Picture books as a scaffold for externalisation

Picture books can serve as a wonderful way to externalise problems, not only for children but adults too. The illustrated stories help readers of every age, understand, explore and even encourage them to talk about the worries, and sadness around them.

Many narrative practitioners use picture books for externalising problems  in their work with children, parents, communities which may help to co-create a safe space and begin a dialogue. Here, we have compiled a list of some of these books, where worry and sadness have been externalised through fictional characters through beautiful illustrations and stories that resonate. We have also attached links to the stories and the read aloud videos. 

Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival

ruby's Worry

Childhood is not always a carefree time and lots of children face challenges they have to overcome,” says Tom Percival, author-illustrator of Ruby’s Worry. It tells the story of Ruby;  a happy, curious, imaginative girl, who one day out of nowhere, meets Worry.  Worry follows her around, growing steadily bigger and more upsetting, until she opens up about it to a friend. When worry is near Ruby, the world around her is muted in dark shades of grey. But when she talks about worry, a rainbow of colour explodes on to the page and the worry shrinks away until it is “barely there” at all. 

You can find a read aloud video here.

Who Stole Bhaiya’s Smile? Written by Sanjana Kapur & Illustrated by Sunaina Coelho

who stole bhaiya's smile?


In this book, Bhaiya used to love playing with his little sister, but now he doesn’t anymore, mostly because he has a monster on his back, DukDuk. The monster sometimes makes him angry, other days it won’t let him get out of bed, it takes away his smile.

You can read this story at storyweaver.org. Also available


When Sadness Is At Your Door by Eva Eland

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-16 at 2.02.02 PM

When Sadness Is At Your Door is a beautiful picture book by author-illustrator Eva Eland that externalizes and personifies sadness which arrives at the doorstep of a young child. Initially the child tries to hide it, but when that doesn’t work, he tries to sit with sadness, asks him what he wants and even does things they both enjoy together, like drawing or going for a walk through the trees. 

You can find a read aloud video here.

The Huge Bag Of Worries Written by Virginia Ironside & Illustrations by Frank Rodgers

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Wherever Jenny goes, the worries follow her – in a big blue bag. They are with her all the time – at school, at home, when she is watching TV and even in the bathroom! Jenny decides they have to go, but who will help her get rid of them? Jenny finds that she cannot get anyone to understand the worries, until she meets her friendly old neighbour from next door who explains that Jenny needs to open up the bag and share the worries with someone else. Jenny is relieved to find that the worries don’t seem so big after all. 

You can find a read aloud video here.


The Color Monster by Anna Llenas

colour monster

This is a book about a young girl and the color monster. In this book different emotions are portrayed by different colors. Here the girl talks to the color monster who is feeling all mixed up, filled with multiple colors all over. She helps it sort out each of the colors and feelings, portrayed with bright and beautiful illustrations.


You can find a read aloud video here


You’ve got dragons by Kathryn Cave & Nick Maland

you've got dragons

Dragons show up unexpectedly around a young boy. At first he thinks he is dreaming but then he realises they are there every time he turns around. He can’t ignore them and he can’t escape them: “Dragons are scary. You try to pretend yours isn’t there. But it IS.” As the child grows used to his unwanted companions, he writes an advice column about them and offers tips to others, such as ‘Give your dragon your full attention. They tend to get bigger when ignored’, ‘Really get to know your dragon. Give it a name’ and some other very useful tips. Finally, he discovers that “dragons don’t stay forever.” 

You can find a read aloud video here


                These are some of the books recommended and used by narrative practitioners at Ummeed Child Development Center. We will soon compile and share another list of books. Let us know what you think ? Also, if you know of or come across any other interesting picture books about externalising problems, do write to us in the comment section below. 

This list was compiled by;

Aditi Shah, a Mental Health Therapist at Ummeed Child Development Center, working with children and families who experience disabilities.

Mithila Jariwala, a part of the mental health team at Ummeed Child Development Center, working as a trainer with communities using narrative practices and ideas.


Happy reading 🙂


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