Ten powerful books about mental health issues

Published on: 24 June 2024

Author and teacher Catherine Bruton recommends some stories that tackle tough topics. 

The recent rise in mental health issues – affecting children of all ages and backgrounds – has been heartbreaking to witness. It also made me desperate to help. In fact, as a children’s author, I believe I have a responsibility to help.  

That’s what inspired me to write Bird Boy  the story of eleven-year-old Will displaced from his home after the tragic death of his mother and sent to live in the mountains with an uncle he barely knows. After years livingin a high-rise flat, with only birds for company, Will is terrified by the outside world. But with his new friend Omar – a refugee from Afghanistan – Will discovers an osprey nest, and when one of the chicks is knocked out of the nest, breaking a wing, Will is determined to save her. As Will helps Whitetip to grow and to heal, he finds a strength inside himself that he never knew he had. Maybe, finally, Will can find a way to take flight too… 

As a teacher, I see first-hand the power of stories to heal. Providing children with narratives to frame or express their own experiences allows an outlet for trauma and gives them an emotional vocabulary to articulate their feelings. These amazing Middle Grade titles (for ages 9-12) many recommended to me by my pupils themselvesexplore tough topics in ways that are accessible for younger readers. Sensitive, compelling, often funny and moving – always unputdownableone of these stories might just be the first step in a child’s healing process. 

Mental health topic: PTSD, anger management 

Set in the Blitz, this glorious story of the relationship between a traumatised child and a lonely silverback gorilla is a huge favourite with my pupils and makes me cry every time we read it! An unforgettable and hugely empowering class read! 

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

From the cover of Goldfish Boy by Lisa ThompsonFrom the cover of Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Mental health topic: Agoraphobia, Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) 

12-year-old Matthew is stuck in his bedroom, too anxious to go to school. How can he possibly solve a crime, and find a missing child? Both a compelling ‘whodunnit’ and a sensitive exploration of Emotionally Based School Avoidance.  

Mental health topic: Grief 

An extraordinary and heart-breaking tale of grief, healing and above all, the courage it takes to survive. One of my favourite books of all time and one I know has given voice to many young people coping with their own grief. 

From the cover of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Wildoak by C. C. Harrington 

Mental health topic: Self harm, Mutism 

A magical tale of the friendship between a little girl who stutters so badly she has stopped talking altogether, and an abandoned snow leopard she finds hiding in the forest. Beautiful, heart-stopping, but also wonderfully empathic!  

Mental Health Topic: PTSD 

From the cover of Ghost by Jason ReynoldsFrom the cover of Ghost by Jason Reynolds

An aspiring athlete, Ghost is running away from childhood trauma and running into trouble. His coach thinks Ghost could be the best sprinter in the city if he can only stop running from his past. A compelling story about PTSD and the power of sport. 

Mental health topic: Grief, anger management, fear of transition 

The final year of primary school can be a tough transition. And if you are also dealing with a grief so great it threatens to overpower you, can writing really help? A powerful and lyrical verse novel which should be in every Year 6 classroom. 

Worrybot by Simon Packham 

Mental health topic: Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) 

Josh worries about everything, and Charlie – his only friend – joins lessons via a computer screenCan Josh overcome his fears? And why won’t Charlie come to school anyway? A lovely, warm, wise, funny wonderful story about the power of friendship and facing your fears. 

Mental health topic: OCD 

From the cover of When I See Blue by Lily BaileyFrom the cover of When I See Blue by Lily Bailey

Ben’s life is dictated by a voice in his own head who makes the rules. If he doesn’t avoid certain colours, or repeat every action four times, surely something awful will happen.A touching and honest book about life in the grip of OCD with plenty of Doctor Who references! 

All The Things That Could Go Wrong by Stewart Foster 

Mental health topic:  OCD, anger management 

Dan is angry at life and is taking it out on AlexAlex is struggling with OCD which makes it hard to leave the house… and now they’re stuck together for the whole of the school holidays! A touching, funny read which shows there are two sides to every story. 

Mental health topic: Grief, social anxiety 

From the cover of How To Be Me by Cath HoweFrom the cover of How To Be Me by Cath Howe

Painfully shy Lucas is dreading drama camp. Since Mum died, he doesn't know how to be around new people. Can his new-found friends teach Lucas how to be himself? Filled with all of the empathy and insight that Cath Howe does so wonderfully!  

Bird Boy by Catherine Bruton is out now. 

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