Mental Health Awareness Month at WITS

Erin ToaleBooks, Inside WITS

text in front of abstract shapes in WITS brand colors

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At WITS, we strive to provide students with the resources they need to take good care of their mental health. We know our teachers work hard to foster social and emotional skills in their classrooms. We aspire to increase awareness and discussion of issues relating to mental health, which in turn will reduce the stigma around seeking treatment. Learning for Justice has put together a great guide for supporting students including “recommend practices that can be used at the district, school or classroom level.” Below is a list of WITS-staff-selected books intended to facilitate discourse around mental wellness with youth in our classrooms and communities.

Illustrations from Sad Book by Michael Ronsen
Book Suggestions

Community Manager Annie Kennedy and Program Coordinator Sara Martinez both recommend The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Sara writes: “It’s a sweet book about a young child who is dealing with their emotions and learning how to process them.” This 2020 WITS Talk features a read aloud of The Rabbit Listened by Michele Lansing, MA, MS Ed., LCSW: a therapist, consultant, and Director of Clinical Operations for the Juvenile Protective Association. Following the read-aloud, Michele provides these four tips to help support children during difficult times:

  1. Ask how the child is feeling.
  2. Let them know whatever they are feeling is okay.
  3. Sit with them in their feelings and let them know they are not alone.
  4. Help them put words to their feelings.

Annie also loves Guts by Raina Telgemeier, a story about facing one’s fears. Please enjoy the video trailer for Guts below:

Program Coordinator Delaney Earley’s selection is I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde. Delaney writes “I love this book for its beautiful and calming illustrations, and the message it conveys about the importance of connecting with ourselves and others through mindfulness and empathy.”

Ellen Werner, Program Director, loves The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. “The Heart and the Bottle is a just-abstract-enough story about a girl who experiences loss. She puts her heart in a bottle to protect herself from feeling grief and sadness. Gorgeous illustrations.” Ellen also recommends Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, which is about a family turning a storm into a celebration.

Marketing Director Kellie Romany suggests Missing Mommy: A Book About Bereavement by Rebecca Cobb. WITS Curriculum Manager Laurie Brooks reads the book aloud in this video. The death of a parent is a subject rarely addressed in kids lit. This is one of the few books that discusses grief and bereavement for young children. Accessible and tender, this story gives young children a voice and shows how to hold the memory of a loved one close. A few touching quotes from the book: “Some time ago we said good-bye to Mommy… I am worried that she left because I was naughty sometimes… The other children have THEIR moms. It’s not fair.” Kellie writes, “Laurie’s intro in this video is authentic and beautiful and gives me all the feels.”

Kristen Strobbe, Chief Program Officer, endorses Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. She states, “It’s about three biological siblings who meet and work to build relationships with each other for the first time as teenagers. Two have been adopted and one sibling is in foster care. The characters are sorting out some big, teenage feelings throughout the book. It is critical for teenage readers to see those feelings (and the experiences that cause them) play out in fictional text. There’s also really great representation and normalization of therapy for young people in the book.”

My pick (I’m Marketing Coordinator Erin Toale) is Why Do We Cry? Written by Fran Pintadera and illustrated by Ana Sender. The illustrations are stunning and the book explores all of the reasons people cry while reassuring the reader that tears are a healthy emotional response. “We cry because sometimes, we don’t understand the world. Our tears go in search of the answers we need… We cry because pain hurts. Sometimes it’s on the inside, deep, deep down. Tears are the best medicine.”

Books about Big Feelings

Finally, Curriculum Manager Laurie Brooks shares her selection of books that discuss big emotions:

  • The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee: “A beautiful book about a child who feels these big emotions all the time and even takes on other people’s emotions.  It is the only book I’ve found that depicts ‘big’ feelings as a gift, as the boy holds onto all the beautiful emotions and thoughts and images for hours. He does feel different and alone until he sees a little girl just like him with her big emotions. Together, they see everyone feels them.” Her favorite quotes are: “what good is this big giant heart?” and “My mom was crying & upset… that made me sad.”
  • On Monday When It Rained by Cherryl Kachenmeister: “This simple photo book goes through one week in a boy’s life, picking one feeling a day to focus on. The photos are in black and white and feature the same little boy on the cover for each emotion.”
  • Sad Book by Michael Ronsen: “This is a wonderful picture books about depression and grief. Such a tear jerker!”
  • In My Heart by Jo Witek: “The book’s heart concept is perfectly represented by the cut-out heart, which decreases in size as the book moves on. It is fun, beautiful, and a great teaching tool. The book explains emotions in a simple and yet profound way. It helps children understand the variety of emotions we feel, and think about how they might manifest physically.”
Illustrations from In My Heart by Jo Witek