A must-have book about feelings

posted in: Mary Hoffman, Ros Asquith | 16

bigbookoffeelingsThe Great Big Book of Feelings by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith should be in every primary school, every library, every home.

A funny and thoughtful exploration of emotions from ‘happy’ to ‘sad’ via ‘interested’, ‘upset’ and ‘silly’, this book is beautiful, empowering and great fun to read and share. It’s perfect for helping children explore different feelings; what causes those feelings, what those feelings can make us do, and how we might manage or change those feelings.

The language used is ideal for young children – from the choice of the word “feelings” (rather than “emotions”), though to the selection (including ‘excited’, ‘bored’, ‘angry’, ‘lonely’, ’embarrassed’) Hoffman has chosen feelings particularly pertinent to young children, but also phrased them in a way which is accessible and meaningful.

The text offers so many opportunities for interaction and reflection. Although presented simply and straightforwardly, this book acknowledges the complexity of emotions; how the same situation can cause different people to feel differently, and how some emotions can make us feel both bad or good (for example, we get to see how feeling angry can motivate us to do something for the better, with a timely nod to the current situation facing libraries in this time of austerity).


The illustrations are just wonderful; not only are they funny or poignant in many cases (do look for the reflection in the mirror of the boy who is feeling lonely), but they celebrate all of life in a way that sadly doesn’t happen enough in children’s books. There are children in wheelchairs, women in hijabs, and children from all sorts of backgrounds and families. None of this is commented upon – it is all just normal, just part of the rich family of characters throughout the book.

This book, although full of difficult emotions, is actually mostly about joy: It’s a delight to read and to share, it’s a constructive, positive book. It makes it easy for parents to have discussions with their kids, it helps the children find a vocabulary to express what they might otherwise not be able to name, and it does it all with flair, honesty, and thoughtfulness. The sprinkling of practical suggestions (e.g. what to do to help you feel calm, or what you could do if you are feeling worried), alongside the joie-de-vivre in the illustrations make this an essential addition to any library at home, school or (if you are lucky) on the highstreet.

Inspired by this post from A Little Learning For Two, we set about making dolls with changing faces, showing different emotions, using two rolls (one slightly smaller than the other), some blank stickers and a selection of lids.

I gave the girls this sheet with suggestions of how to draw different facial expressions and they drew the faces they were interested in on small stickers.


The stickers were stuck onto the smaller roll, so that they could be seen through a hole cut out of the slightly larger roll. To make it easier for little hands to turn the faces round, we used hot glue to add lids to the inner roll – these overhung the larger roll when the two rolls were slotted together and made perfect stands (if on the bottom) or bases for hats (if on the top).


The girls then decorated the outer rolls with body shapes around the cut-out for the faces, and we were ready to explore our different emotions.


It would be great if I could have made a film of the faces changing, but these images will have to suffice!




This simple activity was surprisingly powerful – it really was a great way in to thinking about how others are feeling, and about how what others are feeling can effect the way we ourselves feel.

Whilst making our rotating dolls we listened to:

  • Mad by The Dreyer Family Band – all about feeling very angry, with a lovely low voice!
  • Happy Sad Silly Mad by Jeremy Plays Guitar
  • Alright, Okay, Just Fine by Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang – all about it being OK to have difficult feelings.

  • Other activities which could work really well alongside reading The Great Big Book of Feelings include:

  • Another super idea from A Little Learning for Two – adding facial expressions with chalk onto your shadows. By changing your shadow you can add in body language to match the facial expression.
  • Making “mouth masks” and then playing with mirrors and your ability to move your eyebrows to explore different feelings – taking this idea found on Pinterest as a starting point. A similar idea is explored here by No Time for Flash Cards.
  • Playing with body language, for example using the body talk game here, where kids have to get a message across only using their facial expressions and body lanugage.
  • Reading the delightful book of poetry, A is Amazing by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler, which explores all sorts of emotions.

  • I hope all of you are feeling BRILLIANT today – let me know!

    nonfiction.mondayI’m delighted to be linking up with Nonfiction Monday today – I always mean to, but rarely manage to get my act together. This week it is being hosted by NC Teacher Stuff – do hop on over to see what other nonfiction delights people have discovered recently.

    Disclosure: I received a free, review copy of The Great Big Book of Feelings from the distributors. I was under no obligation to write this review and received no payment for doing so.

    16 Responses

    1. maria cristina

      Zoe I wish I could join in the fabulous fun
      you´re having at home…oity I happen to be soo far away.
      Maria Cristina

      • Zoe

        Hi Maria crstina – you are always welcome here! You never know, maybe it will happen one day!
        Thanks Barbara and Stephanie – the book is not only a helpful book, it is so lovely and fun too.

    2. Lyn

      Thanks for sharing this book, Zoe. Seems like it would be a great one to keep around the house to help kids identify and name their emotions when they are struggling. I might make one of those changing face dolls for my son…They might help when he gets to the terrible 2s. 🙂

    3. Zoe

      Hi Sam, one of the things that works really well for me is that this book doesn’t feel “worthy” – it’s full of fun and joy, and the serious, difficult bits are honest and straightforward.

    4. Anne-Marie

      I bought a copy of this because my eldest has some difficulties in expressing her emotions. When I first introduced it I was met with resistance, but since then she’s taken to flicking through and reading and looking at the expressions herself. The book has been a great addition to our vocabulary via books and one that will be kept accessible for a long time to come. Great ideas as ever, must try some with my two! 🙂
      Anne-Marie recently posted..My Funny Family On Holiday by Chris Higgins & Lee Wildish

    5. Renee @ Mother Daughter Book Reviews

      Fabulous book! I frantically searched my library’s online catalogue for this book, but I think it’s still too new. I just love the idea behind this book. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to teach my kids to identify their own feelings. I think it really gets muddled. Sometimes they can just identify that they feel good or bad. But they can’t pinpoint if they feel bad because they are angry, sad, jealous, lonely, etc…

      I love your craft idea! Those little faces turned out great!

      Thanks so much for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop – we are so happy that you’ve joined us! I’m a new follower via email and G+. Hope you’ll join us again! 🙂
      Renee @ Mother Daughter Book Reviews recently posted..Kid Lit Blog Hop # 14

    6. Redpeffer

      I’ve written before about my struggle to find good quality books that deal with feelings. It’s so important to raise emotionally literate children I think. Thanks for this, looks brilliant.
      Redpeffer recently posted..This is Edinburgh

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