Finding the right children’s books for highly sensitive children

For as long as I can remember, reading three books at bedtime has been part of our nightly ritual. Three books is our rule—at least until the kids are a little older and the books become a little longer.

Our kids love their books. Our highly sensitive son, who is now almost six, has had a love for books I have never seen in anyone else. By the time he was one, we owned over one hundred picture books. And now, almost five years later, we’re struggling with finding space in our little home for our ever-growing collection.

So clearly, books are important in this house. But when one of your children is highly sensitive, choosing the right stories, especially at bedtime, is a challenge I never thought we’d have to deal with. To me, stories like Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man and The Ugly Duckling are children’s book essentials . At least, that was before my son made me realize what these stories really were.

highly sensitive child, HSC, highly sensitive person, HSP, children, parenting, children's books, picture books, stories, plot, worry, anxiety, over analyze, asking questions, bedtime, tears, fairy tales, library

The first one is about a little girl who is sent off into the woods on her own to visit her grandmother. Her mother clearly knows the woods are dangerous, which is why she warns her daughter not to stop or talk to anyone, but she sends her off anyway. Needless to say that was not the point of the story. The real message the story was meant to convey is clear to most people, but to those who pay close attention to detail, the point is completely lost while they try to figure out why in the world a mother would put her child at such risk.

“Why didn’t her mom go with her?”

I honestly don’t know. And things clearly get much worse after the wolf gobbles up little Red and her old grandma. And even worse when the woodcutter cuts the wolf open and pulls them out. And then even worse when they all decide to stitch him back up with rocks in his belly so he’d drown in the lake when he went there for  drink. It’s just too much for any analytical mind to comprehend. I’d even say it was wrong, twisted, but at the end of the day, for most people, the story remains one about a little girl who learns not to talk to strangers. That’s it. But for twenty percent of the population, the highly sensitive bit, this “innocent” little book will lead to questions much too big and heavy to answer.

And then we have our poor gingerbread man who shortly after he’s born, is tricked by a fox and then gobbled up, bit by bit.

“The fox said he wanted to help the Gingerbread Man! Why did he eat him?”

And finally that poor little duckling, who isn’t ugly at all in my opinion, feels like his only option is to run away from home because no one will accept him. His mother seems to love him just the same, but doesn’t really stick up for her ‘ugly’ baby when the other farm animals make fun of him. The defenseless chick has to face the big, dangerous world while dealing with an identity crisis, all alone.

“Why isn’t his mom with him?”

That last question comes up a lot. Even more modern story books in which someone is separated from the family, as will often happen in children’s stories, my little boy will worry and cry for the main character who has to find his or her way back, regardless of how exciting and fun the journey back can be. To him, it is impossible to have a good time if you’re worried about something substantial—and being separated from your family is substantial. First we solve the problem, and then we can move on to other things, fun or otherwise.

A while back I asked a group of mothers of parents of highly sensitive children to share the titles that they thought were suitable for their little ones. I put all these titles down and hit the public library shortly after that. Call me crazy, but I enjoy reading children’s books more than I do “grown-up books”, so this was loads of fun.

After having gone through a good chunk of the books on my list, I realized that even though they were very different, they did have quite a few things in common. For one, they all had very simple and easy-to-relate-to plots. The stories are about everyday stuff we have gone through or could go through one of these days; things like birthdays, school, fear of the dark, visits to the doctor.  These books tell stories that aren’t far fetched or unrealistic; stories that don’t trigger anxiety because we can’t possibly imagine ourselves being in the situations the book describes. A lot of these books are funny, depicting a character that has giggle-worthy reactions to certain things, while some focus on broader concepts like creativity or the ocean through fun text, without the use of characters or stories.

One of my favorite bloggers, Amanda van Mulligen, has compiled a list of nine books that would make great gifts to families with highly sensitive children. As for the list of recommended books I got from parents of highly sensitive kids, you can see that here.

Of course, our children are all different and will react differently to different things, even if they share the sensitivity trait. Some will enjoy a good adventure while others might find it too scary. For us, Harold and the Purple Crayon by  Crockett Johnson and Stick Man by Julia Donaldson have stirred up some serious emotions because the character is either not with Mom or separated from the family. Some kids might laugh to the same children’s books that make other’s cry. If you really think about them, some of those Mr. Men stories can be quite upsetting .

But no matter what our children’s preferences, one thing remains true: finding the right children’s books for highly sensitive children can be a challenge. Once a book or concept or plot or character is analyzed and dissected to an extent it wasn’t designed to reach, the curious, sensitive little mind gets filled with serious questions that are difficult to answer. Anxiety takes over, and the point of the book is completely missed.

In my next post, I will share some very exciting news about the books I have been creating with two very talented mothers of highly sensitive kids: Barbara Moxham, an illustrator who can work magic with her pencil and paints, and Ruth Martin, a gifted editor who helped make our book as perfect as can be. Until then, please do visit our publisher website, My Quiet Adventures and find out more about our work.

Barbara Moxham, Illustrator of All Too Much for Oliver, children's book for highly sensitive children, picture books, HSC, My Quiet Adventures

Barbara Moxham, Illustrator of All Too Much for Oliver

Have you come across any good children’s books for highly sensitive children? If so, please do share them with us in the comments section below and I’ll add them to the list!

Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to receive email notifications of future posts like this. Happy reading!

