Kimberly Aultman 

Children's Literature that Promotes Self-Expression
by Kimberly Aultman, 2011

1.  Feelings by Aliki

Feelings is book that utilizes an atypical approach to describing the vast array of emotions children encounter. Through use of poems, comic strips, and full-page illustrations, Feelings presents emotional situations that are often uncomfortable for children to talk about and provides opportunities for children to reflect on their own feelings. Some of the content may not be appropriate for young readers (like “The Scary Story” on page 19). I recommend reading this book with children age five and older and encouraging them to “act out” the scenarios to increase understanding (Aliki, 1984).

2.  The Story of My Feelings by Laurie Berkner (Author) & Caroline Jayne Church (Illustrator)

The Story of My Feelings provides young readers with rhythmic verse that describes common feelings that children experience. The text, along with sheet music and simple illustrations, explore being happy, angry, peaceful, and other emotions while describing actions that make the child feel better. I recommend this book for children ages 3-5 years. Excerpt from the book:
        This is the story of when I laugh
        When I'm feeling happy that's when I laugh
        And it makes me feel better
        It makes me feel better
        You know I feel even better after I laugh (Berkner, 2007).

3.  The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (Author and Illustrator)

The Way I Feel explores emotions with use of colorful pencil drawings and rhythmic text. Some of the emotions explored are silly, scared, disappointed, happy, sad, angry, thankful, frustrated, shy, bored, excited, jealous, and proud. Cain’s use of color in relation to emotion creates an opportunity for children to explore their own emotions through drawings and colors. "Bored," for instance, is set on a background of tans and browns, while "angry" is represented by deep reds and purples. I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years. Excerpt from the opening page of The Way I Feel: “Silly is the way I feel when I make a funny face/and wear a goofy, poofy hat that takes up lots of space” (Cain, 2000).

4.  It’s Hard to be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis (Author) & Laura Cornell (Illustrator)

It’s Hard to be Five addresses the challenges of being a five-year-old and learning self-control. With rhythmic text and light humor, Curtis & Cornell explore the range of emotions a five-year-old might experience. Excerpt from It’s Hard to be Five:  "School seems so scary. School seems so strange. I'm only five. My whole world's going to change" (Curtis & Cornell, 2004).

5.  Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis (Author) & Laura Cornell (Illustrator)

Today I Feel Silly follows a child through 13 different moods, beginning with silly, which soon turns to grumpy and mean... to excited... to confused, and so on. Curtis & Cornell’s rhythmic humor and colorful illustrations help children recognize their own mood swings and opens dialog to help children relate their moods to actions and behaviors. I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years. Excerpt from Today I Feel Silly: "Moods are just something that happen each day. Whatever I'm feeling inside is okay!" (Curtis & Cornell, 1998).

6.  How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods by Joost Elffers & Saxton Freymann (Authors)

How Are You Peeling? utilizes carved and decorated fruits and vegetables to relate expressions with simple, rhythmic text describing emotions. This is a whimsical book that children and adults can enjoy. I recommend using this book to open dialog about expressions and emotions then letting children create their own “expressive” fruits and vegetables. Excerpt from How Are You Peeling?: "When how you feel is understood, you have a friend and that feels good" (Ellfers & Freymann, 1999).

7.  Glad Monster, Sad Monster: A Book About Feelings by Ed Emberley & Anne Miranda (Authors)

Glad Monster, Sad Monster utilizes the concept of masks to uncover feelings. The brightly colored illustrations and simple text shows monsters acting out different emotions. While the book encourages interaction by providing eye and nose holes punched out on each page (representing a mask for that emotion) I find it more practical to read the book then let children create their own masks. Glad Monster, Sad Monster covers a wide range of emotions and is a great resource for familiarizing young children with words to express their feelings. I recommend this book for children ages 2-5 years.

8.  Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (Author) & Caroline Binch (Illustrator)

Amazing Grace tells the story of an imaginative girl who wants to play Peter Pan in the school play. However, Grace is deterred by classmates who say she can’t because she is a girl and black. Grace is disappointed and relates the day’s events to her mother and Nana, who tell her she can be anything she wants to if she puts her mind to it. This is a very inspirational book that addresses the emotions related to disappointment and stereotyping. I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years.

9.  On Monday When It Rained by Cherryl Kachenmeister (Author) & Tom Berthiaume (Photographer)

On Monday When It Rained utilizes black and white photos and simple text to display emotions. The photographs are very expressive as the boy’s face mirrors his emotions and text captures his thoughts. Some of the emotions expressed are proud, scared, lonely, excited, and many others. On Monday When It Rained is a great stand-alone book or used in combination with other “feelings” books to open discussion with children about thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years. Excerpt from On Monday When It Rained: “On Monday when it rained my mother said I couldn’t play outside. I wanted to ride my new red bike with the blue horn to my friend Maggie’s house. I was…disappointed” (Kachenmeister & Berthiaume, 1989).

