There’s no sugar-coating it: parenting can be tough on an average day. Throw in a curveball, like bullying, the death of a loved one, or school shootings, and even the most experienced parent is sometimes at a loss for words. But a good book, especially one that tackles tough topics for kids, is one way to help your child makes sense of the world around them.

Related: 15 TV shows about kindness for kids

While books don’t solve everything, they are a place to turn to for information, suggestions and those words we can’t quite articulate ourselves. They are also a way to start important conversations from a young age and can offer a way to heal in even the hardest situations. We’ve collected books that introduce tough topics for kids of all ages and the grown-ups in their life.

Add these to your child's bookshelf today!

Puberty is Gross book

Puberty Is Gross but Also Really Awesome

Topic: Puberty 

Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw author Gina Loveless brings her naturally engaging sense of humor to a colorful book aimed at helping kids, and their grown-ups have honest conversations about the many, many things that happen to your body during puberty. In other words, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t let the title fool you: the book empowers kids of any gender, sexuality, or race. It’s both a celebration and a demystification of a

Bodies are Cool book

Bodies Are Cool

Topic: Puberty and Body Acceptance 

A joyful book for preschoolers about our bodies, this inclusive book shows various skin tones, body shapes, hair, and more. It’s a book to foster early acceptance and confidence about our bodies, a foundation for having ongoing conversations about how our bodies change.  

Antiracist Baby book

Anti-Racist Baby

Topic: Racism

Having candid conversations around race and equality can be tricky sometimes, especially with little kids. Yet it is necessary to dismantle the systemic racism in our society, to not only make today better but tomorrow as well. So start ‘em off young with Anti-Racist Baby. Geared toward ages zero to three, the picture book features discussion prompts to help readers identify bias in their daily lives, and have open conversations about what they learn, brought to you by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist.

Let's Talk about Race book

Let’s Talk About Race

Topic: Racism

Newbery Honor Book author Julius Lester weaves his own life into this book, inviting children to think of their own story alongside the stories of others. In doing so, he makes the connection for young children between the abstract and reality. With compassion and honesty, he engages children in a conversation about race and equality by asking them to help him tell the true story. For ages four to eight, the illustrations by Karen Barbour make each page feel like a painting in a gallery of beautiful art.

Different Differenter book

Different Differenter: An Activity Book about Skin Color

Topic: Racism, colorism  

For children five to nine, this interactive book invites questions and discussion under four main categories: Seeing Difference; Understanding Difference; Learning Difference; and Loving Difference. What makes this book stand out is the many clearly written instructions for hands-on activities and projects designed to demonstrate the subject of discussion in a memorable, tangible way. Author and educator Jyoti Gupta has dedicated her life to teaching and working for social good, in particular how colorism impacts women and youth.

Raising Antiracist Children book

Raising Anti-Racist Children: A Practical Parenting Guide

Topic: Racism (for parents) 

There are dozens of amazing children’s books about race and tolerance that will help you start, and continue conversations. Raising Anti-Racist Children will help you as a parent with actionable, informed activities, stories, tips, and tools to unpack bias within yourself and become an antiracist parent and anti-biased educator. What we really love about this book is how it breaks everything down into categories: Healthy bodies—establishing a body-positive environment at home to combat stereotypes; Radical minds—encouraging children to be agents of change while understanding how to become co-conspirators ourselves; Conscious shopping—making choices and creating shopping habits that take the whole community into account; and Thriving communities—acknowledging our role and our power to shape the world for our children, through schools, communities, and beyond.

Aftermath book

Aftermath

Topic: School Shootings

After her brother dies from a congenital heart defect, 12-year-old Lucy and her parents move to a new town. Lucy starts a new school where her peers are survivors of a school shooting four years prior. Recommended for children ages 10 to 14, the book is about grief and unimaginable sorrow, but also resilience and healing. Author Emily Barth Isler captures Lucy’s experience perfectly, along with the complex world of middle school, navigating the everyday challenges, (like where to sit at lunch) along with the daily reminders of the long trauma of a violent event. Consider reading this book with or at the same time as your child to be prepared to talk about the emotions that may come up and gain perspective as a parent.

