Books about bullying, moving, death & other tough stuff.

I am often asked by readers and friends if I know of any books about this or that to help their kids with transitions and life events. I am always happy to oblige and below are the  most common titles I pass along when I am asked for a great book about a tough subject. You will find books about moving, divorce, bullying,  death, anxieties, potty training, bad behavior , being different and even about a parent who has lost her hair because of cancer. I am warning you now more than a few of these books have put me in tears but all of them have helped kids going through something tough and I hope they are helpful for you too.

On the Day His Daddy Left by Eric J. Adams made me gasp for air I was crying so hard. It was a great book for my son who is just starting to notice differences in his friends families, although the book is really geared towards children 5 years and older. It’s about a little boy who knows his parents are divorcing and his dad is moving out after school that day. Early in the book he writes a secret question on a piece of paper and throughout the day shows it to select people. When the question is revealed as ” Is it my fault?” I dare any parent not to choke up. My son was saying ” Mama, mama read it to me.” and I couldn’t I had to have a cry first. I think the authors did a wonderful job addressing both this little boy’s anxiety, guilt and the reactions of very loving and concerned parents.

It Hurts When I Poop!: A Story for Children Who Are Scared to Use the Potty by Howard J. Bennet was a life saver for us. Many kids start holding their poop after one painful one, and that happened here and we went from no issues to fussing, fighting the potty and finally he admitted he was scared it will hurt. Of course holding it made that worse but try to explain that to a frightened toddler. This book was amazing. The story is long, I skipped some text with my son , but read it all for myself since it’s packed with awesome information for parents too! The book explains digestion, why it hurts and how to make it better on a kids level as well as in more detail for parents. I can’t recommend this more for parents whose children have hit this very common but very distressing problem.

I Don’t Want to Go To School! by Stephanie Blake is a funny little book that deals with the big issue of not wanting to go to school. The little bunny Simon in this book doesn’t want to go even though his parents are supportive and try to make him feel confident about going. I loved that when he got to school the first thing he did was cry and the author was so matter of fact about it. That lets kids know that there is no shame in expressing emotion and even after they cry things will probably get better, it did for Simon. My son loved that all Simon ever said was “No way!” and quickly took over every one of Simon’s lines. It was a big hit, got lots of giggles and had a great message.

I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson is a great book.  There are some really wonderful aspects to this book that aren’t apparent at first but upon reflection really impressed me. The story is about a beloved teacher who is young, vibrant and one day tragically dies in a car accident. The rest of the book is devoted to how children grieve, from questions about if they will see her again to the realization that she wouldn’t want them to be sad and cry. I loved that the person who dies is someone important and close but not a family member. For children just learning about death it sort of eases them in. My son only kinda gets it , and his questions were more about if there was a firetruck and ambulance at the car accident than about death itself. He did understand and relate to the grief though, and how it’s OK to be sad when someone dies. The other wonderful thing I found was that she died in an accident, she wasn’t sick, it was sudden. SO often we teach our kids that people die when they are old or sick, and that just isn’t always true. Obviously this is an intensely personal subject and up to every family how and when they broach it , but that is what I liked.

Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley   is on my must buy list. I don’t say that often, especially with such a great public library, but this book is wonderful. Nate is a little boy who after seeing a ballet school production with his class at school, decides he too wants to take ballet. Of course his older brother has something to say, and say and say but Nate is pretty confident with the help of his parents , that boys can take ballet.  I love that Nate wants to dance but he hates the idea that he might have to wear pink, clearly pink is not a good thing to him, he just wants to dance.  What I love about this book as a woman who spent more than her fair share of time at a ballet bar in her growing up years, is that it depicts boy dancers well.  I encourage parents of boys and girls to read this, to open our kids’ horizons to being interested in whatever their heart desires, not to what older brothers, neighbors or anyone else tells them to be.

Edwardo the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World by John Burningham is a must read for anyone who is in a position of authority among children, it is a poignant look at what happens when you scold and belittle a child and then what the outcome is when you praise.  I have always had a extra special place in my heart for students who act out . It’s rarely not for a reason and this book will help remind anyone how children need understanding more than harsh words and punishment especially when they are being horrible.

Jim’s Dog Muffins by Miriam Cohen doesn’t beat around the bush. The first line informs the reader that Jim’s dog was smushed by a truck.  At first I thought, uh no , this book is not one I am going to like but I really do. The author has a knack of writing the story the way young kids deal with things. Kids are blunt and so is this story. I really liked that Jim got angry when a classmate suggested to him that being sad doesn’t help , and loved their teacher’s response too. Another good book about a tough subject.

