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14 books to help ease children through transitions

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About Megan Tietz

Megan Tietz wants you to join her on the front porch for some long talks and iced tea. She lives in the heart of Oklahoma City with her husband, two daughters, and twin sons. Catch up with her at Sorta Crunchy and join the conversation in her Facebook community.

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.

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

We have a baby

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

Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies

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.

Starting school

We all fear the unknown—children are no exception. The characters on these pages coax out what children are worrying about before the start of school and allows for meaningful discussion that might help to quell these fears.

5. Owen and Wemberly Worried

by Kevin Henkes

Wemberly Worried

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.

Moving

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

Henry and Mudge and Annie's Good Move

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

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

Was it the Chocolate Pudding?

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.

Death

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.

BONUS

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.

What books that deal with transitions and life change would you add to this list?

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Comments

  1. What a great post – another fabulous book when introducing the topic of death/grieving is Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie de Paola.

    Thanks for the practical list, Megan!

    Jamie
    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..What to Do When Everyone is Watching =-.

  2. Thanks for putting the list together Megan! I agree about Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs about grieving. We just checked that one out from the library last week.
    .-= Andrea´s last blog ..The best snack: Frozen peas =-.

  3. I’ve always believed that a good book can help pretty much any situation from fixing a drippy sink to mending a broken heart. I don’t have little ones yet, but I’ll be sure to bookmark this list. Thanks!
    .-= Amy Reads Good Books´s last blog ..The Great Man =-.

  4. My daughter’s kinder teacher read The Kissing Hand on the first day of school last year. We still do the kissing hand. So sweet and so effective. And of Kevin Henkes is one of our all time favorites. I’m going to have to check out that third one on the starting school list. My little gal starts 1st grade in 11 days. We’re both a little tepid abt our summer ending. Thanks for the suggestions!
    .-= PS~Erin´s last blog ..Spending Hiatus: Wanting More =-.

    • We absolutely adore Kevin Henkes in our home. My sister bought my oldest a copy of Chrysanthemum when she was born (we chose a little bit of a unique name for her) and it is one of our family favorites.

      I drew a red heart on the middle of her palm this morning and put a kiss on top of it so she would remember her “kissing hand” if she missed mama today.
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..What We’re Reading Wednesday: August 12th =-.

  5. Great list! I’ll be bookmarking this post for sure!

    Another good book for starting school is Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton. Splat is really anxious about starting cat school and does everything he can to get out of going, but in the end he loves school and can’t wait for his second day. The illustrations are fantastic and it’s even one of my 15-month-old’s favorite books!
    .-= rachel´s last blog ..new photos of the boy =-.

  6. We have the Usborne Complete Book of First Experiences and it has been invaluable!
    I purchased it before the arrival of my second son for the story ‘A New Baby’–which we read countless times. Other stories that came in hand were ‘Going on a plane’, ‘Going to the dentist’ and more recently “Moving House’ as we are contemplating a move.

    I highly recommend this book!
    PS Each story is available for purchase individually, but the value of the complete series is hard to beat.
    .-= Aimee´s last blog ..Grilled Avocado & Smoky Corn Salad and Our Dinner with Julie & Cheryl =-.

  7. The Kissing Hand is so sweet! It brings tears to my eyes as I remember the story now. Someday by Alison Meghee and Peter H. Reynolds is one I would add. The category is not as specific as those you’ve listed above. It’s more about the passing on of love from infancy to adulthood to aging. It’s about growing up.
    .-= Stacie @ newmommyhelp.net´s last blog ..How to Go on a Date After Having a New Baby =-.

  8. Great topic.
    My two favorite “new baby” books are:
    Hello, Baby! by Lizzy Rockwell and Julius, the Baby of the World, b Kevin Henkes.

  9. Books teach more in some ways than we can I think. As a child I always found the answers in books. Not that my parents were absent, I just think they communicated more by the books they bought – moving, death, starting school, friendships, new baby, etc. Not to mention we always read them together – 30 min every night. After my brother and I were both old enough to read aloud we would read chapter books as a family – mostly the classics. These are some of the strongest memories I have of my childhood, especially as my father was in his final stages of cancer. As I got older family discussion time around the table replaced family reading but my younger brother and I (and my three much older brothers) all have a love of reading to this day. We devour anything with a binding and pages in-between.
    Many books stand out in my mind but for dealing with grief Badger’s Parting Gifts was always the most touching and poignent. I buy it today for families I know going through grief processes.

    • “As a child I always found the answers in books.” I can identify with this so strongly. Thank you for sharing a beautiful picture of what a literacy-loving family looked like for you as you grew up. And thank you for sharing the recommendation of Badger’s Parting Gifts – I’ll add that to my personal list.
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..What We’re Reading Wednesday: August 12th =-.

  10. So timely, as I am hunting for books to help explain baby #2′s upcoming arrival and finding it hard to find things at the toddler level. I did find and LOVE “Cornelius P Mud, Are you Ready for Baby?” – so simple exploring what the new baby can and can’t do. I’ll be printing this list (and returning to view comments) for our future transitions!
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..My Spidey and Me =-.