Lockdown book

Lockdown: Talking to Your Kids About School Violence

Topic: School Shootings (for parents) 

The odds are even your elementary-age children have already experienced a lockdown drill. How can we, as parents, give our children assurance that they are safe? How do we protect them? Including interviews with children and their parents, including survivors from the Parkland school shooting, the author offers therapy-based tools to deal with the trauma that occurs from both lockdown and active shooter drills as well as school shootings.

What Happens when Parents Get Divorced book

What Happens When Parents Get Divorced?

Topic: Divorce 

Sara Olsher specializes in books for kids going through tough times. Inspired by her own experience, she wanted to offer her daughter knowledge and routine to ease her anxiety surrounding the divorce and co-parenting. The result is a book that acknowledges the scary part of divorce while fostering resilience. Olsher has also written What Happens When Two Moms Divorce.

Road Trip With Max And His Mom book

Road Trip with Max and Mom

Topic: Divorce 

This chapter book for children seven to nine normalizes the feelings of confusion, sadness, and what home looks like after a divorce when all the things you used to do together as a family are different. In this case, Max and his mom are headed on a road trip, which he should be excited about…but isn’t. In Linda Urban’s other book, Weekends with Max and His Dad, Max goes to his dad’s new apartment for adventures, but they don’t always live up to his expectations.

Talking to Children about Divorce book

Talking to Children About Divorce: A Parent's Guide to Healthy Communication at Each Stage of Divorce

Topic: Divorce (for parents) 

Here’s one for the grown-ups. Going through a divorce is a painful process, and when it involves your children it’s even more difficult. Marriage and family therapist Jean McBride offers in-depth advice and tools to help you navigate the difficult conversations and situations that are likely to arrive. No matter what stage you are at with the process, this book will help both you and your children communicate honestly. 

Invisible String book

The Invisible String

Topic: Grief, death, loss 

Ask a parent or caregiver who has been through a major loss in the last four years since this book was released, and the chances are they have it on their shelf. Recommended by bereavement support groups, hospice centers, foster care and social service agencies, military library services, church groups, parenting groups, and educators, the book tells the story of a mother explaining to her children that we are all connected by an invisible string. What is this string? How does it tether us together, even after a person is gone? This book helps children cope with big emotions in a heartwarming way. To be honest, it’s hard to get to the end without crying because the relatable words touch anyone who has experienced grief and loss. 

I Miss You book

I Miss You: A First Look at Death

Topic: Grief, death, loss 

There’s a reason this book has been continually in print since 2001. It is honest, sweet, and age-appropriate for early elementary-age children who have experienced death for the first time. Children can explore their feelings while reading along with their parents.  Whether it’s the death of a grandparent or family member, or even a beloved pet, this book belongs on every parent’s shelf.

Lost in Clouds book

Lost in the Clouds

Topic: Grief, death, loss 

Billy’s mom doesn’t live with him anymore. She is lost in the clouds. And although he misses her, he can still talk to her. And yell to her during a thunderstorm. And find comfort when her in the rain that helps his flowers grow. A gentle story that helps children begin to talk about their feelings, the book includes pages at the back designed to help kids talk about their grief.

Julian is a Mermaid book

Julián Is a Mermaid

Topic: Gender Identity 

When little Julián attends the Coney Island Mermaid Parade with his abuela, he becomes enchanted by the costumes and the idea of becoming a mermaid. Both this book by author-illustrator Jessica Love, and her follow-up, Julián at the Wedding, not only normalize gender fluidity, they celebrate it. For children ages four to eight, spark the conversation about tolerance and gender identity. 

Jamie and Bubbie book

Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns

Topic: Gender Identity 

Spend a day with Jamie and Bubbie as they explore their neighborhood, and the people there. When Bubbie assumes he is she or she is he, Jamie tenderly explains the importance of not assuming a person’s gender, why we should use gender-neutral pronouns, nonbinary identity, and how to respectfully use pronouns. The book uses a relatable story that allows early-elementary age children to emphatically explore their own feelings about gender identity and includes tips for caregivers, educators, and parents on ways to continue the conversation further.

