According to CNN, children’s books that focus on tough subjects such as divorce, racism, and bullying can not only be a proper starting point in conversations with kids, but can also strengthen kids’ relationships with books, their curiosity and health, and their relationships with the adults sharing the books with them. Children’s books offer a safe space for children to ask questions, use critical thinking skills, and learn compassion and empathy. For adults, children’s books can help them approach delicate subjects in an appropriate manner as well as help them identify things they may not have noticed until their kids asked. These subjects are not easy to talk about, regardless of age, and children’s books allow that truth without shying away from the need to analyze it.
Though CNN started off with classics such as Where The Wild Things Are, The Lorax, and The Giving Tree, here are a few more options.
Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, PhD, ABPP; Marietta Collins, PhD; Ann Hazzard, PhD, ABPP; and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
As two children of different races each question what happened to a Black man shot by police and what follows after, their parents teach them about police brutality and how racism intersects with state violence.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Written by an Academy Award Winner and recipient of The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work, Sulwe focuses on a young black girl with dark skin as she navigates colorism and the negative effects on her self-esteem.
The Night Dad Went to Jail by Melissa Higgins and illustrated by Wednesday Kirawn
When Bailey’s dad goes to jail, Bailey struggles with guilt, anger, and feeling abandoned. As he is bullied and tries to come to terms with what is happening, adults talk to him clearly and plainly about what is happening and why, and offer him creative outlets to express his feelings.
Remembering Ethan by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop
Sarah names grief even when the people she loves just want to forget. After her big brother passes, Sarah refuses to leave Ethan behind as just a memory, and not a full person and her big brother, forcing her family to find better ways to work through their grief.
Nobody Knew What To Do: A Story About Bullying by Becky Ray McCain and illustrated by Todd Leonardo
When a young boy named Ray is bullied by classmates, the narrator and other kids have no idea what to do. As the bullying gets worse, they learn what they can do to fight against bystander mentality and how to deescalate bullying.
Once I Was Very Very Scared by Chandrah Gosh Ippen and illustrated by Erich Ippen
Using animals, Ippen shows kids what can cause fear and how it can present differently in other people. As the animals learn about each other’s triggers, the porcupine helps them figure out healthier ways to honor their fear responses.
The Watcher by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier
Tanya and Jordan are classmates struggling with family, immigration, and bullying. Told as a golden shovel (a poetic form where you take a line from someone else’s poem and use each word in the line as the end word in your own poem), Grimes explains how friends can become family and looking out for one another can keep you from falling apart.