    • Oh, Alissa, I had not heard of that one but it looks so cute! Reading books really helped prepare our older daughter for her little sister’s arrival, and it helped even more AFTER her sister was born to continue to talk about what babies can and cannot do.

  11. Such a great topic! When I adopted my youngest (9 months old at the time), my oldest was 3. It was a very difficult time for her. Some of our favorite sibling books were “Hey, Little Baby!” (Nola Buck, R.W. Alley), “On Mother’s Lap” (Ann Herbert Scott, Glo Coalson), “I Used to Be the Baby” (Robin Ballard), and “I Can’t Talk Yet, But When I Do” an adorable book from the baby’s perspective (Julie Markes, Laura Rader).

    “On Mother’s Lap” tackles rivalry head on, while the other three celebrate the older sibling’s role as big sister/brother. And because these particular books didn’t focus on the pregnancy and newborn aspects of adding a family member, they fit our family situation in ways the more traditional books didn’t.

    Another non-traditional sibling book: “Sometimes I’m Bombaloo” (Rachel Vail and Yumi Heo ). It’s primarily about a young child dealing with anger, but the catalyst for her outburst is the baby, whose disruptions she tolerates until he knocks down her beloved block castle. My oldest couldn’t get enough of this book during that first year.

  12. Megan,
    Such a wonderful list! The Kissing Hand helped my daughter adjust to Kindergarten during the first few weeks and it helped even more that her teacher read it to them once a week for the first two months of school.

    My mother has been a Hospice group leader for 11 years and has worked at the RI Hospice’s “Camp Braveheart” for children who have lost a loved one–and at the camp, they “make” tear soup and give each child a copy of the book. It’s such a powerfully moving experience and seems to really help the children with the grieving process.

    Even though I’m the baby of my family, one of my favorite books growing up was “Noisy Nora” by Rosemary Wells. I think that’s a great one for older or middle children who are adjusting to a new baby and the time-sharing of parents it requires. ;)

    We love the Henry & Mudge books too–we have a dog, The Dude, who is so much like Mudge and Cynthia Rylant’s books are so tender, funny and real. We adore them.

    Thanks so much for this wonderful list–I am going to tuck this away so I can pass it on to anyone going through an adjustment.

    Heather
    .-= Heather Allard´s last blog ..Don’t Forget! =-.

  13. I would add one caveat. Be careful about using books which deal with fears/issues which your children aren’t struggling with. Sometimes it can have the opposite effect than what’s intended! Case in point, a few years ago I read Franklin’s Afraid of the Dark (or some such title) and until then, my girls were content to sleep in a dark room. After reading it, they started to feel scared (albeit not intensely) and have had a nightlight ever since. Having a nightlight isn’t a bad thing, but it’s just the principle that sometimes we can inadvertently plant ideas in our children’s heads that they otherwise would not have struggled with. Movies and TV shows designed to address fears/issues can be even more impacting.
    .-= Myrrh´s last blog ..What’s In A Name? =-.

    • This is SO TRUE. We had a similar experience – not with a book, but with a TV for little ones that introduced the idea of “scary” and being fearful. Very, very good point. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Wow.. This is a really great list.. One that I would surely save and keep and add to as my toddler grows.. Right now its just Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose along with a few other favorites..
    .-= prerna´s last blog ..Being a Mom: Choosing Toys for Toddlers =-.

  15. Thanks so much for the list. I like the idea of the “book of firsts”.

    We’ve moved/traveled a bit in our daughter’s first two years. Now that she is recognizing more, it will be nice to have books to read through the transitions that come!
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..Being present. =-.

  16. Not quite on the topic of ‘firsts’, but still great reads with your kids are ‘The Princess and the Kiss’ and ‘The Squire and the Scroll’. The books guide through the idea of purity in relationships, and can help instill a healthy, positive view of themselves, which they will take into relationships in the future.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..14 Things Never to Say to a Military Wife =-.

  17. When my son started kindergarten eleven years ago, the teacher read “The Kissing Hand” at orientation. My son and I and my daughter and I would kiss each other’s hands every morning. My daughter is now twenty, and we still kiss hands before she leaves the house. Actually, there have been a couple of times that she’s come back in because things were hectic when she walked out the door and couldn’t remember if we’d done it yet!

  18. Great list! I am looking for a book about friends moving away. We are a military family and this happens a lot and it breaks my heart. Thanks!
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Things I Love Thursday =-.

  19. Badger’s Bring Something Party is an interesting book and appropriate for toddlers and up that deals with friendships, interactions that don’t necessarily work out perfectly the first time and how to get past the hard part with just a little bit of openness and optimism. Kids may or may not realize there’s more ‘meaty’ issues being dealt with and a parent can guide a discussion with the kids, if desired. I think it’s a good glimpse into possible challenges and how to resolve problems without being a heavy duty ‘how to’, boring book.

