I’m a crier. Not about my life, that rarely makes me cry unless I am spitting mad. Movies, books, and news always make me cry. I am always in awe of picture books that can make me weep. It’s not easy to convey such deep emotions with limited text and static pictures. These authors and illustrators hit it out of the park. I can’t promise you that you will need tissues, but I do know you will be moved and hope you don’t shy away from sharing them with your children.
Kids can learn a lot from books with emotional elements. While seeing a parent tear up can be upsetting the opportunities to explain why and talk about their reaction to the book are really valuable. Check out this list and choose a children’s book that makes me cry to add to your collection.All the book titles are affiliate links to Amazon.com
On the Day, His Daddy Left by Eric J. Adams made me gasp I was crying so hard. It was a great book for my son who is starting to notice differences in his friends’ families. However, the book speaks towards children five 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 said “Mama, mama read it to me.” and I couldn’t. I had to have a cry first. The authors did a wonderful job addressing both this little boy’s anxiety, guilt and the reactions of loving and concerned parents.
A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer makes me cry every time I read it, and not just because I am pregnant ( this review is from 2010 I am not expecting) It’s a true story about a baby Hippo who lost his mama in the Tsunami that so many other babies both creature and human did. The story is about friendship, adoption, and about love. See Owen the little Hippo finds Mzee a big old giant tortoise and even though they are different species, and Mzee is a boy, Owen treats him like his mama.
Edited for 2013 – Even though I read it with my son many times as a toddler when we read it together when he was 5 and fully aware of the finality of losing a parent in devastated him, and I felt terrible. He was very upset by this, and I wanted to mention how differently kids can accept books years later because of their greater understanding of the world.
Is There Really a Human Race? by Jamie Lee Curtis made me cry. My husband would say that’s not exactly hard, but it is when it’s a book not many bring me to tears. I really like this book and so did my son which surprised me. I thought it too long and sophisticated for a two-year-old. The rhyming text was so well written that it along with the adorable illustrations by Laura Cornell kept him happily interested as I read it to him before nap.
I thought that the message was going to be about race relations, but instead, it was about the rat race, and how it’s more important to try your best, help others and to be bold. The line “And for those who can’t speak, for themselves use bold voices” was when I lost it. I hope that lesson is one I can teach my son, to stand up for others. Okay so maybe I am a softy, but this book is great! Edited for 2013 – This book has now become a family favorite and my son, and I have read it often in the four years since this original review and yes I still cry when we read it.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. Every time I read this, I get goosebumps. The book is simple and talks about the differences of little children all over the world, but focuses on what they all have in common. Children of various cultures are shown, smiling, laughing, crying. The reader can see that even if the clothes or houses or food is different, the insides are the same. I always choke up reading this book because it’s so beautiful and a great reminder for all of us. While we so often focus on what we see as different most of what we have in common.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is not so much a biography, but it is most definitely a historical account of one woman who changed a nation. We all know the story of Rosa Parks but no matter how well you know the facts, reading a children’s book about it makes me cry. The author does a fantastic job setting the stage, explaining how Rosa Parks was not your typical heroine, she was just a seamstress, just like everyone else. This is imperative to the message that one woman can stand up for what is right and make big changes. I also appreciated that the author included so much about the women who spearheaded the bus boycott. In my 30s, I feel inspired reading this as a woman. To think of the power it can have over young girls excites me. I cannot wait to read this to my daughter.
Brontorina by James Howe is possibly one of my new favorite books on the planet. It’s not a new book, but I have never read it before. My daughter loved it and while the lesson about creating inclusive environments went over her head the lesson about being true to yourself and doing something that has never been done before didn’t. The story is about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina and while a studio initially allows her to dance it’s clear that she is just too big. The story doesn’t end there and with some help from friends who support her dream, they find a way to include everyone. I dare you not to tear up when the ballet teacher tells Brontarina that she MUST dance.
That Summer by Tony Johnson. I read this at the library alone knowing that my three-year-old wasn’t ready for a book about death quite yet. There was not even a point to even try to conceal my tears; I wasn’t crying I was sobbing. The book is about the summer that one little boy watches his brother Joey get sick and die from Cancer. The author does a masterful job at relating grief, and the sadness of watching someone you love and don’t expect to die, get weak, and leave you.
As Joey’s condition worsens he learns to quilt and ultimately it’s his brother who finishes his quilt. I can’t rave about this book enough it simply makes the reader get it, as much as you can without ever living this particular nightmare. The line that haunted me was “I learned a lot that summer, how to grin when your heart is in shreds” that was the line that forced me into the “ugly cry”.