10.  Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester (Author) & Lynn Munsinger (Illustrator)

"Fragility was a solid piece of work" (Lester, 2004) is the opening line in this story of an oversensitive hippo named Fragility. Despite good intentions on behalf of her friends, Fragility takes offense to the positive comments they say to her, usually breaking down in tears. Eventually, her friends become afraid of saying anything and stop speaking to Fragility. It takes a real bully to make Fragility realize her inner strength and self-esteem. Paired with Munsinger’s beautiful watercolor illustrations, Hurty Feelings is great for helping children explore their feelings and those of others.

11.  What Are You So Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld (Author & Illustrator)

What Are You So Grumpy About? utilizes wacky, colorful, cartoon-like illustrations to demonstrate the many possible sources of grumpiness in a child’s world, such as stubbing a toe or having to cope with gravy touching your peas. The text is graphically eccentric and humorous, hard to read at times, but adds to the charm of the book. Side comments are found throughout the story, such as, “Peas + Gravy = Poison” (Lichtenheld, 2003). I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years.

12.  Lots of Feelings by Shelley Rotner (Author & Photographer)

Lots of Feelings features close-up images of children displaying a range of emotions, from grumpy pouts to sleepy yawns. The collection of photos provides children with visual and text descriptions of emotions which can be used to open discussions about feelings that we are share. I recommend this book for children age 4-8 years and for older children who need assistance with understanding and communicating expressive emotion.

13.  The Way I Feel Books by Cornelia Maude Spelman (Author) & Kathy Parkinson (Illustrator)
Author Cornelia Maude Spelman utilizes her knowledge and experience as a children’s therapist as inspiration         for her books. The text is clear and easy for young children to understand, while the illustrations display a                     variety of facial expressions that children will easily recognize (despite the use of animals to represent human             emotion). Titles in the series: When I Feel Good About Myself, When I Feel Sad, When I Feel Jealous, When I Care About Others, When I Feel Angry, When I Feel Scared, When I Miss You. Other popular titles by Cornelia Maude Spelman: After Charlotte’s Mom Died, Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce, Your Body Belongs To You.

14.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (Author) & Ray Cruz (Illustrator)

People of all ages have terrible, horrible days and Alexander is no exception. He went to sleep with gum in his mouth and now it is in his hair, the shoe store didn’t have the color shoes he wanted, and there were lima beans for dinner. Alexander thinks he will move to Australia, until his mom reminds him that “some days are like that, even in Australia” (Viorst, 1972). Every adult and child can relate to having a bad day and this book does a nice job of describing the range of feelings that accompany a bad day.  I recommend this book for children ages 4-9 years.

15.  A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (Author & Illustrator)

A Chair for My Mother tells the story of a family who has lost all their belongings in a fire. They save money in a big jar to buy a comfortable chair for mother to rest her tired feet after a long day of work. While the text doesn’t include many feeling words, this book expresses emotion on every page. The illustrations are bright and expressive. I would use this story in combination with other books that talk about feelings and emotions. It provides children with an opportunity to discuss emotions such as fear, worry, pride, tired, love, compassion, and appreciation. I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years.

16.  Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff & Harriet May Savitz (Authors) & Marie Le Tourneau (Illustrator)

Is a Worry Worrying You? gives children an opportunity to discuss what worries them and offers solutions for making their worries go away. The book does a nice job of describing what a worry is, an abstract concept that is often hard for children to comprehend. The illustrations are dark, which sets the tone for the subject matter. However, Wolff & Savitz counter this by adding humorous text, such as “What if a herd of 100 thirsty elephants comes to tea but you only have 50 tea bags? Why offer lemonade instead” (Wolff & Savitz, 2005). I recommend this book for children ages 4-8 years.


Aliki (1984). Feelings. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Berkner, L. (2007). The story of my feelings. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Cain, J. (2000). The way I feel. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.

Curtis, J. L., & Cornell, L. (2004). It’s hard to be five: Learning how to work my control panel. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.

Curtis, J. L. (1998). Today I feel silly & other moods that make my day. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Ellfers, J., & Freymann, S. (1999). How are you peeling? New York: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Emberley, E., & Miranda, A. (1997). Glad monster, sad monster: A book about feelings. Boston: Little, Brown.

Hoffman, M. (1991). Amazing Grace. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Kachenmeister, C. (1989). On Monday when it rained. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lester, H. (2004). Hurty feelings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lichtenheld, T. (2003). What are you so grumpy about? New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Rotner, S. (2003). Lots of feelings. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.

Spelman, C. M. (1998). Mama and daddy bear’s divorce. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman.

Spelman, C. M. (2000). When I feel angry. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman.

Spelman, C. M. (2002). When I feel sad. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman.

Spelman, C. M. (2002). When I feel scared. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman.

Spelman, C. M. (2003). When I feel good about myself. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman.

Spelman, C. M. (2003). When I feel jealous. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman.

Viorst, J. (1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. New York: Atheneum.

Williams, V. B. (1982). A chair for my mother. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Wolff, F. & Savitz, H. M. (2005). Is a worry worrying you? Terre Haute, IN: Tanglewood Press