  20. I would like to recommend Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant for loss of a pet. I believe there is also a Cat Heaven book by her. Dog Heaven helped my children tremendously when our dog passed away unexpectedly.

    We love the Kissing Hand. Llama Llama Misses Mama is another good book for a child starting school, especially preschool.

    Thank you for the recommendations.
    .-= Christy´s last blog ..Super Summer Swap =-.

  21. Wonderful list. This post is a definite “keeper.” I’m going to have to check out the moving books (it looks like we’ll likely be uprooting our little ones next summer), and I definitely want to check out some of the other titles and the Usborne book.

    Thanks for including my recommendation as well. It’s one that my oldest daughter wants to read over and over, and I always notice more tenderness (for at least a little bit) toward her younger sisters after we read it.

    Happy reading!

  22. Hello Baby, a wonderful (but hard to find) book about a homebirth. Although beware my son spent my whole pregnancy asking if he’d get to have my placenta when the baby was born. Which was fine with me but bothered others.

    God Gave us Two for new siblings and also God Gave us You
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Hands off!! =-.

  23. I love this list! So many great titles – some I know and love and others brand new to me. I also love Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs and Dr. Sears has a good book about welcoming a new baby called What Baby Needs.

    I’ve linked your post to our Slow Family site because it’s such a valuable resource! Thanks.
    .-= Bernadette Noll´s last blog ..Simplifying life =-.

  24. AH! Thank you! After a lengthy legal battle, our house was sold at a foreclosure auction yesterday – so we have 1 month (if we’re lucky) to move! Our oldest daughter starts Kindergarten in 2 weeks and due to her husband’s death, my mother-in-law may have to come live with us in our next home. I’m in the middle of TRANSITION central! These books are perfect for our next trip to the library! Thanks for the great blog post and great responses! God knew I needed this little gem to remind me that he is still in charge! Thanks a million!

  25. I’d never heard of The Kissing Hand before, but before bed, after his first day of kindergarten, Q did “the kissing hand” for me. Thought I would melt right out of my chair.

    Adore this list. I have two books about preparing for a new baby, both with no words, that I need to find so I can mention them for your readers. Read them every day with Q before Goose was born and I swear it absolutely helped the transition.

  26. Great list of books! My daughter was four when we had her brother, and she had a “hospital bag” packed right alongside mine. Among the surprises (she didn’t get to open the bag ’til the “big day”) were “When I Was Very Young–Memoirs of a Four-Year-Old” by Jamie Lee Curtis, and “Alligator Baby” by Robert Munsch. The first highlights all the things a big sister can do that baby can’t yet, and the latter is a humorous take on bringing home baby from the hospital; big sister saves the day! A beautiful book that reminds the older sibling of how special their birth was is “On the Day You Were Born”, by Debra Frasier. (P.S. My children are 15 and 11 now, and these books still bring back happy memories!)

  27. Thanks for the great list! I came back to this post b/c I have a friend struggling to talk to her kids about their grandmother’s illness…she was just diagnosed as having ALS. I thought a book might be listed on this post…but I see there is not. Do you have any recommendations for a transition book dealing with illness?

  28. Oh, I’ve just found this at the perfect time – my oldest daughter starts school in 2 weeks and though I’ve been trying to prepare her for being away from us I just couldn’t find a suitable book – tomorrow morning I’m off to search a couple of these out – thank you!!
    .-= Kirsty-Abu Dhabi´s last blog ..Ramadan Family Time Promotion | Abu Dhabi Photographer =-.

  29. This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  30. I have come back a year later to find this post because I remembered that it recommended a book about moving to live near your cousins, which our two little girls have just done.

    One book I have purchased for several friends after having their second child is Mama, Coming and Going by Judith Caseley. It is a light-hearted look at how having a new baby can make a mom a little scatterbrained despite her best intentions. It is no longer in print, but can be purchased used – I recommend Better World Books http://www.betterworldbooks.com/.

  31. Sandra Levins’s “Was It The Chocolate Pudding?: A Story for Little Kids About Divorce” is a great book I must agree when it comes to understanding the things that children go through and feel during a divorce.

    These poor little kids needs more than guidance and patience for them to get through this terrible ordeal. I personally am a divorced mother of two and thank God, today I can say I’m happily divorced with two beautiful angels.

  32. If you want to buy books. i would advise you to go online and search the prices for these books using services like http://www.thecollegetextbooks.net. It is better than going for standalone stores. As you can save on lot of money using them.

  33. avatar
    Nala Kin says:

    What a great list you’ve put together here! Some classics and what look like great ones to try out! I’m using Twigtale for some of my child’s tough transitions – they have prewritten books where you can put in photos of your child, family, etc. online. My kid loves them! They have a big brother / big sister book, a book on moving, a book on starting school… here I took pictures of his new school, put in pictures of the teachers, got him used to the daily routine before he started, and it was easy (or at least easier than I thought it could be!). Here’s the new school book… http://www.twigtale.com/books/remis-new-school

  34. Great list! I would add “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” The book uses animals to explore the range of emotions a child might feel when going through the transition of divorce. It’s really good.

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