Some children with depression feel sad, others irritable or blah all the time, and some kids feel a combination of all three. Guilt and shame are often a significant contributor, but not for everyone. I’ve included in this category books that represent different aspects of depression in hopes that there is something here that speaks to every child’s experience.
Age range: Best for young children–preschool through kindergarten, maybe first grade.
Age range: Preschool through 3rd grade. It has a story that younger kids will understand and enjoy, but there’s enough complexity that older kids will connect with it too.
Age range: Best for older kids–3rd or 4th grade through middle school.
Recommended for: This book is great for an older child who has recently been diagnosed with a depressive disorder or who a parent or provider suspects may be holding onto heavy feelings without sharing them. It vividly puts words to the experience of depression without sugarcoating the pain, and it provides hope that sharing about this experience with a loved one and getting help will lead to a child “learning to see through the darkness.”

I Feel…Meh

Written and illustrated by DJ Corchin
Age range: Preschool all the way through elementary school.
Evidence-Based Practices: Behavioral activation

Ruby Finds a Worry

Written and illustrated by Tom Percival
Age range: This book is short with simple language–preschoolers through 2nd grade.
Recommended for: This book is great to read with children who seem to be carrying heavy feelings around with them and not sharing them. Kids with worries and/or mood symptoms would likely benefit from reading this book–the message that one can feel better by connecting with others and sharing one’s feelings is quite applicable to both depression symptoms as well as worries. For therapists, this book could be helpful as a read early in therapy with a child who isn’t sure talking about their feelings will help at all.
Age range: Elementary-aged kids. Older kids will understand the depth of the story better than younger ones, but this story does such a nice job describing a complicated but important concept in an accessible way that many younger children will get a lot out of it too.
Recommended for: This book portrays the importance of sitting with and “unpacking” our feelings rather than avoiding them. It is excellent to read with children who think that feeling sad is wrong, weak, useless, or scary and therefore minimize what they’re feeling and/or who avoid thinking about or sharing their feelings. It’s also great for a child who is feeling sad about a family’s move (as Santiago is), but it’s certainly not limited to this specific situation. This story is available in Spanish as well as English.

When Sadness Comes to Call

Written and illustrated by Eva Eland
Age range: Preschool through elementary school. It’s simple on the surface but the message is profound.
Evidence-Based Practices: Mindfulness, Behavioral activation
Age range: 2nd through 5th, or even 6th grade.
Recommended for: This book is best for a more mature, verbal child who has some insight into their thoughts and feelings. It takes seriously the intensity of children’s feelings of shame and helps kids to recognize and name the feeling, as well as to share about what is causing them to feel shame. This book is appropriate for a child who has experienced trauma or abuse and is subsequently feeling shame, as well as a child who struggles more generally with feelings of inadequacy or negative self-talk. (It makes a nod to shame sometimes being the result of “something we did or didn’t do,” as well as “something done to us.”)

Shame Mud

Written by Jamie Jensen
Illustrated by Dustin Baird
Age range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Recommended for: Children who are burdened by self-criticism after they make mistakes will likely benefit from this story’s description of shame and the reminder that mistakes don’t define their self-worth. It provides a lovely model of a mother joining her child in his emotional pain and then helping him to gently challenge his shaming self-talk.
Age range: 1st grade through 4th grade.
Recommended for: Great to read with a child who has a lot of negative self-talk who will benefit from learning to challenge these thoughts. This book pulls for kids to draw their own versions of the Awfulizer and to start thinking about what lies their Awfulizer is telling them about themselves.