Jake’s Best Thumb by Ilene Cooper is a pretty realistic look at a preschooler who is happily sucking his thumb despite the adults in his life warning him about bad teeth, thumb sucking not being for big boys and asking him gently when he thinks he will be ready to stop. What I love about this book is that Jake’s reactions are spot on. I like how sometimes he doesn’t even know he is sucking his thumb, how he denies he is a bog boy ( compared to his big sister) when it’s suggested he is too big to suck his thumb now and the shame he feels when he starts kindergarten and is teased for doing it. School is a turning point, teasing hurts but it’s not just the realistic reaction of a bully that forces Jake to suck only at night. It’s the realization that lots of kids need something at night, even as he discovers the class bully.

Spaghetti in A Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are  by Maria Dismondy is about bullying but it’s also about doing the right thing and not losing yourself especially when it’s hard. We both really liked this story about a little girl who is teased mercilessly by a classmate and how she deals with it. What we liked so much was that the bully was really mean and the bullying seemed to come from nowhere. I think that is so important because when you are getting bullied it’s hard to make sense of it, and often there is no clear reason for being a target. The dialog that this opened for us was so enlightening and this book offers parents and teachers  many chances to talk about the complex issues of bullying. The thing about this book is that it’s not even so much about bullying but about not losing confidence in yourself and who you are in the face of a bully. Lucy struggles with being teased but ultimately she helps her bully when he needs it even though he doesn’t deserve her help . She does the right thing and gains confidence in herself in the process.

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis has been talked about so much I think I had inflated expectations. Don’t get me wrong I think the message is so important and the book does a good job at introducing readers to her son who is different , to how he gets hurt when people laugh at him and how great his family is at accepting him. I like how simply blunt  the book is and it should be because the lesson should be about acceptance and allowing people, especially children to express their true self. I think I was expecting more of a story even though I knew it was non fiction. It opened a great dialog with my 5 year old son about how he would treat a male friend if they wanted to dress in a dress- good discussion at our house , worth the read for sure!

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is a fabulous book about a little girl who is bullied mercilessly. Molly Lou Melon is all the things that her bully picks on her about . She does sound funny, she is very short and she does have buck teeth but she is also confident and strong and celebrates them in the face of being bullied. I particularly love that her confidence comes from her grandmother who tells her to stand tall and be proud of who she is. This is exactly the message I want to yell from the rooftops to kids. Celebrate who you are!  Children love the super fun illustrations by David Catrow which always remind me of Seuss so much so that I have referred to Molly Lou as Cindy Lou Who more than once over the years. If you have never read this book you really must!

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon is a really cute book. This is the story of Ginny who doesn’t know that the way she sees things is a little different than the other kids in her class. She is teased, her teacher reprimands her for squinting but it’s not until she has an eye screening that the nurse figures out she has double vision. I like this book because it really allows children to experience what Ginny goes through , how being different but not knowing it can be fixed feels.  Ginny is given a patch and that too could be a source of humiliation but she is proud to be a pirate! Great and unexpectedly tender look at being different at school.

The I’M NOT SCARED Book by Todd Parr is a great simplistic book about fears. Like all our other favorite Todd Parr books this one scratches the surface and lets parents dig deeper if  they need to. What I appreciate about this book is that it covers so many common childhood anxieties and gives simple solutions for them too. Toddlers just starting to verbalize their fears will connect well to this and absolutely love the humor and bright illustrations. Great find for little worriers.

A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn is a sequel to one of my favorite books ” The Kissing Hand” . In this book Chester the little raccoon has to leave his home to move to another tree because his is being chopped down. This book really focuses on the feelings of fear of the unknown, the loss of security and the uncertainty that comes with moving. Feelings that even as a 34 year old mom and veteran mover I am still facing ! This is a great book and while you grab it grab all the other books the library has by this author, you won’t regret it.

The Kissing Hand by Audry Penn is an absolute favorite . Chester is a raccoon who like most of us doesn’t like change. In his case it’s starting school. He wants to stay home with his mama and play with the friends he already has instead of going to school away from her and his friends. So his mama explains to him the magic of the kissing hand . The real magic is the message that we have to do things that scare us sometimes but that the love of our family is always with us to help us through. Go get this book.

