Picture Books That Help Kids Conquer Fear
No matter how tough we try to be, everyone experiences fear at some point in their lives. It’s a part of being human, and what scares us is as personal as our names and personalities!
Fear is also one of the most memorable and striking feelings we experience in childhood. When we’re kids, everything is new and exciting … and scary. There’s a lot going on in our big, wide world, and dealing with feeling scared, nervous, or anxious is a component of navigating every day as a child.
So, as parents, teachers, librarians, and guardians, how can we help children understand fear?
The answer is, of course, stories!
One of my favorite authors on writing, Lisa Cron, tells us that stories help us preemptively deal with future events. Her book, Story Genius, helped me better understand why this is.
Without going into too much detail, humans tell stories to help us envision the future–and envision how we’ll deal with the future–as if it were to happen the same as in the story.
Did you notice that as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in full force, views of the movie Contagion (2011) skyrocketed? Well, that tells you that people were (and are) trying to learn how to navigate the pandemic using story.
So, what does this mean for kids dealing with fear?
Stories can help kids contextualize, understand, and re-frame their fear.
Fear never leaves completely.
The object of sharing these books with children is not to make their fear disappear. Fear never disappears completely! Instead, these books will help children understand that day-to-day fear is normal and can be steered through in a productive and empowering way.
That’s a key word: empowering.
If fear is a part of life, the best thing you can do for your kid is to help empower them to deal with it in a way that is helpful, makes sense, and feels good.
Our job as adults is to:
- Talk to kids about the fear they experience.
- Help them understand why fear is normal and even important to our lives.
- Reassure them through conversation and story.
- Empower them to both conquer and cooperate with feelings of fear.
Without further ado, then, here are four amazing picture books that help children deal with scared feelings. The books listed here focus on a transformation of the protagonist’s relationship with fear. Happy reading!
4 Picture Books That Help Children with Fear
In this book about overcoming nighttime fear, a young boy grapples with the nightmare monster that lives in his closet.
The illustrations in this beloved story are beautiful! Mayer’s line and crosshatching-heavy artwork as well as a pastel, red and blue color palette influence the story’s tone in a way that makes fear seem so manageable.
The monster itself is shrouded in darkness when it first appears, but when the protagonist stands up for himself and turns on the light, the monster is revealed to be covered in cute blue polka-dots. Adorable and not too scary for a youngster in need of a bedtime story!
This begins a transformation of the little boy’s fear–he realizes that he can totally beat this!
In addition, Mayer’s past-tense narration locates the horror in the past, furthering the sense of safety and assuring the reader that the protagonist survived the encounter with the nightmare.
The page turns are compelling and make this book a short yet effective read-aloud, and the friendly way the protagonist treats the nightmare will stand out to parents hoping to alleviate nighttime fear in their kids. It’s a must-read!
Adorably-designed monsters and fun suspense accentuate the playful scares in this picture book about a young boy, Paddy, and his Pop’s attempts to capture monsters.
Morrissey’s monsters are made of vividly colored, familiar objects such as doorknobs, toys, and blankets fused together in creative ways.
This helps to reduce their threat. Even though they’re strange, they’re a little familiar. It doesn’t hurt that they’re so cute!
Morrissey also takes steps to distance Paddy from the danger: one of the colorful illustrations is from the point of view of the monsters, looking down at Pop and Paddy from a high shelf.
The story is situated in a safe place, as the monsters are not mysterious enough to truly terrify.
Morrissey’s final thought is that Paddy will lose sleep not because of fear, but because of his new monster friends crowding his bed. This completes Paddy’s arc from fear to comfort. And it’s too sweet to pass up.
Lemony Snicket’s gorgeous prose and simple dialogue work so well with Jon Klassen’s high-contrast illustrations in this picture book about a boy’s interactions with the dark.
Snicket writes Laszlo as an active protagonist who speaks to and engages the object of his fear. He’s empowered and curious–two things that might come up in a productive parent-child conversation about fear.
Juxtaposition between light and dark shows up in both text and illustration; Klassen’s adorable pictures of Laszlo and his flashlight literally illuminate the darkness on the page.
Klassen also makes effective use of space, with the dark’s dialogue appearing in the shadows and Laszlo’s in the light.
The developing relationship between Laszlo and the dark results in the gift of a lightbulb, which becomes symbolic of Snicket’s overarching theme that light and dark, fear and comfort, exist in a necessary balance. Through this theme, The Dark provides ample opportunity for children to transform their fear. It’s lovely.
Cheating a little here on the last one, because this one is my book!
Josie and the Scary Snapper is about a little girl that learns to conquer her fear of monsters in the dark using a magic flashlight. The titles earlier on this list empower children to overcome fear–reading amazing books like them inspired me create my own story.
Something I love about Josie’s story is that she uses a tangible object to help her banish the monsters in her house at night.
I can totally envision parents helping their kids with nighttime fear by giving them something similar, either a real flashlight or an imaginary one!
Isadora’s illustrations are colorful, expressive, and beautiful–I especially love the adorable monsters she came up with.
On top of great characters, Isadora had the amazing idea to make Josie’s world lighter and lighter as her bravery grows over the course of the story. It’s a wonderful melding of text and image that makes me smile every time!
I’ve written quite a bit on empowerment in this blog post already, and with Josie I set out to write the most empowering story I could. That’s what the twist at the end is all about–but no spoilers! Check it out in print or ebook to find out what happens at the end.
So, there you go! Four lovely picture books that will help you discuss fear with your kids. I hope they’re helpful to you, and tell me: have you read and loved any of them?
Leave a comment below and let me know if you have, or if you plan to.
And, if these are new titles to you, let me know if there’s one that you’re thinking about picking up online, in your local bookstore, or at the library.
***Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you choose to use one of the links to purchase a book, I make a small commission.