As part of my ongoing re-organizing and inventorying of my work & creative space, I spent some time going through my collection of children’s books that I commonly use in group work (as well as individual sessions) with school aged youth (ages 6-12) and pre-school aged children. Many of these books I have had for years, purchased at trauma conferences, and have found really helpful to introduce a theme or topic that we will be working on before beginning the art intervention.
Here are some of my favorites and how I like to use them with art making in the groups I’ve done over the years:
- The Safe House- I have included this book when working with youth from violent homes on making paper houses around the theme of safety and what makes a house a safe home. You can learn more about paper house making with youth exposed to domestic violence here.
- Hands Are Not For Hitting- I like to use this book with younger kiddos, between 4-6 years old to help discuss helpful and & kind ways we can use our hands instead of choosing to be hurtful. Often the story is followed by the children in the group tracing their own hands, decorating them with crayons or markers to include with the many ways we’ve discussed about how their hands can be used in positive, respectful, and non-violent ways.
- A Place for Starr: A Story of Hope for Children Experiencing Family Violence- This book tells a young girl’s story about her mother, brother, and her leaving their home of domestic violence to the safety of a shelter. The book is now out of print and any available finds are quite expensive to purchase, but if you come across an affordable copy somewhere, I recommend it highly! I am super thankful to have a copy for my collection- I have found this book helpful for opening up discussions and art-making around the experience of coming to a shelter.
- Is It Right to Fight? – The content in this book looks at aggression & anger from a variety of perspectives such as bullying, fighting between adults, war and prompts the group/child with questions to explore decisions, situations, and ways we can manage our anger or conflicts without fighting & violence.
- When I’m Feeling…. series – This series features 8 different books about the feelings scared, sad, jealous, happy, loved, kind, lonely, & angry in very simple & short illustrated stories, which is great to use with young children to explore emotional themes. When we’re going to work on something like Worry Dolls, the When I’m Feeling Scared book is a helpful introduction to learn more about or normalize the feeling.
- My Many Colored Days- This book is another favorite of mine: I love the images and descriptions of emotions associated with the different colors– My favorite is the green, calm & cool fish! Lots and lots of possibilities for art-making to promote emotional expression inspired by this classic Dr. Seuss book! Check out this PDF resource supporting social emotional development using a variety of arts based and hands on activities with this book.
- Just Because I Am: A Child’s Book of Affirmations: I mostly use this book with young children as a way to instill not only how all feelings are OK, but that our thoughts, bodies, and who we are, is important to respect as well. This book goes really well with drawing images or pictures around the theme of “who am I?” or “this is me!”
- Life Doesn’t Frighten Me- Maya Angelou’s amazing poem meets the awesome art illustrations of Jean-Michel Basquiat in this very inspiring book that tells the story of fearlessness and resiliency. The narrative from these pages sets a great foundation to do some art-making about our strengths and supports.
- Courage- This children’s book I’ve used not only in my professional work to introduce what courage is to the youth I work with, but it has also inspired my own creative work! It’s a great story for adults to be reminded about too and both children & grown ups alike can benefit from creating Couarge Coins!
- When I Grow Up- I initially bought this book at a local toy store in Chicago many years ago because I really liked the creative illustrations with black and white photographs of children’s faces, but then fell in love with it’s entire concept surrounding the cliche question: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? Instead of focusing on the typical answer of an occupation or vocation, this book suggests another thoughtful perspective (and fun pictures) such as growing up to be brave, adventurous, generous, imaginative, curious, optimistic, patient, & more. It’s a great book to explore how we feel about ourselves (and future selves), as well as how we want to treat others.
Trauma & Loss:
Both of these books below are really valuable to help introduce what trauma is, trauma reactions, and learning how to manage traumatic stress through an animal character based story. After reading and having a discussion about the book, I often invite kids to create art expressions about what they think happened in the story.
- Brave Bart- A resource on activities and ideas on how to use this book with grieving and traumatized youth can be found here from the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children.
I use this batch of books & stories to inspire kids about how to become a peacemaker and how make choices to live non-violently in their home, school, and community:
- Make Someone Smile and 40 More Ways to Be a Peaceful Person- This book inspired some of messages for Peace Flags that one of my groups about Peacemaking created a couple of years ago from handmade paper pulped from hurtful bullying messages.
- What Does Peace Feel Like?- This is my favorite book in this section…. The content prompts children to use their imagination and explore their senses about what peace looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds like. It’s fun to have kids draw one of the senses symbolizing peace to him or her! Just like the book, I’ve seen that often peace often tastes a lot like ice cream! :)
- The Peace Book- A great introductory book to start exploring simple, but meaningful ways that we can bring peace to others & the world around us! I like to prompt group members to think (and create about) what peace means to them as an individual, in our group, to others they know (at home, school, their neighborhood), and what peace means globally in the form of a flag,, shield, or mandala.
Relaxation & Self-Regulation:
These two books share lots of different ways for kids to calm their minds and bodies in the face of stress. Often before it’s time to make art, I like to take time to pause for a little bit of quiet time in the group, where we focus on breathing, movement, and more:
I hope this list and ideas were helpful! A lot of books listed above are linked to one of my favorite resources, The Self Esteem Shop, who supports trauma informed work through carrying many of these children’s books and more. I hope you will check some of them out, or if you use them already (or others!) share your experiences below!