Originally published in TEACH Magazine, May/June 2023 Issue
Mental health plays an important role in all aspects of our lives, and is crucial to our overall well-being. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to share strategies for achieving good mental health, while also raising awareness about mental health conditions and challenging the stigmas surrounding them. We’ve come up with a list of books to do just that: each one offers stories and resources that focus on mental health and well-being, while also shining a spotlight on different mental health conditions. Read on to discover some titles that can be incorporated into your classroom today.
In this mixed-genre short story collection, 16 authors have turned their own mental health experiences into empowering works of fiction. The stories defy stereotypes and are meant to remind students that they don’t have to be defined by their mental health conditions. A note from each contributor is included after their story, and a comprehensive list of resources can be found at the back of the book.
Boys Will Be Human is a social-emotional learning tool for middle-school boys, written by filmmaker and actor Justin Baldoni. This self-esteem guidebook is designed to help boys embrace their feelings instead of repressing them, and includes activities and sidebars that can be used to start open and honest conversations around masculinity and emotions.
The Bright Spot is a teaching tool for young students, showing them how to manage anxiety. When Lexi starts to get anxious on her first day of school, a bright spot appears to guide her through her overwhelming worries. Lexi’s new friend introduces her to strategies for overcoming anxiety and reminds her that she’s never alone in her feelings.
By Anna Lazowski
Illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee
Kids Can Press (May 2023)
Grade Level: K–2
This book is a sensitive tale about a girl named Abigail who learns to cope with her depression by visualizing it as a cloud that follows her around. Throughout the story, Abigail figures out how to live with and even move away from her dark cloud and step into the sun. Dark Cloud is a great tool for social-emotional learning, and provides useful examples for teaching kids how to talk about their feelings.
Forever Is Now
By Mariama J. Lockington
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 2023)
Grade Level: 7–12
Forever Is Now is a novel in verse about mental health, Black joy, activism, and coming of age in an unforgiving world. Sadie has been struggling to manage her chronic anxiety for a while, but when a violent incident of police brutality happens in front of her, she begins to spiral. Over the course of one fateful summer, Sadie begins to set forward on a path of healing, while also learning how to use her voice to speak up and affect change.
By Meg Eden Kuyatt
Scholastic (April 2023)
Grade Level: 3–6
This middle-grade novel in verse follows Selah, a neurodivergent girl who comes to learn that she is on the autism spectrum. The author uses candid and authentic verse to take readers alongside Selah’s journey as she comes to understand and accept all the parts that make her different and unique.
By Victoria Ying
First Second (April 2023)
Grade Level: 9–12
This young adult graphic novel takes a serious look at eating disorders, family relationships, and, ultimately, what it takes to find the strength to ask for help. Valerie Chu has been suffering from bulimia for years as she struggles to live up to her mother’s high expectations about her appearance. But a family tragedy makes Valerie re-evaluate her priorities and begin to take the first steps on her journey towards self-love.
Eight-year-old Izzy Parker is used to being anxious. But suddenly she’ll be the new girl in school, since her mom has decided to move the family across the country to Prince Edward Island, and now Izzy is more afraid than ever. Luckily she has her journal, where she can write down all the ways she is trying to be less afraid. Better yet, soon she’ll be getting an emotional support dog who’s going to help her manage her anxiety!
By Sandra V. Feder
Illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell
Groundwood Books (May 2023)
Grade Level: K–1
Picture-book creators Sandra V. Feder and Rahele Jomepour Bell have teamed up to create a thoughtful exploration of mindfulness. Young readers will love following along with the narrator of this picture book as he tells them about times when he feels peaceful. But he doesn’t always feel that way, and is happy to share how he copes during those times that are not so peaceful as well.
This mindfulness book encourages readers to stop and smell the roses—literally. Laura Brand’s delightful text, paired with charming illustrations by Freya Hartas, shows us how we can find joy in the present by taking the time to look closely at nature.