Today is a big day for our family: my older daughter is starting school. This isn’t the first major life change we have weathered as a family. Nearly two years ago, we added a baby sister. Then, as now, I have found a wealth of support and conversation in the pages of children’s literature.
Stories and illustrations that have been carefully created for children can be the catalyst that parents need to draw out conversation with their little ones as they prepare for and go through challenging circumstances.
Sometimes it can be hard for parents to find the right words to offer support and guidance for their children. But reading a story can allow parents to speak their hearts — even if the sentiment is “borrowed” from the author of the book.
Not only do I strongly believe in the power of children’s literature, I also hold the unshakable belief that we are all better equipped as parents when we partner together as a community. Because my oldest child is only four, I know I have a somewhat limited exposure to the treasures to be discovered in literature for children.
I have asked some well-read and knowledgeable parents to weigh in with recommendations for books that help children who are experiencing major life changes.
Here are 14 books that will soothe and comfort your child as together you navigate transitions in life.
The Arrival of a Sibling
Adding a sibling to the family can create all manner of responses in young children. Some will accept the change with uncertainty, while others will embrace the new sibling with glee! Others may need a little extra time and reassurance as they settle into the new role of Big Sister or Big Brother.
1. We Have a Baby by Cathryn Falwell
My absolute favorite book that I read to our older daughter to prepare her for her little sister’s arrival is We Have a Baby by Cathryn Falwell. This book is a delightful celebration of all of the wonderful aspects of having a new baby. The text is simple enough for toddlers to understand, and the illustrations are peaceful and soothing. I read this book so many times, I was easily able to memorize the words, and I found myself repeating lines from the text to our older daughter after her sister was born: “We have a baby! A baby to dress, a baby to feed . . .”
2. I’m a Big Sister/ I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole
Andrea suggests Joanna Cole’s I’m a Big Sister/ I’m a Big Brother as good resources for little ones who are taking on the new role as an older sibling. At the end of each of these books, Ms. Cole offers some practical and helpful support to parents on how to further engage children in conversation about the changes that are taking place in their family.
3. Darcy and Gran Don’t Like Babies by Jane Cutler
For a different spin on the “welcome home baby!” theme, Alana (Gray Matters) recommends Darcy and Gran Don’t Like Babies by Jane Cutler. Darcy isn’t thrilled by the arrival of a new brother, and her grandmother sympathetically agrees. This is a clever take on a universal idea.
4. Big Sister and Little Sister by Charlotte Zolotow
Kate Wicker knows this topic quite well, especially since she and her husband recently added baby girl number three to their family. She suggests Big Sister and Little Sister by acclaimed author Charlotte Zolotow as a good book to explore the sibling relationship after the new baby phase is over and some tensions begin to rise between siblings. This story encourages both older and younger siblings to learn to view each other with gratitude, appreciate, and love.
We all fear the unknown, and children are no exception. The characters on these pages coax out what children are worried about before the start of school and allow for meaningful discussion that might help to quell these fears.
5. Owen and Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes writes often of characters who are going through big changes who learn to adapt and thrive. Stephne suggests Henkes’ Owen for little ones who are worried about what will happen to Blankie (or other lovey-type objects) when school starts.
Diana recommends Wemberly Worried for children who are harboring some worries and fears about what the first day of school will be like: “What if no one else has spots? What if no one else wears stripes? What if no one else brings a doll? What if the teacher is mean? What if the room smells bad?” Even children who are not naturally “worriers” will find delight in seeing how Wemberly overcomes her worries about starting school.
6. The Kissing Hand by Audry Penn
The book to which many parents and teachers turn to help comfort the “I’ll miss you, Mom!” fears that often accompany the first days of school is Audry Penn’s The Kissing Hand. Mrs. Raccoon gives Chester Raccoon a kiss on the hand that will go with him on his first night of school. My daughter and I have read this book many times in the past few weeks, and she loves the idea of carrying a kiss from Mama everywhere she goes. I love the idea of holding her kiss close to me while she spends her days at school.
7. I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
Amy of Let’s Explore suggests Francesca Rusackas’s I Love You All Day Long as a comforting transition book for the first days of preschool or kindergarten.
