Growing Up in a Troubled World

The world can be a scary place.

In the past year alone there has been multiple terrorist attacks, wildfires, murders, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, wars and conflicts. As a family we experienced a devastating flood firsthand a few months before we moved from England (see picture above). The kids’ school had to be closed because of landslide risk. Friends’ homes and businesses were destroyed. All this happened at Christmas.

Even as an adult I sometimes find it difficult to process what’s happening around us. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for a child. It’s impossible to shield your child from witnessing these dangers, especially as they get older and more aware of what’s happening around them. This is the world we live in and children need to learn how to cope.

My advice to my own children is to look for the helpers during times of tragedy: the people who run toward the danger while others run away, the people who help others and work hard to make this a better, safer place. That even during the darkest times, there is always good to be found.

But is that enough? Could I be saying more?

Goodreads ( has compiled a list of children’s books that go some way toward helping children handle loss and tragedy. It’s not a definitive list but it’s a good start.

  1. Smoky Night by Eve Bunting
  2. A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes
  3. Bluebird by Bob Staake
  4. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
  5. Olivia the Brave Olive Branch: A Story of Hope by Amy Gramour
  6. The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic
  7. Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss by Michaelene Mundy
  8. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo
  9. Why Did it Happen? Helping Young Children Cope in a Violent World by Janice Cohn
  10. Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng
  11. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
  12. Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying by Joyce C. Mills
  13. I Hate Superman by Louise Simonson
  14. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen
  15. Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty
  16. Children Also Grieve: Talking About Death and Healing by Linda Goldman
  17. Tuff Stuff: A Children’s Book About Trauma by Joy Berry
  18. Jenny is Scared!: When Something Sad Happens in the World by Carol Shuman

I managed to get my hands on a few copies to see what they have to say.

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting. Told from the perspective of a boy named Daniel, it shows how a night of tragedy – riots, vandalism, robbery and fire – can bring people (and cats) together. I especially love how his mother calms him by explaining why people act the way they do.

A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes reminds us of the sense of guilt and responsibility someone might feel after witnessing a terrible event and that opening up and sharing worries and fears with a trusted adult can help.

Bluebird by Bob Staake is a wordless picture book about a lonely boy who befriends a bluebird and learns what friendship truly means.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is a story about sadness and loss told in the author’s trademark peculiar and fun way. A girl struggling with grief puts her heart in a bottle to keep it safe.

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic had me in tears. Approached in a secular way, this heart-wrenching story is about a boy who wakes one morning to discover his mother has died. With the help of his father and grandmother he learns how to move on.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo is a lesson in the importance of sharing your worries with family and friends and seeking their comfort and support during difficult times.

Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng is a beautifully illustrated book about faith and family and how a young girl learns from both to help people in need. Without being preachy it provides an excellent lesson in empathy and teaches about how to look at the world through a wider lens, a more universal perspective.

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordicai Gerstein is based on a true story. Thrill-seeker Philippe Petit walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on a tightrope on August 7th, 1974. Using this story about bravery, perseverance and skill, Gerstein reminds us that there is more to remember about the towers than their terrible fate.

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty. A boy must learn about his own strengths and abilities to reach his potential after his father, whom he adores, is no longer in his life. A parent is there to guide but it is ultimately up to you to open doors. The author’s father was incarcerated when he was young, so his experience is firsthand.

Terrible Things by Eve Bunting isn’t on Goodreads’ list but I stumbled across it while looking for Smoky Night, which is also by Bunting. It’s an allegory of the Holocaust that involves woodland animals being taken by the mysterious “Terrible Things”. It teaches children about the importance of standing up for and defending what they believe in. That people must protect one another and not be afraid to speak up when injustices occur.

All the books are relevant today and share some common themes:

Carrying on

They approach difficult subjects in a gentle manner but are also a sad reminder that not all children have a carefree life. Some children must endure hardships that would emotionally cripple an adult.

So, why not turn to literature for help? When you can’t find the right words maybe someone has already found them for you.