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Books to Help Kids Deal With Tough Topics

Stories to Help Navigate Stressful Events with Little Ones

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 22, 2021

They Notice Everything

Most parents want nothing more than to shield their kids from scary and upsetting things. But try as we might, our little ones pick up on more than we know. They see when their parents are stressed and they may not know how to talk about it. They may even try to protect us by not bringing it up. That's why it's important for adults to take the initiative and address tough topics with their kids. One of the best ways we've found to do that is with a good story. Here are some books that can help get the conversation started and work through their worries.

The Pandemic

Back in the early months of 2020, few of us anticipated the massive upheavals ahead due to the coronavirus. In even the most fortunate of circumstances, lives have been upended. These books will help kids put it all into context.

Loneliness and Waiting

Kids stuck at home (and adults too!) are filled with longing for the people and activities they can't enjoy right now. In these stories the circumstances may be different, but the feelings are spot on.

  • Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall beautifully captures the way that many of us feel right now—set apart from the rest of the world.
  • Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt tells the story of a boy waiting for the sugaring season. No matter how much he wishes, there's no rushing it.
  • Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson is about a girl and her grandma. They keep up their daily routine, all the while missing Mama who's off working to help with the war effort.
  • In a Jar by Deborah Marcero is a beautifully illustrated story about two little rabbits. As they prepare for a separation, they gather their memories for safekeeping.


For many families, the past year has meant shifting dynamics. Whether it's the loss of a loved one, family separation, or just the tension of being cooped up together, navigating these turbulent times can lead to uncertainty and anxiety.

  • Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the heart connection between children and adoptive or foster parents. Clementine misses her parents, but Mama Rose is there with unconditional love and support.
  • A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O'Leary sends the message that families can take many different shapes, sizes, and forms. As long as your tribe is full of caring people, nothing else matters.
  • Get On Your Bike by Joukje Akveld depicts the fallout after an argument between Bobby and William. A solitary bike ride and some time helps Bobby calm down and consider William's perspective.
  • Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso is about polar bear buddies Gus and Ida. When Ida becomes sick with an illness that has no cure, the two best friends help each other through.

Poverty and Hard Times

The pandemic has only exacerbated issues of poverty and homelessness. Whether kids are going through hard times themselves, or observing it around them, they may struggle to understand how and why this can happen.

  • Yard Sale by Eve Bunting introduces Callie's family as they prepare to move from their house into an apartment. The new place is much smaller, so they are having a yard sale to sell belongings that Callie wishes she could keep.
  • Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis tells the story of a girl and her family who have lost their home and must temporarily split up to stay in shelters. Though wishing for better days, she observes that they're still a family.
  • The Hard Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers is based on the author's own childhood experiences of loving to read and—as the child of migrant workers—longing for books of her own.
  • Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz depicts a mining family living in a maritime community. The sparkling beauty of the sea belies the dark, dangerous, and underpaid work of the coal miners.

For many parents and caregivers, there is a temptation to just avoid sad and difficult topics with children. But kids are like sponges and they soak in all the energy around them whether we talk about it or not. As adults, we know that ignoring the elephant in the room will not make it go away. Kids often need to be invited to talk about their worries and picking up books that address these tough topics is a great way to get the ball rolling.

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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