Did I Tell You I Love You Today? by Deloris Jordan is a very practical yet heartwarming look at all the ways parents show love to their children every day, from feeding them healthy food to praying after they go to bed. My son loved all the big boy things in the book like, the school bus, basketball, and the playground. I teared up reading the book, but I cry at American Idol so that may not be indicative of anything!
Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King made me cry. The true story is about a librarian who did what she needed to do to raise enough money to make a functional children’s section in the oldest library in Texas. What she did was stay on the roof of that library for a week, and it worked. I loved the message that libraries are vital, that books open doors, and that providing access to information to those who can’t afford to get it on their own is a worthwhile cause. This book made me want to cheer. It had me spouting off lessons left and right to my kids. And, it absolutely captivated all three of us. Go read this book and learn more about RoseAleta Laurell the real librarian on the roof.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is perhaps the classic tear-jerking picture book. I read this for years and years to children and had no problem getting choked up. It never bothered me, and then I gave birth and I can’t read it without sobbing. The premise is simple, a mom sings this simple song to her son as he grows. “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as you’re living, my baby you’ll be”. Until she can’t sing it anymore and it’s his turn. For days after I read this, I tear up as I lay my son in his crib. * Edited to add that many readers have commented that they do not like this book at all! What do you think? Leave a comment and tell us!
Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven and Chris Ellison is an amazing book, it tells the true story of the 1955 State Champion Little League team from South Carolina. The story is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once as the authors tell the readers about the realities and injustice that this team of little boys faced. They were the first all-black all-star team who were disqualified from playing in the little league world series because they hadn’t played a single game to become state champs because all the other teams forfeited.
I dare you not to cry; I was a sobbing mess by the end. The book itself is too complex for really little guys; my son who wasn’t quite 3 yet when we read it had no interest in the text though he loved the pictures. All kids old enough though should take a look, and be prepared to answer some tough questions about why people were so mean. Wonderful, wonderful, important children’s book that makes me cry!
Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russell is a calm, beautiful book about two rabbits who find each other and become great friends even though they are from different places. White Rabbit is a city rabbit and loves her urban home but is called away by the longing for company. She finds it in a park with Brown Rabbit, who is wonderful and plays beautiful music. There is just one glitch White Rabbit misses the city. I loved this book; my son liked it too, but it almost made me cry.
My husband and I come from different countries. Long-distance relationships are so hard, I wanted to jump in the book and tell White Rabbit that. I had to restrain myself from saying “The pressure will be too much, the limited time will make them argue and fight”. Then my son pointed out that I shouldn’t be sad. White Rabbit leaves the park and goes home but he comes for a visit in the end. But if ever I projected my own experience onto a book it was this, wow. It really is a sweet tale about friends who can be friends despite physical distance. Oh, and the illustrations, they are the very definition of springtime. Lovely.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is one of those books that makes me cry just when I think of it. If you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s not sad. Max acts up and his parents send him to his room. While in his room his imagination runs wild. It transports him to a world with no rules, no parents and no consequences for bad behavior. Ultimately though Max’s heart pulls him back home where he is loved most of all, even when he’s wild. I think this is an amazing love story about parents and children and unconditional love.
Amos & Boris by William Steig is a touching story about the power of an unlikely friendship and helping others. Boris the whale rescues Amos the mouse when he goes overboard in the middle of the ocean. After the rescue, they develop a tender friendship despite their obvious differences and go on their separate ways with full hearts. Many years later though it is Amos’ turn to rescue Boris. We are all reminded that size does not equal ability to help a friend.
This book is the odd one out on this list. My son actually started crying when I read it to him a few months ago (not the first time we read it). After, he explained that he was worried they’d never see each other ever again. It clicked he was finally old enough to get that, and I wept.
Hair for Mama by Kelly A. Tinkham is beautiful. The story is about a little boy, desperate to find some hair for his mama 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 his head hoping to give it to his mama. When the barber sweeps it up with the other hair on the floor, Marcus is heartbroken.
I was sobbing reading this. I knew it was a story about a mom having cancer but the way the author wrote it was magical. The complex emotions this little boy felt for his mom, and she for him jumped off the page. You can’t help but cry. I wasn’t sad. The love and desire to fix his mom and make everything better and his parents tenderness to his feelings touched me. Though it’s a children’s book that makes me cry. I can’t recommend this book more highly. Please note that this is not a book for toddlers. I would probably wait until a child is 4-5 before reading them this gem.
Dad, Jackie, and Me by Myron Ulburg is a touching look at fathers and sons and the complex relationship that develops at the same time as tackling bigger themes like discrimination and baseball. A father and son share a love of baseball and specifically of Jackie Robinson. This book handles these multiple themes very well. It will likely create a few lumps in your throat with sometimes achingly honest text. I really liked this book and how it linked different kinds of discrimination, adversity and the way the human spirit can triumph over both.
