12 Children’s Books and Activity Guides to Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month with Young Learners

by Dustin Hughes


May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Stories can mirror a child’s experience to let them know they are not alone and offer them a window into the lives of others. Both are essential for building the social-emotional (or mindset) skills that lead to positive mental health outcomes like healthy executive functioning, self-awareness, and social awareness.

These picture books teach valuable social-emotional skills like expressing empathy, recognizing emotions, and practicing social skills in a gentle and engaging way. Many of the picture books are available to download in English and Spanish.

Each book is paired with a downloadable activity guide to help educators plan lessons for Mental Health Awareness Month that are engaging for elementary students. Families, you can use these books and activities to start a conversation about mental health with your young learner and teach new skills.

5 of the Best Children’s Books About Mental Health

1. José Three by Anne Schraff and Paul Martinez (José Tres)

José shares his name with his abuelito and father, but that’s not the only thing they have in common. They also love to fish, share happy moments with family, and help out with chores. Use the activity guide below to teach a lesson on recognizing and expressing emotions.

Class Activity Guide

José Three cover

2. In the Lights: The Story of Lin-Manuel Miranda by Silvia López (En Primer Plano: La historia de Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Told as a series of stage “acts,” this picture book biography explores the life of award-winning actor, writer, and director Lin-Manuel Miranda. Through the activity, readers can practice social skills by sharing their interests and what makes them alike or different from another person.

Class Activity Guide

3. I Am Enough by Grace Byers

This picture book told in rhyme inspires readers with the message that every person, including themselves, is deserving of kindness and respect. Waterford’s accompanying class activity guide helps children learn how to celebrate differences and express gratitude.

Class Activity Guide

4. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

In this heartwarming picture book, children find the courage to connect on the first day of school, even when they feel scared. Keep the lesson going with the class activity guide, where learners can discuss what makes a good friend.

Class Activity Guide

5. Mine by Elizabeth Lane (Mío)

A girl explores the many things she has in common with her family members (and what makes her unique!). In addition to physical traits like eyes and hair, she celebrates qualities like patience and imagination that she learned from her loved ones. In the activity guide, learners reflect on what makes them unique.

Class Activity Guide

7 of the Best Chapter Books About Mental Health

6. Violeta by Daisy Bratcher and Megan Roth (Violeta)

Meet Violeta, whose name, like her family members, is inspired by the flower. Her love of books inspires her to connect with other readers, and mentors help her deal with shyness along the way. The guided activities included below teach readers about listening, overcoming challenges, and learning empathy for others.

Class Activity Guide

Violeta cover

7. Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi

Meet Yasmin invites readers into the world of a Pakistani-American girl named Yasmin, whose imagination leads her on exciting adventures. Saadia Faruqi’s charming storytelling and Hatem Aly’s illustrations bring Yasmin’s experiences to life, celebrating family, friendship, and creativity. In the class activity guide, learners will practice solving problems when challenges arise.

Class Activity Guide

8. Freckle Juice by Judy Blume

Nicky is desperate to get freckles like his classmate Sharon. But when he tries a secret recipe from a tricky seller, things take an unexpected turn, and Nicky learns a lesson about self-acceptance. Use the activity guide to teach learners about how to describe themselves and the qualities of a trustworthy person.

Class Activity Guide

9. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

India Opal Buloni is a girl who finds an unlikely companion in a scruffy dog she names Winn-Dixie after a local grocery store. Through exploring their small Southern town and making new friends, Opal discovers the healing power of friendship and forgiveness. With the guided activities below, learners can talk about fears and brainstorm ways to deal with them.

Class Activity Guide

10. The Beast in Mrs. Rooney’s Room by Patricia Reilly Giff

When Richard “Beast” Best’s teacher recommends that he repeat second grade, his friends won’t stop teasing him. But a new reading specialist helps him find a love of learning and appreciation for his second grade classmates. As you teach this chapter book in class, the activity guide will prompt discussion on creating a positive school environment and the importance of kindness.

Class Activity Guide

11. Lights, Camera, Cook! by Charise Mericle Harper

This chapter book follows four children chosen to compete on their favorite reality TV cooking competition as they face unexpected challenges on- and off-screen. Paired with the guided activities, you can use this book to teach learners about dealing with competition positively and connecting with family and culture through food.

Class Activity Guide

12. Sun & Spoon by Kevin Henkes

When Spoon Gilmore’s grandmother unexpectedly dies, he is determined to keep her memory alive. As he grieves, he learns to lean on his sister and grandfather for comfort. In the activity guide, learners will discover what makes a family, how hobbies can bring people together, and share the many qualities that can describe families.

Class Activity Guide

Waterford’s supplemental curriculum has tons of games, songs, and activities based on the science behind how children learn. These include activities that teach PreK and early elementary students mindset skills, like recognizing emotions and communicating with others. Learn more about which Waterford program can best address your school’s needs.

Waterford also has a wide variety of free reading and math games, songs, and activities for PreK and early elementary families. To create your family account and get access to these great resources at no cost to you, follow the links below:


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