Five books on overcoming fears

Published on: 28 December 2023

At BookTrust we know how comforting and useful it can be to read about a character going through a similar experience to you. We asked Polly Ho-Yen to share some of her favourite books about overcoming fears.

In my new book, The Girl Who Became a Fish, Ita is facing a huge amount of change in her life. On the one hand, the biggest and most dramatic change is the discovery that when she dips her hands into the river that snakes through the new town she’s just moved to, her skin becomes covered in scales. She has the power to turn into a fish in this river. But she has a life-long fear of water and so rather than being delighted by this transformation, she turns away from it.

There are other things happening for her, though. Her family have just moved so they can be close to her grandma. On top of facing the prospect of a new school and new friends, Ita’s father is often away, caring for her grandma. Her family is changing and feels, to Ita, like it’s slipping away from her.

So often our fears about one thing can become funneled into a fear of something that feels more tangible, somehow. It’s a way of being able to deal with what feels too overwhelming to confront. For Ita, facing her fear of water makes her confront the other fears she’s not able to verbalise to herself just yet. When she finally jumps into the river water and changes, her bravery is a lesson for her family and has a transformative effect upon them all.

I’ve chosen five books which deal with that transformative power, which we all hold, to face the fears in our lives and to overcome them.

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden

This is one of my favourite stories from my childhood and I’m aware that I recommend it for just about anything, but it deals with overcoming fears in a very multi-layered way. One of the things I like most about this story is that each character is so vividly depicted. They are all, in their own individual ways, facing and overcoming the different fears which are driving them. Whether it’s fear of being accepted for Kizzy, or fear of the other for Prue, or fear of rejection for the Admiral, each character’s journey is rendered with tenderness, compassion and truth.

Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland, illustrated by Sarah Horne

This gloriously funny story about Charlie McGuffin’s transformations into animals, often occurring at the very worst of times, is a fantastic metaphor for Charlie’s out of control fears and worries about what is happening to his unwell brother. Not only is this a laugh-out-loud level of funny but this book deals so sensitively with the complex feeling of being overwhelmed by fears and how to cope with that.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

I’m aware that my mind has leaned towards picture books when thinking about this topic. I believe that illustrated fiction for this age group is vitally important and especially so when exploring the complex theme of overcoming fears and I adore how Sojung Kim-McCarthy’s illustrations bring Ita’s experience to life in The Girl Who Became a Fish. Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog is a masterclass in delivering metaphor and message. I love the visuals of the black dog taking over and the bravery of the tiny but indubitable character of Small, the smallest of the Hope family, who stands up to it.

Don’t Worry Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Chris Haughton is superb at conveying complex messages through the sweetest and simplest stories. I love how he includes a philosophical quote to his picture books and for Don’t Worry Little Crab, it’s “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” from Anaïs Nin.

My husband bought this for our daughter because we were feeling she was going through a lot of change. I think it really spoke to us as throughout the little crab’s journey towards adventure, they are being supported by a loved one. Its conclusion of how, once you face your fears, you’re then keen to explore the big blue ocean and don’t want to stop, is a powerful one.

Sweep by Louise Greig, illustrated by Julia Sardà

I discovered this in my local library and again, love how the illustrations lend a vital visual to understanding a very complicated experience. In this story, a bad mood overcomes Ed which is represented by the growing piles of leaves that surround them. More and more leaves swirl around them and so that they completely overwhelm them. And then it passes.

Though this isn’t strictly about overcoming a fear, this incredibly important message of how things will pass speaks to how feelings, such as fear, can be overcome in time and sometimes, by choice.

The Girl Who Became a Fish by Polly Ho-Yen, illustrated by Sojung Kim-McCarthy, is out now.

Topics: Fear, Features

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