Feelings and emotions

Thematic Route edited by University of Paris 13 (France)


Children’s books are often evaluated in terms of usefulness and educational purpose. This is because pedagogy plays a significant role in children’s literature. Nevertheless, this dimension should not lead to neglecting the literary, aesthetic or even artistic aspect of children’s books. Feelings and emotions are at the meeting point between these two fundamental aspects of youth literature, combining two different and parallel approaches. In fact, children’s books – especially picture books – usually translate emotions and feelings into words and images. At the same time, emotions and feelings are deeply linked to the act of reading, and this aspect makes them directly understandable by young readers, thanks to the strength, accuracy, and delicacy of words and images. Feelings and emotions are therefore a matter of representation and reception: they ensure the proper functioning of the process of learning and entertainment that characterises youth literature, creating emotional links, different in their forms, in their intensity, and in their intentionality, between children and the books. Through emotions and feelings kids can empathise with the fictional characters or, on the contrary, can have reactions of opposition or revolt. In the case of gender identities, the emotions and feelings represented and evoked therefore play a particularly important role in raising children’s awareness of themselves and their visions of others and of society.

Emotions, like behaviours, are frequently the object of stereotyped conceptions: a girl should not express her opinion or her enthusiasm vociferously, nor laugh too noisily, nor should she be rude; a boy should not cry, be too sensitive, or delicate. Conversely, the books proposed in the bibliography show that feelings are not related to genders: a girl can be angry (Lara Schmitt), upset or noisy (Vaffelhjarte; Wild) and she may not correspond to the image of the wise little girl (Серафина и черният плащ / Serafina and the Black Cloak; Momo) or of the top model (Les malheurs de Sophie), while a boy can be scared (Into the forest), delicate, shy, and fragile (Nils, Barbie; A boy called Hope; Willy the dreamer; Benito y su carrito). Some books of this bibliography also represent children who have difficulty in controlling their emotions, such as those with autism (È non è), or those who, after an emotional shock, suffer from pathological disorders (The goldfish boy). Some books portray the evolution of these emotions which sometimes undergo a process of radical transformation, and which can change the character: a clumsy and shy character can later become reckless, adventurous, and unrecognizable, either by magic (La scimmia nella biglia), or with the help of their parents or other characters (BШумоленето / The rustling; Как се лекува лъвски / How to treat Lion’s fear). At other times, a change can help them overcome their own health issues (The goldfish boy).

Emotions can be psychological and physiological reactions to a certain situation, and they can be very diverse, from joy (Anna Liza; Piselli e farfalline; Vaffelhjarte), to sadness (Mio nonno era un ciliegio; Momo), through anger (Angry Arthur) or bad mood (The bad mood and the stick). The act of reading thus becomes an exploration of one’s own emotions and those of others. Few books offer a monolithic view of emotions: on the contrary, diversity, plurality, and transformation prevail. Moreover, emotions and feelings are a common and shared experience (The bad mood and the stick; L’alfabeto dei sentimenti; Piselli e farfalline; A quoi tu joues ?) but never uniform (L’une belle). To read and experience feelings through literature, words, and images also mean experiencing the plurality of characters and their behaviours (L’alfabeto dei sentimenti; Raymie Nightingale), as well as equality in diversity, which follows the principle of understanding identities based on gender, age, and culture.


Among this very diverse and complex set of emotions, two particularly intense feelings are often found in the selected books: on the one hand, love and friendship, and on the other sadness, often related to grief. Love is a strong feeling that children can experience early on but that they may have difficulty expressing. It can be approached in a simple and clear way (Au revoir et bon vent), also by including same-sex love (La princesa Li; El príncipe enamorado; Jérôme par cœur). Love is also felt within the family, be it a feeling among parents and children, or among siblings (Mamá; Mi familia es de otro mundo; Raymie Nightingale; È non è; L’une belle; The tunnel). Similarly, friendship is the basis of many stories for young people (Anna Liza; Raymie Nightingale; Ice in the jungle; On Sudden Hill; Momo; Lara Schmitt; Vaffelhjarte). These books also represent jealousy, as a corollary to friendship (On Sudden Hill) or love (Au revoir et bon vent). Moreover, death can cause feelings that upset the characters and can empathically reach young readers, by adding words and images to feelings they may have experienced or that they may come to know. Grief is often caused by the loss of grandparents (Aldabra; Mio nonno era un ciliegio; Живот на небето / Life in the sky). Emotions and feelings which are experienced and expressed can thus heal (Anna Liza) and help to grow (Witika). Violence, especially when it is perpetrated against girls, women, or against children and people considered different, can be countered by words (Chiamarlo amore non si può) and love (Книгата на всички неща / The book of everything). Once expressed and understood, emotions are also a force that helps to better understand oneself and the others and to challenge prejudices and stereotypes: after all, coming from the Latin emovere, aren’t emotions etymologically linked to the idea of motion?


Some outstanding books on feelings and emotions

  • AAVV, Chiamarlo amore non si può. 23 scrittrici raccontano ai ragazzi e alle ragazze la violenza contro le donne, Mammeonline, Foggia, 2013.
  • Amavisca, Luis, Rendeiro, Elena, La Princesa Li, NubeOcho Ediciones, Madrid, 2015.
  • Browne, Anthony, Into the forest, Walker Books, London, 2005.
  • Browne, Anthony, The tunnel, Walker Books, London, 2008.
  • Browne, Anthony, Willy the dreamer, Walker Books, London, 1997.
  • Carioli, Janna, Possentini, Sonia Maria Luce, L’alfabeto dei sentimenti, Fatatrac, Casalecchio di Reno, 2013.
  • Colfer, Eoin, Robertson, Matt, Anna Liza and the happy practice, Barrington Stoke, Edinburgh, 2016.
  • Gandolfi, Silvana, Aldabra: la tartaruga che amava Shakespeare, Salano, Milano, 2006.
  • Gandolfi, Silvana, La scimmia nella biglia, Salano, Milano, 2012.
  • Haugen, Tormod, Au revoir et bon vent (et la pluie d’automne), translated from the Norwegian by Jean-Baptiste Coursaud, L’école des loisirs, Paris, 2003.
  • Heinrich, Finn-Ole, La vie de l’unique, l’étonnante, la spectaculaire, la miraculeuse Lara Schmitt, translated from the German by Isabelle Enderlein, Thierry Magnier, Paris, 2015.
  • Hughes, Emily, Wild, Flying Eye, London, 2015.
  • Милчева, Велина (Milcheva, Velina), Живот на небето : Слончета и котета (Life in the sky: Elephants and Kitties), Прес, София, 2018.
  • Nanetti, Angela, Balbusso, Anna, Mio nonno era un ciliegio, Einaudi ragazzi, Trieste, 2017.
  • Oram, Hiawyn, Kitamura, Satoshi, Angry Arthur, Anderson Press, London, 2008.
  • Parr, Maria, Srce od vafla, translated from the Norwegian by Radoš Kosović, Kreativni centar, Beograd, 2011.
  • Попнеделева-Генова, Мила (Popnedeleva-Genova, Mila), Шумоленето (The Rustling), Ултра нет ЕООД, София, 2009.
  • Ruiz Johnson, Mariana, Mamá, Kalandraka, Pontevedra, 2013.
  • Sarah, Linda, Davies, Benji, On Sudden Hill, Simon & Schuster Children’s UK, London, 2014.
  • Scotto, Thomas, Tallec, Olivier, Jérôme par coeur, Actes sud junior, Arles, 2015.
  • Snicket, Lemony, Forsythe, Matthew, The bad mood and the stick, Anderson Press, London, 2017.