How should we answer questions about death, divorce and cancer? If we ever lack the words, books can act as mouthpieces to start conversations that are difficult to have...
When we’re faced with difficult situations, we feel lost, alone and afraid, but children can experience them a little differently. Their lack of understanding can make a terrible situation seem all that more terrifying and if we lack the words, how do we comfort them? If their favourite bedtime story can help them sleep, a picture book could help them understand (but maybe not just before bedtime!). Books aren’t afraid to cover heavy topics like cancer and divorce, breaking down confusion and grief into something more processable and reassuring. We’ve picked out ten books for little people about big problems…
Dealing with loss
Missing Mummy by Rebecca Cobb – 5-8 years
“The other children have THEIR mums. It’s not fair.” As a little boy looks around the house to find his mummy, he only finds the things she left behind and has to be told mummy is not coming back. Straddling the line between acknowledging pain and moving on, Missing Mummy helps kids confront their fear, anger and guilt at the death of a loved one and talk about the things they still have – they still have a family, they are still able to do things together, even with a missing mummy.
Sad Book by Michael Rosen – 9+ years
Illustrated by the beloved Quentin Blake, Sad Book certainly doesn’t pull any punches. It discusses depression in a frank manner, detailing a father’s experiences following the loss of his son, and introducing coping methods but not prettying them up. For those who appreciate honesty, the book lets us know we are not alone when sadness finds us, neither are we alone when things don’t immediately go back to normal.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – 9+ years
In the aftermath of 9/11, a little boy grieves the loss of his father. But when Oskar finds a key sealed in an envelope labelled “Black” inside a vase that belonged to his father, he embarks on a journey throughout New York to find every person with the last name Black. Why do people die and how do the ones they leave behind move on? As Oskar learns: try to keep moving, meet people and solve a mystery.
Not Today, Celeste! by Liza Stevens – 3+ years
Celeste used to be the happiest dog in the world who had the best owner, Rupert. One day, Celeste noticed something different about Rupert – the colour slowly drains out of him until he eventually collapses into a chair, saying “Not today, Celeste!” What is a poor dog to do? Well it’s not the dog (or the child’s) fault when parents have depression, it’s an illness that people can get help with. But despite his illness, Rupert’s still kind, funny, handsome, clever and brave and Celeste is still the happiest dog in the world!
Where’s Grandma by Edmund Lim – 5-9 years
Written by local author Edmund Lim, Where’s Grandma is told from the view of Luke who comes to terms with his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease. His Grandma cared for him dearly and they used to do everything together, but since her fall, Grandma can’t remember her way around the neighbourhood, she can’t even remember Luke’s name. You’re going to need tissues for this one (and a hug).
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan – 7+ years
“Sometimes, the day begins with nothing good to look forward to, and things go from bad to worse.” Shaun Tan uses magical illustrations to depict a young girl traversing a monstrous, cluttered surrealist nightmare, a metaphor for difficult situations and emotions. The Red Tree elicits the kinds of emotions we find trouble talking about and lets us know that there is always hope and things do turn out okay.
Nowhere Hair by Sue Glader – 3-8 years
A little girl wonders where her mother’s hair has gone and tries to find it. Instead of hair, the child and her mother find love, comfort and loads and loads of crazy hats. Using reason (and a whole lot of rhyme), Nowhere Hair tackles the fear and guilt children feel when their loved ones fall ill. This stylish blast of colour is great for helping parents talk about the misconceptions of cancer.
Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman – 11-14 years
The world is incredibly unfair to Colin Mudford. His parents don’t pay attention to him and he gets crummy shoes instead of a microscope for Christmas. Then his brother collapses and Colin’s desperate to find him a good doctor. Who better to ask than the Queen herself?
Two Homes by Claire Masurel – 3-7 years
Alex has two homes. Sometimes he lives with Daddy and sometimes he lives with Mommy. Two front doors, two rooms, two of everything! Two Homes tells kids that divorce means they will have two of everything, but the love they have will never change.
Daddy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Betty Boegehold – 5-7 years
For older readers, this book drops us right into the thick of it. When Casey comes home from school, she finds Daddy’s car gone from the driveway and he doesn’t show up to dinner either. She acts out, takes out her frustration on her dolls and then tries all ways and means to get her family back together. She even runs away. Eventually she accepts that although her parents are no longer together, they don’t love her any less.
Like this story? Here’s more we think you’ll enjoy:
Cool picture books to help kids learn about feelings
Everything you need to know to get a divorce in Singapore
Expat divorces: what you need to know about child support payments
Where to get counselling for children and families in Singapore
How to be a single mum in Singapore