Zip, Zip…Homework by Nancy Poydar is a book about telling the truth at home and school. Violet is so eager to get homework because it makes her feel big and important, she even gets a special new bag for it. Things go haywire when she can’t remember which pocket she put her homework in, and she lies about having finished it.  I don’t know about you but as my son nears 4 years old telling the difference between the truth and lies has become an important subject that is often discussed. This book is another good tool to help keep that topic going .

 Back into Mommy’s Tummy by Thierry Robberecht made both my son and I laugh hysterically, mostly because it was incredibly relevant to us. In the book a little girl asks to go back into her mommy’s belly for her 5th birthday.  She wants to stay close to her mom, never have to go to school, stay up as late as mom does and even tells her mom if she wants to see her she can go get an ultrasound and she’ll wave hello. The absurdity is awesome, and the sentiment is bang on. Late in the book we discover that mom is expecting and she asks if her daughter is worried about her loving the new baby more. I love how the author and illustrator Phillippe Goossens use humor to get to the heart of it all. My son is incredibly attached to me and this book really opened up a great dialogue about having to share my snuggles, and love.

Baby on the Way by William Sears MD, Martha Sears RN and Christie Watts Kelly  has been the very best baby book we’ve found. It explains much of pregnancy from nausea, to aching feet and even nesting. It also describes labor in a really kid friendly non intimidating way. I love that it explains that in mommy’s belly is a baby holder called a uterus. My son has been asking me how my uterus is since reading this daily for the past week. Explaining contractions, that others will likely be taking care of them for a little while and what mommy is doing when she is not with you is all really useful. It also goes on to explain what babies will do , like nursing, crying and what that funny crinkled thing is on it’s belly!  The book also offers many many resources for expectant parents.

Hair for Mama by Kelly A. Tinkham is beautiful. The story is about a little boy who is desperate to find some hair for his mama who has lost hers to chemotherapy. Marcus wants mama to be in the family photo but she doesn’t want to be the way she looks. His mission comes to a climax when he shaves off all his own hair hoping to give it to his mama. When the barber sweeps it up with the other hair on the floor Marcus is heart broken and goes home in tears. I was sobbing reading this, I knew it was a story about a mom having cancer but the way the author wrote it , it was magical. The complex emotions this little boy felt for his mom and she for him, jumped off the page and you can’t help but cry. I wasn’t sad ,I was touched by the love and desire to fix his mom and make everything better, and his parents tenderness to his feelings. I can’t recommend this book more highly. I should note that this is not a book for toddlers, I would probably wait until a child is 4-5 before reading them this gem.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst was another childhood favorite that I have enjoyed sharing with my own son. This book is beautiful, even though it may take a few reads to see  it’s not a story about a whining little boy so much as lesson that sometimes things do not go our way. Days can suck. It’s just the way it is. As a child I related to Alexander’s feelings of frustration and things being unfair. How often to you hear a child say “No Fair!” probably a lot. This book taps into that feeling, being little is hard but just because you are mad, or your day was bad doesn’t mean you get your way. Great book to talk about anger and frustration with your child, and it’s funny too.

Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst brings our favorite angry kid Alexander back but this time he’s not threatening to move to Australia, he’s threatening never to move anywhere! I love this author and Alexander is one of my favorite book characters ever, I have often felt like him and I know I am not the only fan who is now reading him to the next generation. In this book Alexander is adamant that he will not move, unlike the rest of his family he has no desire or intention to move. I liked this book, although it’s longer than maybe it should be it touches on kids’ need to control things especially when they have none. Glad my son seems to like Alexander as much as I do.

A Father Like That by Charlotte Zolotow touched my heart. I have always been lucky to have a dad who was involved and present in my life, but this book is about the opposite. A little boy is telling his mom about what he wants in a dad, because he doesn’t have one. The book covers so many things dads do or don’t do, and while the dream dad isn’t perfect he is fair, loving and kind. I was tearing up as the book neared the end because I was wondering how the mom who was hearing all of this was going to react. Throughout the list of things the dad would do there were things for his mom too, mostly her being able to take a break and rest. Which made me feel sad that a little boy would have to worry about his mom, but I am sure that is all too common. The end pushed me over the edge, and my son who was drifting off to sleep while I was reading popped up and wiped my tears which made me cry harder because he was taking care of me. It ends with his mama saying that even though he may never have a father like that , that one day he can be a father like that. Great book for all families.

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