17 thoughts on “Finding the right children’s books for highly sensitive children

  1. Loony

    Thought provoking post! When I was about 6-10, I started enjoying chapter books being read to me rather than picture books. As a reasonably sensitive person, fantasy was a favourite as it provided an escape from every day life what with school and the like. Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling gave me the break that my brain needed and I would strongly suggest reading fantasy book to any sensitive person.

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      That is really interesting! I have always found it a relief to immerse myself into fantasy or anything that isn’t real. Even now, I unwind by watching shows that are completely unrealistic. If something is too close to reality, I’ll just “feel” everything deeply for my own good and I’ll even lose sleep over it (DAYS of sleep.)

      I didn’t mention this in my post because it happened after I published it, so I’ll just share with you here what I posted on Facebook:

      Funny, as soon as I finished writing this blog post about finding the right children’s books for highly sensitive children, I cuddled up with my little boy and he asked me to read “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”, a timeless classic. When I got to the second page, this happened:

      Me: “”Now my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor…”

      Son: “Mom, stop.”

      Me: “What’s the matter?”

      Son: “I don’t want to read this book. Their father was put in a pie, and he died, and now they don’t have a father anymore. Let’s read something else.”

      That right there is a perfect example of what we go through at bedtime if I choose the “wrong” book.

      Thanks for reading Loony!

      Reply
  2. Jennifer

    I’m looking for a book for my 10 year old that she can read that might help her understand why she is so emotional all the time. Is there a book that is aimed for kids to read that can help her understand who she is and that its ok for to be a sensitive person.

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Hi Jennifer, unfortunately I don’t know of any children’s books that help our kids feel more normal. In fact this is why I’ve been working on creating books that do just that. We are days away from publishing out first book, All Too Much for Oliver. This first one is about a little boy who doesn’t enjoy crowds or noise, which means he stays away from playgrounds, pools, birthday parties, and other places most other children enjoy. The aim of our books is to give highly sensitive kids characters and stories they can relate to, in order to give them the courage and inspiration to overcome difficult situations (by difficult, I mean difficult for the highly sensitive child). For now, we’re creating books that are targeted at kids between 3 and 8 years, but who knows, your daughter might enjoy them. You can watch the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nazjow7p4XY&feature=youtu.be. If you think your daughter might relate to Oliver’s story, please send me an email to leilaboukarim@gmail.com and I could add you to the book launch team. Thanks so much for your message Jennifer and if I hear of any books for older kids, I’ll let you know.

      Reply
  3. Jen

    The comments about fantasy books are really interesting. I’ve always found them to be way too intense for me. As much as everyone says how great The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are, I can’t bring myself to read very far into the first book of either series. (And I certainly can’t watch the movies – sooo much suspense and startling things!). My 11yo HS son has the same response to fantasy, although my husband and 9yo son, both HSPs but with higher tolerance levels, enjoy fantasy for the imagination involvement.

    For older children, about 9 years on up, I’d recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society series. Several of the main characters, mostly children, would fit a highly sensitive profile to a tee. I’ve wondered if a non-HSP would pick up on that, but as an HSP, that aspect of the stories jumped right out at me and made the books all the more enjoyable. In fact, I can honestly say, they would make my list of top 10 all-time favorite books. My 11yo has read the series numerous times and he appreciates seeing some of his own temperament in the characters and how much high sensitivity is portrayed in a positive light.

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Thank you for that Jen! I’ve added those books to the list and I look forward to introducing my son to them!

      Interesting what you say about tolerance to fantasy. I wonder if my son would enjoy fantasy books and movies as much as I always have. To this day I find immersing myself into something totally unrealistic soothes me. One of my favorite shows, believe it or not, is The Walking Dead because it’s about something so far-fetched, even though it’s pretty gruesome. If a story is gruesome but realistic, it will stay with me forever and keep me up at night.

      Thanks for reading Jen!

      Reply
    2. celinelj

      Hi Jen, my HSP 8 year old also loves the Benedict Society series. We have read them all at least twice, so I certainly second your recommendation 🙂

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Guest Post: Inspiring Highly Sensitive Children Through Stories | Happy Sensitive Kids

  5. Clarissa Batchelor

    Hi. Thank you for sharing these thoughts on book selection. My daughter has some highly sensitive traits and I really enjoy revisiting my childhood stories with her because she truely companions me in appreciating the depth in the characters and their personalities.
    Whinne the Pooh AA Milne and Pippi Longstocking are two that come to mind as well as George’s Marvellous Medicine ( Although the other Rohl Dahl are too intense at the moment )

    Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel was a perfect mix of humerous story telling ( perfect for my 4 year old )with deeper nuances for me and my 7 year old to appreciate. There are more in the series but I haven’t read them….. yet !

    Thank you again

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      That’s a wonderful list Clarissa! Thanks so much for sharing! Funny you should mention Roald Dahl… We bought The Enormous Crocodile earlier today and just read half with my six year old about an hour ago. It was a bit much. He desperately wanted to make sure the croc doesn’t gobble up the first pair of kids we see in the book. I’ll get the one you suggested next time!

      A beautiful book I discovered perfect for the HSC is The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade by Davina Bell. I’m about to write a blog post about it (on my other blog on http://www.myquietadventures.com). It’s such a sweet book about a little boy who is anxious and “gets that feeling”. My boys loved it.

      Thanks again Clarissa!

      Reply
  6. Pingback: How do you tell a sensitive child the truth about the world? - Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids

  7. Rachel Lamb

    Both my son & I are HSP’s & we found Enid Blighton’s ‘The Magic Far Away Tree’ series to be perfect.

    Reply

I'd love to hear from you!