As a child, I moved six times from the beginning of kindergarten until my high school graduation. In my experience, moving can bring a mixture of emotions—excited anticipation for a new adventure mixed with sadness and mourning that which is left behind. These books each speak to this big move.
8. Bunny Bungalow by Cynthia Rylant
Mama Lisa recommends Cynthia Rylant’s Bunny Bungalow. The charming text invites children to see how a new house can become as well-loved and lived-in as the house from which they moved away: “The bunnies found a bungalow, a cozy bunny home. They painted it as green as grass, they made it all their own.”
9. Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Good Move by Cynthia Rylant
Stacy suggests another Cynthia Rylant book – Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Good Move. Moving next door to your cousin can be fun! But even when moving is fun, it can still be unsettling.
10. A New House by Jill Wenzel
Diana recommends A New House by Jill Wenzel as an interactive way to get kids involved in the moving process. It begins with “Congratulations on your new house!” and explores ideas such as “You’ll have to say goodbye to ___ , but you’ll get to say hello to ___.” Rather than just reading this book, kids will write in and record thoughts, feelings, and memories as they work through the unsettling feeling that moving often brings.
Divorce has the potential to cause traumatic and devastating thoughts, feelings, and reactions for little ones. Yet there is a great opportunity in this circumstance for parents to reach out to their children with lots of conversations and discussions that will pave the path for honest communication in the future.
11. Was It The Chocolate Pudding?: A Story for Little Kids About Divorce by Sandra Levins
When parents divorce, it is extremely common for children to think that somehow the children are to blame. Author Sandra Levins deals with this topic in Was It The Chocolate Pudding?: A Story for Little Kids About Divorce. The six-year-old boy featured in this story got carried away smearing chocolate pudding everywhere one day. Soon after, his mother moves out of the home, and the boy begins to believe that the mess he and his little brother made must be the reason she didn’t live there anymore. This book not only helps children to understand that it is not the fault of the children when parents divorce, it also explains some terms and phrases that are often used in these circumstances, but that children may not understand.
12. My Family’s Changing by Pat Thomas
My Family’s Changing is psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas’s book written to explain to children in the kindergarten to fourth grade age range some of emotions that they may experience in the midst of divorce. She reassures children that they are still very loved, and touches on some practical questions (such as how joint custody works). Throughout the book, she includes “What about you?” questions to inspire and encourage parents to ask questions to start meaningful conversations about what the children are thinking and how they are perceiving what is happening to their family.
Children are concrete thinkers; explaining a concept as abstract as death and dying can leave grown-ups at a loss for words. Below are a few of the books on death and dying created for children that artfully and peacefully guide children through the grieving process.
13. The Next Place by Warren Hanson
“The next place that I go will be as peaceful and familiar as a sleepy summer Sunday and a sweet, untroubled mind.” So begins The Next Place by Warren Hanson. Each gorgeously illustrated page of this powerful book offers calming and inspiring reassurance to the loved ones left behind when someone passes away. The text is written in such an open-ended manner that you can incorporate your family’s spiritual beliefs into the discussions that follow, yet if your family is not particularly religious or spiritual, this is still a book that can bring comfort and healing without any discussions on religious beliefs. Amidst many books on dealing with loss, The Next Place stands above the rest as a book that will offer hope and healing to many.
14. Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert and Chuck DeKlyen
Elizabeth recommends Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert and Chuck DeKlyen for children dealing with loss. This is another book full of gorgeous illustrations, this time illuminating the story of Grandy – a “wise old woman” who has suffered a great loss. The loss is never specified in the text, and so this book can easily be applied to any season of grief. Because children are concrete thinkers, many will find comfort in the idea of something coming from their tears. “Well, tear soup is a way for you to sort through all the different types of feelings and memories you have when you lose someone or something special.” Truly a rich and comforting story for children and adults, too.
Jess suggested to me The Complete Book of First Experiences, an Usborne book that introduces all kinds of first to little ones – first trip to the doctor, bringing home a new baby for the first time, and the first day of school are amongst the topics covered. This could be an excellent book to have on hand to prepare children ahead of time for the big moments that are common to growing up.