NEW YORK CITY — More children across the country are dealing with anxiety and depression than ever before, but mental health experts say children’s books can play a role in helping them cope. Because of that, sales of these books have been steadily increasing over the last decade.
Children’s author Ian Ellis James takes on grown-up conversations with his own children’s book. James, who goes by Electric, is an Emmy-award-winning writer for Sesame Street. Now an author, he visits elementary school kids in New York City to share messages about safety.
“If I can write some books, if I can use some songs, and then go out and start with a 5-year-old, 6-year-old going in and do this well, like a workshop about gun violence and gun violence awareness, I think I can change behavior,” said James.
Books like James’ "A Gun is Not Fun" are in high demand. Sales of books for young readers on violence, grief and emotions have increased for nine straight years, with nearly 6 million copies sold in 2021, that’s more than double the amount sold in 2012.
James sees these books are especially needed in lower-income communities where children typically have less access to mental health care services.
“It really impacts kids of color, the community of color. I tell you, it like, it breaks my heart. That's really why I'm doing this,” said James.
Child psychologist Aryeh Sova believes these children’s books can be effective in helping kids make sense of violence and loss.
“I think it could be a great way to help kids become more of a partners in their own therapy, because a lot of these books involve activities that they could participate in and they can fill out for themselves,” said Sova.
However, Sova said bringing up violence when a child isn’t worried about it could increase their anxiety unnecessarily. So, parents and teachers need to ensure kids are prepared for what they're reading.
“There was probably an effort a while ago to keep children's literature sort of light and happy, and kids shouldn't have to experience trauma in their books. but the fact is, kids do,” said Andrea Colvin, the editorial director of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Colvin hopes parents and teachers see these books as an opportunity to prepare children for the world they’re living in.
“Whenever major things happen in the world, it makes its way down to children's literature because children's literature needs to or it should reflect what's actually happening to kids and what's happening in the world,” said Colvin.
James is encouraged that communities are embracing the idea as a way to help kids cope.
“If I could get you on board to monitor guns and not pull a gun on your friend or neighbor and realize that this gun is not a good thing. If I can turn you around, we got something. We got a little strategy here going,” said James.