Mom on a Mission: Publisher Lauri Hornik Recommends These Books to Help Kids Cope With Mental Health Challenges (Exclusive)

After Hornik saw her daughter struggle with anxiety and depression, she knew she wanted to help other families: "I want kids to see they're not alone"

<p><a href="">Elinor Carucci</a></p> Rocky Pond Books publisher Lauri Hornik and her daughter Ruby in October 2023.

Elinor Carucci

Rocky Pond Books publisher Lauri Hornik and her daughter Ruby in October 2023.

As an editor and publisher of children's literature for three decades, Lauri Hornik knows the power of books.

And as a mom, she saw the need first-hand for more stories that speak to kids struggling with mental illness.

When her own daughter, Ruby, was wrestling with anxiety and depression in middle school in their hometown of Montclair, NJ, she realized there was a dearth of characters in kids' books dealing with similar issues in healthy ways. Instead, when she was in seventh grade, Ruby, who is now 19 and a freshman in college, discovered Sylvia Plath's classic autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.

With depictions of suicide attempts and a character who ends up institutionalized, the book left Ruby feeling like "this is the grim future awaiting you," she recalls. Says Lauri, "It's a brilliant book, but it's not a hopeful book."

RELATED: Her Daughter Stopped Going To School Because of Anxiety. Now Lauri Hornik Helps Other Kids — Through Books (Exclusive)

As Ruby's mental illness began to deepen and prevented her from being able to go to school or enjoying her hobbies, Ruby and her mom, who share their story in this week's issue of PEOPLE, felt lost in a maze without support.

Fueled by her experience with her daughter, Lauri, who has edited award-winning and bestselling children’s books like A River Between Us by Richard Peck, The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak and It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee, launched her own imprint earlier this year, Rocky Pond Books from Penguin Random House. "I wanting to start finding books for kids and tweens that they could feel they were seeing themselves in," she says. "I want kids to see they aren't alone."

<p>Courtesy Lauri Hornik</p> Editor and publisher Lauri Hornik at her home office in New Jersey in October 2023.

Courtesy Lauri Hornik

Editor and publisher Lauri Hornik at her home office in New Jersey in October 2023.

Related: B.J. Novak's New Picture-Free Book Will Make Your Kids Laugh - And Love Words!

She knew that one of the first books she wanted the imprint, which focuses on books about mental health and social-emotional learning, to offer was a guide for other kids and parents navigating the confusing mental health maze she and Ruby had faced. “I wanted a resource that has all the first answers for you and maps out what it feels like to have these mental health challenges,” Lauri says.

That became Where to Start: A Survival Guide to Anxiety, Depression and Other Mental Health Challenges, one of Rocky Pond Books’ first offerings. “It would have been very helpful to have had a book like that when I was searching,” says Ruby. “I would have been saved a lot of harmful misinformation.”

Where to Start is one of the first mental health books published by Rocky Pond Books.
Where to Start is one of the first mental health books published by Rocky Pond Books.

Hornik says the book, a "nonfiction first guide to mental health challenges," is meant for ages 12 and up. "It has descriptions of various mental illnesses. It has information on how to have first conversations with your parents or a trusted teacher," she says. "It has how to find a therapist. It has self-help, self-care tips. It has worksheets on crafting your conversations." Featuring illustrations from cartoonist Gemma Correll and published in partnership with Mental Health America, it features some content adapted from the MHA's materials.  "I wanted to put that book together because something like it just didn't already exist," she says.

Related: How Poor Sleep Is Hurting Teen Mental Health

Among the imprint's other offerings is Ever Since by Alena Bruzas, a young adult novel about recovery from sexual trauma "that I just think is exquisite," Hornik says. "It's had quite a large response through social media. Bookstagrammers (Instagrammers who mostly talk about books) have been really effusive about that book."

Are You Mad at Me? by sisters Tyler and Cody Feder is a picture book about social anxiety for younger kids. "It's about an ostrich who thinks that everyone is mad at her even though they aren't," Hornik says. "It's about the experience of anxiety and how to push past it."

Are You Mad at Me by Tyler and Cody Feder.
Are You Mad at Me by Tyler and Cody Feder.

The newly released YA novel The Night Fox by Ashley Wilder "is a fantasy novel — magical realism — about a teenage girl who is brought to a wilderness recovery program because she is in a severe depression," Hornik says. "It's inspired by psychiatric recovery programs, but it's a fantastical version of it."

The Night Fox by Ashley Wilda
The Night Fox by Ashley Wilda

She also recommends another picture book, Lawrence and Sophia written by Doreen Cronin, the bestselling author of the Click, Clack, Moo series. "Lawrence and Sophia are two anxious kids who do not like to leave their comfort zone," Hornik says. "They meet each other and through their friendship, they find the ability to push past those comfort zones."

Hornik says the common theme she looks for is books "with hope,” says Lauri.“That’s big for me. My experience with Ruby made me realize that there are books that are needed and that don’t exist yet. And I have the ability to do that.”

If you or someone you know needs mental health help,text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 tobe connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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