He's My Mom book

He’s My Mom: A Story for Children Who Have a Transgender Parent or Relative

Topic: Gender Identity 

Whether it’s a parent who has transitioned, a family member, or you want your children to be aware of the cultural biases toward trans people, this book for young children ages three to seven makes its mark. Told from the child of David, who transitioned from female to male, as David educates those around him, and readers, what misgendering is, why it’s hurtful, and why it is important to treat trans persons with respect.

Jack Not Jackie book

Jack, Not Jackie

Topic: Gender Identity 

Published in partnership with GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) this sweet picture book offers a perfect way for children to celebrate transgender identity. Told from the point of view of a little girl whose little sister “Jackie” wants to be known as “Jack” the story is realistic, relatable, and honest. As parents and caregivers, we especially appreciate the appendix of further resources on the topic. 

The Not-So-Friendly Friend book

The Not-So-Friendly Friend: How To Set Boundaries for Healthy Friendships

Topic: Bullying

Bullies don’t always come in the form of kids who push you off the swings at the playground. Sometimes, bullies come in the disguise of “friends.” Follow a little girl as she begins to understand what boundaries are. Children will see a positive example of standing up for themselves and cultivating healthy friendships. This is one most adults can learn from, too, and can help you gain insight into how to deal with a bully in your kid’s life.

Step Up! book

Step-Up Activity Book: My Anti-Bullying Activity Book

Topic: Bullying 

Using puzzles, games, prompts, and crafts, children ages five to eight will learn to understand what bullying is and have engaging conversations with their parents and caregivers about the topic. Kids will learn not just what to do about a bully, but how to recognize and prevent bullying behavior in themselves

What Do I Say About That? book

What Do I Say About That?

Topic: Incarceration

This book helps validate the feelings and struggles of children who have an incarcerated parent. Although it is written for ages eight to 12, it articulates the emotions that a kid of any age can feel: most heartbreakingly, why didn’t my parents love me enough to say no, to do the right thing. It also touches on addiction, as there are familiar themes of feeling “not enough” when you are the child of an alcoholic or addict.

Far Apart, Close in Heart book

Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family when a Loved One Is Incarcerated

Topic: Incarceration

Kids will feel less alone after reading this book and meeting the different characters who have incarcerated parents. Written with empathy and sensitivity, children will relate to the anger, embarrassment, confusion, and sadness that often comes along with being separated from their parents. For ages four to eight.

Demetri Makes a Memory Quit book

Demetri Makes a Memory Quilt

Topic: Incarceration

Written in collaboration with formerly incarcerated mothers, the author has developed compassionate, realistic characters and scenarios that handle the subject of incarceration and separation with grace and compassion. Through the metaphor of the quilt of memories, Demetri undergoes a healing process, and this book will guide young children (ages three through eight) through that process. Beautifully written by Renee Menart, with illustrations by Candice Bradley that are as memorable as Demetri’s quilt itself.

On Or Street book

On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty

Topic: Poverty and homelessness 

This non-fiction book for children six to eight uses age-appropriate language to address homelessness, refugee status, and mental illness as they are connected to poverty and inadequate resources. Breaking through stereotypes and educating children on these big issues, the book also empowers them to make a change in the world.

Still a Family book

Still a Family: A Story about Homelessness

Topic: Poverty and homelessness 

This is the story of a family who loves one another deeply but who have become unhomed. The little girl and her mother live in one shelter, and her father lives in a men’s shelter. In spite of the difficult situation, the family still connects, plays together, and finds ways to be a family. A compassionate look at life for a family who is struggling with poverty, geared toward children ages four to eight.

The Family Under the Bridge book

The Family Under the Bridge

Topic: Poverty and homelessness 

A classic novel for ages eight to 12, this Newbery Honor-winning tell the heartwarming, and heartbreaking, story of an old man living on the streets in Paris who takes three abandoned children under his wing. Illustrated by acclaimed children’s book artist Garth Williams.

