For me, happiness is the laughter of children, a stack of brand-new picture books, and the color yellow. I’m happiest when I’m outdoors (even if it’s working in my outside office), swimming laps in a sunny pool, and hanging out with family and friends. What makes you smile? Guiding students as they find their happy places builds self-awareness, an essential social-emotional learning competency. To that end, I’ve gathered a text set of six happiness books that will spark discussions about where happiness begins and how to find it when it becomes elusive. Happy reading!
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Written and Illustrated by Eva Eland (Random House, 2020)
This reassuring book begins with the question, “Are you looking for happiness?” Then, takes readers on a journey through emotional ups and downs as they explore this complex emotion.
- Before reading, set the stage by conversing about the cover. Notice that the title and the character Happiness appear in the same bright color. Read aloud the title and pose these questions: Which character do you think is Happiness? What are the clues?
- During reading, pause on the page that reads, “And sometimes it may feel like there are too many things that get between you and Happiness.” Invite students who are comfortable sharing to name any obstacles that get in the way of their happiness.
- After reading aloud, discuss the following questions: The last line in the book is, “Happiness begins with you.” What do you think the author means by this? What are some strategies we can use when it is challenging to find happiness?
Written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin (Enchanted Lion, 2019)
Seven-year-old Layla’s name means “night beauty.” She loves the night, but there are a lot of other things that make her happy. After reading this joy-filled book, invite students to tell you all of the things that make them happy. Record their answers on a chart like this one!
Demonstrate how they can use what they learned from reading Layla’s Happiness to make their own book entitled [Child’s Name’s] Happiness.
Written by Julie Berry, Illustrated by Holly Hatam (Sounds True, 2019)
Using a repetitive see-saw pattern that alternates between “I’ll be happy when…” and “Or, I can be happy right now,” a girl shares her deliberate choices to find happiness even when faced with disappointment, worry, or sickness. Near the end, the pattern is interrupted as the book addresses the fact that being happy right now might take a bit more work than simply a positive attitude. Meditation, helping others, and taking a nap are just of few of the suggested strategies that she tries as she reaches for happiness. The strategies in the book are an ideal jumping off point for students to find their own go-to methods for feeling contentment.
Written by Nicola Edwards, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Rodale Kids, 2018)
Although not solely focused on happiness, this book is a nice follow-up to Happy Right Now as it delves a bit deeper into the idea of mindfulness. Each two-page spread gives a definition of one aspect of mindfulness, including listening, feeling, relaxing, tasting, touching, discovering, smelling, loving, appreciating, breathing, and happiness. Consider reading one spread a day, and then highlighting that particular mindfulness technique throughout the rest of the day. Collect an array of colorful markers, paper, and invite students to illustrate a mindfulness move that appeals to them.
Written and Illustrated by Nancy Carlson (Carolrhoda, 2009)
In this “old favorite,” Nancy Carlson shares a variety of ways to make yourself happy, from self-expression to self-care. Her signature brightly colored illustrations draw readers in and make the read-aloud experience a joy-filled one. Consider using the title of this book as inspiration to come up with your own collaborative class motto. If your class had a motto like “Think Happy!” What would it be?
Written and Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Scholastic, 2017)
A happy dreaming child shares how he manages his dreams even when adults try to box them in. Enjoy the gate-fold spread picturing a variety of ways to be happy like “peaceful happy” and “dance happy” and to be a dreamer like “space dreamer” and “sunny dreamer.” After finishing the book, ask children to create two illustrations like the ones on the gate-fold spread showing what kind of happy and dreamers they are today. The inspirational sayings found on the endpapers are perfect for posting on a chart or bulletin board.
After reading a book or two (or more) in this text set, compare and contrast the different author’s approaches to the topic of happiness. Discuss their purposes and ask learners to share their opinions about which text they preferred and why. If you found these ideas helpful, check out Sometimes We’re Sad: 8 Picture Books That Comfort and Open up Conversations About Feeling Blue. Do you have some happiness books to share? If so, please share in the comments or reach out via Twitter @mariapwalther. I’d love to add them to my collection.