3 brilliant books that explore very difficult topics

Book Adventurers | 31st August 2021

Why stories are the first step in helping your child make sense of their emotions

“Researchers have found that the brain activity that occurs when we read fiction is very similar to experiencing that situation in real life, so reading about a situation helps children work out how to solve it in reality”.

BBC Teacher Support


After the news that last year’s lockdown spiked divorce enquires by 40%, it’s important to remember that many of those marriage break ups involve children too.

Change is challenging for many young children and adjusting to one parent moving out takes time and help. Stories that reflect a child’s experience are a wonderful way of helping them make sense of transitions and frightening changes.

Equally, and more tragically, with a worldwide pandemic it’s inevitable that many children will have experienced the loss of a family member recently or have experienced domestic abuse or other frightening situations that a child, or adult, should never have to witness.

But of course, pretending bad things don’t happen isn’t always possible, so having access to age-appropriate books that can help make sense of something senseless (in your child’s view) are invaluable. They won’t solve anxieties and worries on their own of course, but they do help.

This week we’ve picked out 3 brilliant books that can help you and your child to explore some very difficult topics. There are more help and support suggestions below too.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

Author:Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Age suitability: 5-100 years

It’s hard to find a book which so gently, but purposefully, confronts the sadness of the loss of someone close.

When his son Eddie died suddenly at the age of 18, Michael found many adults just didn’t know what to say to him.  The book came about when a group of school children were full of questions and were so much more matter of fact about death and what it feels like to lose someone.

This brilliant book is the eloquent and heartbreaking tale of the loss of Eddie and how life changes because of it. This is understandably not an easy book to read, but learning that being sad is sometimes okay, is an important step in learning to deal with some of life’s challenges for every age.

Buy now

Emily's Blue Period

Author: Cathleen Daly
Illustrator: Lisa Brown
Age suitability: 5-7 years

This 2014 book is a great choice for not shying away from difficult and sad feelings about parents separating or divorcing.

When Emily learns that Picasso used the colour blue when he felt sad, she uses her love of art to help her too.

The story shows Emily navigate through her grief leading to acceptance as she slowly adapts to a new way of life where Daddy doesn’t live with Mummy anymore.

Buy now

A terrible Thing Happened

Author: Margaret M. Holmes
Illustrator: Cary Pillo
Age suitability: 4-7 years

Sherman Smith saw the most terrible thing happen. At first he tried to forget about it, but soon something inside him started to bother him. He felt nervous and had bad dreams. Then he met someone who helped him talk about the terrible thing, and made him feel better.

This gently told story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode, including bullying in school, physical abuse, accidents, homicide, suicide, and natural disasters such as floods or fire.

An afterword by Sasha J. Mudlaff written for parents and other caregivers, offers extensive suggestions for helping traumatised children, including a list of other sources that focus on specific events.

Buy now

Our interactive book club ‘Book Adventurers’ offers a set of creative classes based on and beyond two books this summer. Using art, music, craft and drama play we explore topics such as plastic pollution and loss within our overall theme of the Deep Blue Sea. We’ve also got parent guides for both of the issues we explore in our book choices for further resources and ideas.

Buy now

Further help:

For more advice on supporting a child following the death of a relative, Child Bereavement UK offers free confidential support online or by phone:

Child Bereavement

For more support and information on divorce and separation, Gingerbread has some really helpful advice and their online forum is a good place to connect with other families going through the same thing.


For more help and advice on supporting a child who has experienced trauma,
including a special section on COVID 19, visit Young Minds.

Young Minds