My Parents Have a Drug Problem book

My Parents Have a Drug Problem: A Guide to Talking to Children about Drug Addiction

Topic: Addiction and drugs 

Tackle the topic of addiction with children by reading this story about a child who is trying to understand drug addiction. While reading, the book features an icon where the author suggests you pause and create a dialogue. It is also accompanied by an invaluable conversation guide, with tips for age-appropriate discussions, and factual ways to address addiction. Geared toward children ages five to ten, the guide covers teen years as well.

Floating Away book

Floating Away: A Book to Help Children Understand Addiction

Topic: Addiction and drugs  

Written for children eight to 12, Floating Away tells the story of addiction by introducing children to Sam. Sam is excited as he is swept away in a bubble, but he soon becomes bored. After navigating a troubling storm, he must find his way back home to his family. This metaphor is one that children can process and relate to when dealing with a loved one who is addicted to drugs. 

Cancer Party book

Cancer Party

Topic: Cancer

When her own cancer diagnosis confused and scared her daughter, mother and resiliency activist Sara Olsher wrote a book to help her child understand the science, and process, of cancer and cancer treatment. Within a few short weeks of publishing the book herself, she was contacted by hundreds of parents who had been looking for something like this for their young children. Written for kids preschool through grade three, the colorful illustrations and easy-to-follow text will arm kids with the knowledge they need. Olsher has also written What Happens When Someone I Love Has Cancer? and  What Happens When a Kid Has Cancer?.

I Chose to Say No book

I Choose to Say No

Topic: Consent

This rhyming book explains the concept of consent to young kids in a way that they will remember and reminds children that their body is their own and no one should touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable or inappropriate. Read and repeat.

Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect book

Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent, and Respect

Topic: Consent

Written for children ages four to ten, this book explores the connections between boundaries, bullying, consent, and respect in kid-friendly language that allows children to make the connection to real-life scenarios. Topics like giving people personal space and honoring body boundaries are explored in-depth and parents and caregivers are invited into the conversation as our children’s greatest role models. 

A Kids Book about War book

A Kids Book About War

Topic: War

The “A Kids Book About” publishers have released this latest e-book for free to address the immediate need to help kids understand what war is, why wars start, and the aftermath of war, both in terms of the physical and the emotional turmoil. Written by Emmy award-winning reporter, editor, producer, and videographer Sarah Jones, the book is free, but 100% of donations made go to one of three organizations listed on the site—Unicef, War Child, or Doctors Without Borders. Suitable for ages five and up, although parents can decide if there are concepts to discuss with younger kids.

Anne Frank: A Kid's Book About Hope book

Anne Frank: A Kid's Book About Hope

Topic: War

For many children and adults, Anne Frank and her diary are a window into understanding what war, specifically World War II, is about. If you want to talk to kids as young as three about Anne Frank but aren’t ready to get into the graphic horrors of the holocaust, this book is a good way to talk about a little girl who kept a journal while hiding in a small space, describing her fears and how her life had changed because of the persecution of Jewish people during World War II.

Nour's Secret Library book

Nour’s Secret Library

Topic: War

While their Syrian city is being bombed, Nour and her young cousin take shelter in a secret underground library. Based on the true story of the author’s own life, this book addresses how deeply the horrors of war can rattle a child’s reality while also reminding us of the enduring—and utterly incredible—power of books to create a sanctuary during troubled times. The magical illustrations show a colorful world of the children’s imaginations superimposed over the black and white images of the city. Best for children ages six to 10.

