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10 Children’s Books that Can Get You Through Life’s Toughest Moments

When life throws you a curveball, these powerful children's books will help you cope, even if it's been 40 years since you had a bedtime.


‘A Terrible Thing Happened’ by Margaret M. Holmes

Witnessing a tragedy can often be just as damaging as experiencing it firsthand. Child psychologist Courtney Ferenz, PsyD, recommends A Terrible Thing Happened for children who have witnessed or experienced a trauma. Written by Margaret Holmes, the book tells the story of a raccoon named Sherman who has seen a terrible event and then represses his emotions about it. This repression causes Sherman to begin to feel sick and act out. He eventually meets a someone who helps him talk through and overcome his trauma. He ultimately realizes that opening up to someone else was what he needed to feel better. This book may be written for ages four to seven, but anyone who needs encouragement and validation after a traumatic event can benefit from it.


‘Two Homes’ by Claire Masurel

In the book Two Homes, Claire Masurel leaves assumptions at the door and gets real about life after divorce. She puts a positive spin on a child having two homes and two parents who love him or her exactly the same as before the divorce. Her honesty can alleviate divorcing parents from some of the guilt they’re feeling about how the split is affecting their children. Divorce is, of course, never something that a parent wants their child to experience, but this book finds the positive in what can feel like a negative time.


‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst

Many children’s books about death can focus too much on grief and loss instead of what good still remains during difficult times. Parents unsure of how to broach the sensitive topic of death with their children will find that The Invisible String by Patrice Karst raises the bar for children’s books about death. By the book’s end, you’ll learn that the invisible string is love, and it connects families from heart to heart, and it’s never lost, no matter what. Besides providing solace for anyone dealing with a death, the heartfelt read can also help military families cope with their loved one being so far away from home. These 25 children’s books are great for readers of all ages.


‘The Not In Here Story’ by Tracey Zeeck

Adoptive parents who experience the painful blow of infertility prior to adopting often have the difficult task of explaining to their children about the process that led them to adopt. The Not In Here Story by Tracey Zeeck may make that conversation a bit easier. The book tells the story of the Seeks, a monster couple who have trouble growing a baby. They travel far and wide in search of an environment that will allow them to have their own baby, but they ultimately realize that their baby was actually growing in someone else’s tummy. The heartfelt tale was inspired by the author’s own journey with adopting her son, Charlie. “My husband and I have been telling Charlie that story since he was a baby—we wanted him to feel ownership over his own story, and pride in where he came from,” explains Zeeck. “Eventually, our story became the one you see in the book, a bit more stylized and less specific to our experience and, of course, starring furry monsters instead of people. That was a conscious decision on illustrator David Bizzaro’s part: cuddly-looking monsters can stand in for all types of humans, not just readers who look like us.”


‘Esperanza Rising’ by Pam Munoz Ryan

Children’s books that teach a lesson without being preachy or pushy are hard to come by, but Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is one of themThe gripping story follows a young girl named Esperanza who not only lost her father, but also the privileged life her family had in Mexico after they’re forced to flee to California to perform migrant field work. When her mother becomes ill, Esperanza must find a way to help her family survive in their new country. While the story is rife with desperation, the tale is truly one of hope (which is actually the English translation of esperanza) and will leave the reader feeling inspired and grateful. This book is a useful discussion starter in classrooms and homes for its ability to broach sensitive topics, like financial struggles and poverty, with ease and grace.


‘Full Cicada Moon’ by Marilyn Hilton

New York Public Library Youth Materials Selector Karen Ginman recommends Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon for anyone interested in exploring themes of race, hope, and the power of pushing the envelope. “Mimi, the book’s main character, exists between two places—her mother’s home of Japan and her father’s African-American roots,” Ginman says. “It’s 1969, and she moves to a small town in Vermont and tries to find friends and fit in, but Mimi also wants to stand out. She takes Shop Class, enters science competitions, and even dreams of going to the moon someday.” The story follows Mimi’s journey as she learns about life, social expectations, and breaking boundaries. This book is recommended for ages 10 and older. Here are more children’s books that teach kids how everyone is different.


‘The Thing About Jellyfish’ by Ali Benjamin

Another title recommended by New York Public Library’s Karen Ginman is The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. The book begins with the heartbreaking drowning death of Suzy’s best friend, an avid swimmer who should never have died doing the very thing she excelled at most. Intent on finding the real reason behind her friend’s drowning, Suzy becomes determined to find out if the death was due to a rare jellyfish sting. That’s the only explanation for her death, according to Suzy, and she won’t rest until she confirms it. Ali Benjamin weaves a tale of grief and the search for redemption through the pages of The Thing About Jellyfish, and adolescents and adults alike will find it spellbinding and emotionally cathartic. This title is recommended for ages 10 and older.


‘Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation’ by Edwidge Danticat

Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat is based on the author’s personal story of losing her mother to an immigration detention center for most of her childhood years. In the book, Danticat tells of a young girl named Saya and her desperation to free her mother from the detention center by writing a story. Her father has written to the government repeatedly with no response, but Saya’s words are the ones that end up making the difference. Her mother is finally allowed to live at home until proper paperwork is filed for her immigration. The story puts a face to the immigration issues that many do not fully grasp, and it invites the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the children of deported parents. Ginman recommends this title because it shows that “every child can make a difference.”


‘Teacup’ by Rebecca Young

Perhaps the most effective children’s books are those that allow readers to teach the lesson to themselves. Teacup by Rebecca Young, is one such book. It tells the story of a boy who leaves his homeland with few items, one being a teacup filled with the soil of where he used to play. He travels across both smooth and calm seas, all while clinging to his precious teacup. The reader comes to understand that the cup is so much more than his reminder of home; it’s hope. During his stormiest moments at sea, the cup becomes an emotional shelter that enables him to weather the storm. Children and adults alike will ponder the meaning behind the carefully chosen words of this title, and find perhaps more questions than answers to consider along the way. This book is recommended for ages four and older. (For a real-life tale, read the compelling short story of the little boat that sailed through time.)


‘The Next Place’ by Warren Hanson

Leaving behind complicated and intricate explanations of death, The Next Place by Warren Hanson focuses on the unencumbered joy of what life after death may offer. Providing both comfort and peace to those that have lost loved ones, the title has become a must-read for those seeking to regain a joyful perspective amidst aching grief. Nestled within its pages are gentle statements about gratitude for friendships in life and a painless existence on the other side. The book resists making religious statements, focusing only on an eternal existence free of pain and difficulty of any kind. The book is recommended for children aged five and older, though all who read the book will find comfort in its message.

Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.

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