When words fail you—or your teenager tunes them out—it’s helpful to have someone else’s. “The beauty of books is that kids can be self-reflective, without the anxiety they might feel talking about their own situation,” says Pauline Jordan, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Greenwich, Connecticut. Consider this expert-recommended list a learning library for every age and stage.

By Emily Hsieh
Updated February 10, 2016
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Illustration: books for kids in transitional times
Credit: Christopher Silas Neal

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Illustration: books for kids in transitional times
Credit: Christopher Silas Neal

New Sibling

  • Henry Is a Big Brother
  • By Alyssa Satin Capucilli
  • Ages 2 to 5
  • A simple rhyming book that emphasizes patience. (Bonus: durable, coated pages.)
  • Peter’s Chair
  • By Ezra Jack Keats
  • Ages 3 to 7
  • It’s his old favorite chair, so he runs away with it. (Because, duh, the baby will take everything.)
  • 101 Things to Do With Baby
  • By Jan Ormerod
  • Ages 4+
  • From testing the bath to helping dress the baby, there are lots of things to make a reluctant older sibling feel involved, not left out.

New School

  • Llama Llama Misses Mama
  • By Anna Dewdney
  • Ages 2 to 5
  • This classic expertly captures the up-and-down emotions of a toddler—Yes! Mama comes back!—making it easy for kids to connect.
  • Bob and Flo
  • By Rebecca Ashdown
  • Ages 4 to 7
  • Two penguins forge a bond on the first day over a pink lunch bucket. (Message: You’ll find a friend.)
  • Timothy Goes to School
  • By Rosemary Wells
  • Ages 2 to 5
  • Finding a good friend can take a little time. This is a good read for kids who may feel left out at first.
  • The Truth About Twinkie Pie
  • By Kat Yeh
  • Ages 8 to 12
  • A story about sisters who move from a trailer park in South Carolina to New York and have to adapt to a fancy new school, this perfectly captures what it’s like to be an outsider.


  • When Dinosaurs Die
  • By Laurie Krasny Brown
  • Ages 4 to 8
  • A straightforward story that covers the basics—what “dead” means, for starters—through the lens of a dinosaur family.
  • Death Is Stupid
  • By Anastasia Higginbotham
  • Ages 4 to 8
  • Why pat answers (“She’s in a better place”) don’t always make sense—and how to really move on.
  • I Miss You
  • By Pat Thomas
  • Ages 4+
  • The question “What about you?” appears often, helping you gently assess how your kid really feels.
  • Lifetimes
  • By Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen
  • Ages 5+
  • This book soothingly explains life cycles for everything from birds to bunnies to people. The takeaway? Death is a part of life.
  • The Thing About Jellyfish
  • By Ali Benjamin
  • Ages 10+
  • Written from the perspective of a 12-year-old grappling with the drowning of a friend and finding reconciliation.
  • Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss
  • By Pat Schwiebert and Chuck Deklyen
  • Ages 8+
  • “This is a parable about a woman making soup who weaves in the stages of grief as she cooks. It reminds kids that recovery is a process,” says Katherine Megna-Weber.


  • The Care & Keeping of You 1
  • By Valorie Lee Schaefer
  • Ages 8+
  • Part of the American Girl series, this helps girls on the cusp of puberty who might not be asking questions—yet. Topics range from bad breath to pimples to buying a bra.
  • Will Puberty Last My Whole Life?
  • By Julie Metzger and Robert Lehman
  • Ages 9 to 12
  • A unisex book with a buddy-buddy tone—it answers a lot of real-life questions from other tweens—that tackles issues with humor and accuracy.
  • This One Summer
  • By Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • Ages 12 to 18
  • Need a break from hormone facts? Grab this: a graphic novel (i.e., comic book-style) about the emotional trickiness of being not yet grown-up.


  • What’s the Big Secret?
  • By Laurie Krasny Brown
  • Ages 4+
  • How babies are made, clear and simple—without too much detail about the, well, actual sex. In other words, it’s age-appropriate.
  • It’s Perfectly Normal
  • By Robie H. Harris
  • Ages 10+
  • “This book has been popular for more than 20 years, and for good reason. It teaches kids the matter-of-fact basics about sex, puberty, birth control, and much more,” says Lynn Lobash.