How War Change Rondo book

How War Changed Rondo

Topic: War

War comes to the joyful town of Rondo, where Danko, Zirka, and Fabrian live, quickly spreading its destructive powers and tearing apart the beautiful community where once even the flowers sang. The book shows people resisting the darkness of war and their struggle to fight it. Ultimately, it shows the three friends and their community rallying together to victory—to regain peace in Rondo. It will show children (ages five to eight) the long-lasting wounds of war and the pain that conflict brings, but it is also a tribute to peace.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ book

When Spring Comes to the DMZ

Topic: War

This gorgeously illustrated book by author-illustrator Uk-Bae Lee invites kids to learn about Korea’s DMZ—demilitarized zone—a strip of land that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly. This zone was established as a buffer zone between North and South Korea in 1953 due to the Korean War, and it’s an area where people aren’t allowed. It’s become an accidental nature preserve, but flora and fauna are surrounded by razor wire, locked gates, and military exercises. The book helps introduce children to the unfinished history of the Korean Peninsula that comes up in the news so frequently and can also invoke discussion about other walls in history past and present. For ages five to eight.

What the Kite Saw book

What the Kite Saw by Anne Laurel Carter

Topic: War

A little boy’s world is torn apart when soldiers and tanks occupy his town, and he and his family must hide inside. It’s scary outside with tanks and gunshots. His father and brother are taken away, and from then on, nothing is the same: not the park outside where he used to play with his friends or even the table inside where they all used to eat together. But he wants to make his mother and his little sister happy, and he wants to see his friends again. Even though he is stuck inside most of the day, the little boy finds a way to let them know he is there and bring them joy—he makes a kite. If you read this one with your kids (suggested ages four to eight), keep a box of tissues nearby because it’s a beautiful reminder that children are the most resilient and beautiful creatures on earth.

The Lady with the Books book

The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman

Topic: War

Based on the true story of a woman whose own life was disrupted by war, this is the fictionalized retelling of how Jella Lepman brought books to the children of Germany after World War II. As a Jewish person, Lepman and her children were forced to flee Germany during the war to escape Adolph Hitler. When she returned, she saw hungry children, many without their parents, and she decided to give them something besides food. She gave them books. This incredible story will teach children ages four and up a beautiful story of a woman who gave generations of children hope and beauty, and it will educate them about the holocaust and war in an age-appropriate way.

White Bird: A Wonder Story book

White Bird: A Wonder Story (A Graphic Novel)

Topic: War

Wonder is one of our top fave middle-grade reads for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is beautifully written with humor and engaging but intelligent language that doesn’t undersell children’s ability to comprehend big concepts. So it’s not surprising that author R.J. Palacio’s graphic novel (which she illustrated because she is just that awesome) does the same when it comes to talking about war.

In this graphic novel, we meet one of the characters from wonder, Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère, who, as a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II.

Like Wonder, this is a story with the underlying message of genuine kindness, and not just the “be nice and open doors for other people” type of kindness. This is the “stand up and do the scary thing” and the “take risks and be brave” kind of kindness. The type of kindness that might save someone’s life, even if you don’t realize it—the kindness you want your kids to really show. And the kind you want others to show to your kids. Suitable for ages eight and up.

A Place to Belong book

A Place to Belong

Topic: War

In children’s literature, if World War II is part of the story, the setting is most often Europe, and the survivor is fleeing the atrocities of Hitler. But war is not a black and white thing. Because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thousands of innocent Americans of Japanese heritage were imprisoned right on American soil.

Hanako is one of those Americans. From the age of eight, she has been imprisoned with her family. And since she was born in America, her family has always encouraged her to “be less Japanese” and “more American.” So when they are released when Hanako is 12, they board a ship to a village outside of Hiroshima, Japan—a place Hanako has never been. And to make matters worse, the Americans bombed Hiroshima with an atom bomb so powerful it wiped out the city and killed most of the people there. It’s a city in ruins.

This beautifully written story tells an often overlooked point of view of an aspect of World War II that will remind children and adults alike of the long-range consequences of war—that we not only lose lives and tear apart families, devastate the land, and destroy the earth. We dismantle the beauty of discovering each other’s cultures, gifts, languages, arts, and life stories. The only way to repair that is to share them again, and this book helps do just that. Reading level suitable for ages 10 and up.

A version of this post was published March 4, 2022. It has been updated.