Tackling Tough Topics

Kids are curious. They ask a million questions. And as far as I know, there’s no definitive book of answers for how to talk to your little ones about serious issues, such as the Holocaust or slavery or hurricanes or death. It’s difficult to navigate how much to tell them when you want to be honest with them but not scare or overwhelm them with things they aren’t emotionally ready to handle. When you think you are ready to tackle these issues, there are some great books that can help.

Book cover for The Whispering TownThe Whispering Town” by Jennifer Elvgren is a beautifully written, simple book that tells the story of a family who hid Jewish families in Nazi-occupied Denmark and helped them get to Sweden safely. It is based on a true story and tells the clever and unusual plan that little Anett devises to get her “new friends” to safety. A sweet story, with just enough details for curious little ones.

Book cover for The Flat RabbitThe Flat Rabbit” by Bardur Oskarsson is a story of a dog and a rat who come upon a rabbit who has been flattened in the road. They talk about what might have happened, who knew the rabbit and finally, what they should do. They ultimately come up with a plan to give her the send-off she deserves. This could be a good starting point for a conversation on death with a little one.

Book cover for Stone AngelStone Angel” by Jane Yolen tells the story of a little girl whose family is forced to leave Paris and hide in the woods on their way to Spain and, eventually, England because they are Jewish. Its simplicity and straightforward approach to dealing with the difficult and complicated subject of World War II is appealing. “And then one day the bad men came in their brown shirts, guns in hand.” Simply stated, yet a perfect introduction to talking about the Holocaust with curious children. Throughout the book, the unnamed girl focuses on angels and believes they will protect her family and keep them safe on their perilous journey. She remains positive and the story keeps a buoyant feel. It manages to convey an uplifting feeling despite the subject, which is important when trying to teach impressionable, sensitive children about something that is enough to give them nightmares and shake their worldview at a tender age. It also allows the reader to imagine herself as the little girl, giving a sense of perspective that is more personal and easier to understand.

Book cover for Boxes for KatjeBoxes for Katje” by Candace Fleming tells a lovely story of the generosity that grows out of a little girl in Indiana who sends a box of necessities to another little girl in Holland whose family is struggling to survive after World War II. The boxes keep coming and more and more things make life a little better for Katje and her family. Katje shares her boxes and helps her neighbors make it through the harsh winter. In Spring, Katje decides to send a box back to Indiana in thanks. This story is a great way to introduce kids to the effects of the war on the people’s everyday lives. It talks about what basic needs the Dutch people were struggling to meet and focuses on the small joys and generous spirits that helped them make it through these lean times. Beautiful illustrations help portray the resilience of the people. A sweet read.

Book cover for Coming HomeComing Home” by Greg Ruth is nearly wordless, but it clearly conveys some of the emotions involved with soldiers returning home from deployment. It could be a great start for a conversation about military families and what it means to be deployed. It shows many different families reuniting.

Book cover for The Purple BalloonThe Purple Balloon” by Chris Raschka is a lovely little book that talks about how good it is that so many people can help support someone as they do the “hard work of dying.” Simple and straightforward.

Book cover for Always and ForeverAlways and Forever”  by Alan Durant features the reactions of Fox’s friends to his death. The book does not flinch from the difficult aspects of dealing with the death of a dear friend and the emotions grief entails.

Check out the “Death and Dying for Early Childhood” list on DBRL for more books on talking to kids about death.