  • One
  • By Kathryn Otoshi
  • Ages 4+
  • Set up as a color and counting book (Red is a meanie), it emphasizes how one person can make a big difference in a group dynamic.
  • The Juice Box Bully
  • By Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy
  • Ages 4+
  • Written by teachers—who clearly understand playground dynamics—the message here is that you’re not alone.
  • Simon’s Hook
  • By Karen Gedig Burnett
  • Ages 6+
  • A simple fishing analogy—Don’t bite at every “hook”—helps kids deal with teasing and tough situations.
  • My Secret Bully
  • By Trudy Ludwig
  • Ages 6 to 9
  • This story deals specifically with emotional bullying—exclusion, manipulation—in a group of girl friends. The main character takes power back with the help of her mother.
  • Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends
  • By Patti Kelley Criswell
  • Ages 8+
  • “This is a concrete guide to understanding friendship dynamics, and it encourages girls to hold a mirror up to themselves and their friendships. It’s kind of like having a therapist in the room,” says Pauline Jordan.
  • Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky Feet
  • By Catherine Depino
  • Ages 9+
  • A short chapter book that shows how one picked-on kid makes a plan—with the help of his awesome parents!—to deal with a hurtful bully.
  • Speak
  • By Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Ages 12 to 18
  • An empowering young-adult novel (note: the plot deals with a rape in high school) about learning to speak up for yourself.


  • It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear
  • By Vicki Lansky
  • Ages 3 to 7
  • Another one to reassure kids that they aren’t to blame—with tips for parents in the margins. “Young kids always gravitate toward this book because it has bold colors and it’s sort of funny,” says Molly Jardiniano.
  • Divorce Is the Worst
  • By Anastasia Higginbotham
  • Ages 4 to 8
  • Although children are often told, “It’s for the best,” it rarely feels like that. This frank book follows kids and parents dealing with everyday life (washing dishes, vacuuming) while feeling angry or sad.
  • Divorce: The Ultimate Teen Guide
  • By Kathlyn Gay
  • Ages 14 to 18
  • This book addresses both the practical logistics and the emotional effects of divorce, with plenty of vignettes and examples.


  • Do You Sing Twinkle?
  • By Sandra Levins
  • Ages 3+
  • This answers little-kid questions about not only new stepparents but also new siblings, too.
  • The Invisible String
  • By Patrice Karst
  • Ages 3+
  • For kids who go between homes, this sends the message that they can still feel connected to their parents regardless of whose house they’re in.
  • Bigger Than a Bread Box
  • By Laurel Snyder
  • Ages 8 to 12
  • A powerful novel about 12-year-old Rebecca, who moves with her mom to her grandmother’s house after her parents’ divorce. A magic bread box that grants wishes makes things better—but then more complicated.
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
  • By Ann Brashares
  • Ages 12+
  • “Though mostly a story about the power of women and friendship, there’s a really relatable portrayal of one character’s parents’ divorce and her visiting her dad who is getting remarried. Her despondence is captured perfectly,” says Cora Collette Breuner.

Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

This is about a girl born in a boy’s body who dreams of dresses—bringing in the theme of being misunderstood, with a comforting message that it’s all going to be fine.

  • Elena’s Serenade
  • By Campbell Geeslin
  • Ages 3 to 7
  • A girl defies gender stereotyping by pursuing her dream of being a glassblower in Mexico.
  • George
  • By Alex Gino
  • Ages 8 to 12
  • A wonderful, important story that centers on a girl who was born in a boy’s body—she’s named George but knows she’s really Melissa.
  • More Happy Than Not
  • By Adam Silvera
  • Ages 13+
  • A boy from the Bronx grappling with his sexuality contacts a mysterious institute to try to erase his orientation. “It’s compelling, and it creates a space for conversation about social class, sexual identity, and memory,” says Kevin Hicks.

Family Diversity

  • The Family Book
  • By Todd Parr
  • Ages 3 to 6
  • “It presents children with a whole portfolio of different kinds of families. It’s really wonderful for little kids starting school, who might encounter and wonder about families that look different from theirs,” says Eliza Byard.
  • And Tango Makes Three
  • By Justin Richardson
  • Ages 4 to 8
  • Focusing on two male penguins who adopt a baby penguin, this affirms that no matter what your family looks like, it’s legitimate.
  • Asha’s Mums
  • By Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse
  • Ages 9 to 12
  • Which name on the school permission slip is her mum? Well, it’s both. One little girl tackles questions about same-sex parents (making it easy for you to do the same with your kids).

Recommended by the Following:

  • Cora Collette Breuner, M.D., pediatrician and professor at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
  • Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a gay, lesbian, and straight education network based in New York City.
  • Kevin Hicks, PH.D., president and head of the Stevenson School, in Pebble Beach, California.
  • Kathryn Hoffses, PH.D., pediatric psychologist at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, in Wilmington, Delaware.
  • Molly Jardiniano, senior program manager of child and parent education at the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center.
  • Pauline Jordan, PH.D., clinical psychologist in Greenwich, Connecticut.
  • Ann Levine, assistant manager at Bank Street Book Store, in New York City.
  • Lynn Lobash, manager of reader services at the New York Public Library.
  • Katherine Megna-weber, children’s specialist at Books Inc., in San Francisco.
  • Taylor Nam, children’s specialist at Books Inc., in San Francisco.
  • Kelsey Parker, high school counselor at the Bay School of San Francisco and a psychotherapist in private practice.
  • Laurie Zelinger, PH.D., psychologist specializing in clinical/school psychology in Cedarhurst, New York.