As a teacher, there’s nothing better than getting your class together at the end of a day for a good story. But what if we could use that time to not only give them a chance to experience brilliant fiction, but also to help them learn about different coping skills?
Great authors are able to weave themes through their books that speak directly to children. Without sounding condescending or patronising, writers can give children hope, courage and inspiration to try new things and manage difficult situations. A great protagonist will have flaws and challenges that they must overcome, just like children (and adults!) do in the real world.
And that’s why children love a good story - it’s not just the plot twists or the adventures, it’s the chance to see the hero shine. To see them overcomes challenges, obstacles and nemeses. No, heroes don’t find it easy and no, they don’t succeed at the first try, but they always succeed in the end. Maybe not in the way the hero first thought they would, but always in the way that they need to. And it’s through this lesson, that readers are able to learn and develop their own coping skills too.
So which books out there can teach children valuable coping skills in difficult situations? Which books in your classroom will help? From picture books to novels, here are our favourites to enjoy in KS1 and KS2.
Ruby’s Worry - Tom Percival
Giving children plenty of opportunities to talk about their worries, this picture book is growing in popularity. Young readers will recognise Ruby’s problems and see them reflected in their own lives, particularly when Ruby’s worry starts off so small at the start, but then continues to grow, stopping her doing the things she loves. It’s a reassuring way for children to learn about what a worry is and how they can deal with it to feel happy again.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen
A classic story with a theme that shows that you can’t always avoid certain situations, so you have to work your way through them and, in the end, you’ve coped with the challenges by tackling them head on. A popular choice in classrooms everywhere, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a book that children can enjoy joining in with, yet it also provides opportunities for discussion about ways the family could get past the various obstacles!
The Worrysaurus - Rachel Bright and Chris Chatterton
Based on an adorable little dinosaur, the Worrysaurus is a wonderfully reassuring book for young children, helping them to realise that anxiety and worries can grow, but that there are always ways to deal with them. Rachel Bright is an award-winning author and brings her wonderful story to life with the gorgeous illustrations from Chris Chatterton. With a lovely rhyming style and situations that young children will relate to (we particularly liked the butterfly in the Worrysaurus’s tummy), it’s a book that promotes discussion and sharing across all age groups in KS1.
Owl Babies - Martin Waddell
When three owl babies wake to find their mother missing, they begin to worry if she’ll ever return. As the night continues, they stick together to overcome their sense of worry and fright. Another children’s classic showing children that it’s okay to feel worried about something, but even when you do feel nervous, you can stick together with friends and soon the worry will be over. Not only is the story vivid and imaginative, the illustrations are too, giving children a visual treat as well as an auditory one.
When Sadness Comes to Call - Eva Eland
Helping children learn how to cope when sadness pays a visit is an important part of teaching coping skills. In this book, a young child opens the door to a doleful, shapeless creature and the two become so close they are almost one. But as the story continues, the author is able to show children how to help Sadness, so that one day, they wake up and realise it’s gone. An award-winning picture book that is as beautiful to look at as it is to discuss.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse - Charles Mackesey
A book that made its way into many homes during lockdown, it’s a beautifully illustrated journey that shares common worries and questions that we can all have during times of uncertainty. With the wise words of the animals in the story, it shows children how they can cope during challenging times and learn from the experience to help them in the future.
The Truth Pixie - Matt Haig
A well-known advocate for mental health, Matt has written many books for adults on the subject, but also has a number of brilliant children’s books. The Truth Pixie is a lovely story that highlights many of the worries that children can face and, using the advice of the rather blunt but honest Truth Pixie, shows how they can be overcome. It’s got a lovely rhyming style which the children, even in KS2, will really enjoy too.
The Goldfish Boy - Lisa Thompson
An award-winning book that has a very strong coping theme, The Goldfish Boy tells the story of Matthew, a young boy struggling with OCD. Stuck in his room, too afraid of germs to go outside, Matty soon realises that he can’t continue this way. When circumstances outside of his control force him to face his biggest challenge, he has to learn that finding new strategies to cope is the only answer. A fantastic book told brilliantly in the first person, allowing children to really bond with Matty and the challenges he must overcome.
The Boy at the Back of the Class - Onjali Rauf
Another award-winner on our list, The Boy at the Back of the Class shares the story of a boy, Ahmet, who joins a new school as a refugee, with no English. Told through the eyes of Alexa, another member of the class who is desperate to help Ahmet, this wonderful book shows not only the importance of friendship when coping with new situations, but it also sensitively deals with the plight of refugees coming to the UK. Opportunities, then, for much discussion and for children to ask questions to further their own skills and understanding!
Holes - Louis Sachar
An oldie, but a goodie! A rather different take on coping skills, but important and interesting to discuss nonetheless. One for Year 6, this book looks at the story of Stanley Yelnats, a boy who is sent to Camp Green Lake as a young offender. Not only does Stanley have to cope with the fact that he’s forced to dig holes in the middle of the desert all day everyday, he also has to develop his coping skills to manage his place among the other boys within the camp. A story that raises some great themes and one that Year 6 often really enjoy.