracefully as a shark. Will he be able to beat his brother in a swim tryout and get his bite back? Kids will love this jawsome book complete with vibrant and whimsical art and a list of shark facts in the back!

You Can Do It, Bert! book
#3
You Can Do It, Bert!
Written and illustrated by Ole Könnecke
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-6

This is Bert's big day. He is well prepared, mentally, and physically. But he might need some encouragement. You Can Do It, Bert! is a simple, funny picture book with an encouraging positive message. It's a great gift for anyone embarking on a new venture: a child about to start school, a teenager finishing high school, a college student graduating, or anyone starting a new job or going overseas.

Splish, Splash, Splat! book
#4
Splish, Splash, Splat!
Written by Rob Scotton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Splat does not want to have a playdate with Spike. Spike will break his toys and eat all of his candy fish! And he does not want to learn how to swim—water is horrible, scary, and wet! He's sure that this is going to be the worst day ever. But when the rest of their classmates rush straight into the pool, Splat and Spike find that they may have more in common than they thought. Will Splat overcome his fear of water and get into the pool? And how can he help Spike to do the same?

I'm a Duck book
#5
I'm a Duck
Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

I cannot swim, and that is bad. A landlocked duck is very sad. One day, an egg rolled out of a nest and right into a deep pond. Now that egg is a little duck, and the water is still very scary. Jumping into the pond at all seems impossible, never mind swimming in a line with all his brothers. “You’re a duck, and ducks don’t sink,” Big Frog points out. Practicing in a puddle helps a little, while backrubs and snacks from his mother help a little more. Big Frog offers to hold his friend’s wing and dive in together, but our little duck knows that some challenges need to be faced alone. Even when they are very scary!

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