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. Sadly, 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 teared up as the book neared the end, wondering how the mom 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. This 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. My son woke up from near sleep and popped up and wiped my tears. Making me cry harder because he took 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. This children’s book that makes me cry is great for all families.
What children’s books make you cry? Tell us in comments!
I cannot get through the epilogue of Knuffle Bunny Free without choking up. Llama Llama Red Pajama gets me, too! (“Mama Llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here.”) And congratulations to you!
Allison McDonald says
When I read your comment I couldn’t figure out what the congrats was for… then the emails asking if I was expecting came in. That review was old and i didn’t make it clear . I am NOT pregnant but I was when I first wrote the review. 🙂
I haven’t read “A Mama for Owen” but I love the true story it’s based on, so I’ll have to check it out. One that always gets me is “If you were my bunny,” or something like that. And “The Ugly Duckling” too!
I can’t think of any picture books that make me cry, although I’m sure there are some. But every year I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and I cry like a baby. Also, Bridge to Terrabithia is just depressing and made me cry.
This is a great list. I’m excited to check some of them out. We have Love you Forever, and it just doesn’t touch me like it does some. I don’t have strong feelings towards it one way or the other, but I do think it’s a bit weird if you think too hard about it…
I cry like crazy when I read “On the day you were born” to my daughter. It’s a beautiful book, but I avoid reading it to her because I know I’ll cry!
Susan Stephenson says
My students used to beg me to read Love You Forever. I was so touched that they enjoyed it too, until Millie confided it was “cos we love to see you cry”! I do love it, but I’m not convinced it targets children.
Lindsey - Seedlings Nursery School says
Giraffes Can’t Dance……gets me every time.
The book Someday by Alison McGhee makes both me and my husband cry.
Kristen W says
One of my favorite books (that makes me cry too!) is Fireboat. It is a story about September 11th that tells the story of the John J. Harvey, a retirered Fireboat that is an unlikely hero on such a tragic day.
Karen E. Dabney says
The Velveteen Rabbit, The Giving Tree, Charlotte’s Web, The Black Stallion (Old Napoleon’s death. He was the gelding who kept the stallion company to keep him calm), and others I can’t think of at present. I have a poem I wrote called Brown Bear that always makes me a little misty.
Natalie F says
The beginning of the second book of The Penderwicks and some moments in the first book made me cry lately. I have to look at some of these wonderful books you are profiling in this post!
Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – cried through the whole thing. Also Betty Birney’s Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs, whew! And Knuffle Bunny Free gets me every time.
Goose’s Story by Carrie Best got me! The goose injures her leg and a little girl makes friends with the goose. I was torn about rooting for the goose to fly with the other geese and leave the little girl or stay with the little girl and not fly with other geese.
Not one word in the book and some reviewers said it’s just the retelling of a movie but Bluebird by Bob Staake had me bawling and touched my daughter as well. We had a good discussion out of that one. Also City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems and Jon J. Muth produced the same result. 🙂
City Dog, Country Frog is the saddest picture book ever.
Alison Troldahl says
Love your posts and ideas for crafts and activities!
It makes it so easy for me to find ways to entertain my two-year old!
Hearing my daughter “read” Goodnight Moon and hearing her memorization of it and her use of words such as “mush” and “hush” has brought tears to my eyes.
They grow up way too fast!
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco makes me cry even though I have read it to classes for years.
So many good books here, I need to arm myself with this list when I go to the library the next time! Thanks for sharing!
Library Lion and A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Thank you for such a great list!
Christiane D says
Have you read Puff the Magic Dragon? That will make you cry. And it has a CD with the music to go with it. I love the fact that it’s my son’s favorite book although I know he’ll outgrow it, just like the story itself. Love You Forever is another one that always gets to me, as well as Guess How Much I Love You.
Allison McDonald says
I think I saw the Disney movie ( as a kid) before I ever read it and never really had a desire to read it again. I will grab it soon and read it through adult eyes.
Jan Mc says
Every year I read Charlotte’s Web to my students and every year I cried when she died alone.
Melissa H says
Our Tree Named Steve makes me tear up everytime I read it to my First Graders. It bring back old memories and shows how “things” become part of your family.
Chris Drew says
Oh my goodness, I visited your site again and posted a comment, which I just noticed I already posted in 2013!!! Please delete it. Thank you!
Allison McDonald says
No problem – but they are both GREAT comments!
A Christmas Tree for Pyn- Olivier Dunrea, we read this every winter and I cry every time. Beautiful, simple story.
The Little Match Girl got me big time growing up, and so did Bridge to Terabithia (even though this one isn’t a picture book).