How Children’s Books Can Help Us Talk about Difficult Situations
Although the event that inspired the search for these books was something very specific — a shooting we heard about in the news — I realized what we actually needed were books that helped children connect with adult caregivers in a safe way after a trauma, any kind of trauma.
When this curation was started, it came from a specific request from Katherine: “See if you can find any picture books about gun violence.” We had just heard some alarming and disturbing news of yet another mass shooting in our country. Equally alarming and disturbing was the statistic of how many of these violent events there had already been this year. We knew this was something we wanted addressed somehow in our collection of books.
Many thoughts and questions helped to pull this curation together in the following days. And what I found was that I wasn’t really just facing one specific tragedy; I was facing the impact of any trauma on a child and his or her community and family, specifically violence.
How do we help our children feel safe? How do we help them understand what has happened? How do we give them words for the big feelings they may be having as they either experience these violent things personally, or are simply impacted by hearing about them?
Although I didn’t come across any picture books specifically about gun violence, what I did find was books written about experiencing something violent or scary. I found the beauty of what it could look like for a parent or caregiver to help support a child by sharing a story that helps to give words and context to ideas that are scary and overwhelming.
In my experience, trauma impact and recovery go hand in hand with resilience, and helping children to place and heal trauma at an early age fosters resilience. I am grateful to the authors who stepped up to create these lovely tools of connection and expression.
These five books — from our curation 5 Best Picture Books to Help Address Trauma — focus specifically on trauma accompanied by shocking events. It made sense to me to create separate categories for helping children understand violence and trauma, and for loss and grief.
In The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Mica Mouse is nervous about the storm outside, because her home was once washed away in a storm. Her grandfather tells the story of the rhino who swallowed a storm after it washed away “everything that was dear to his heart.” The rhino finds it very difficult to go on with a storm inside him, and finds ways — with the support of his friends and community — to release the storm until he feels much better.
Whimsy’s Heavy Things, by Julie Kraulis, is a brilliant metaphorical story about how it feels to carry around the feelings we have after something happens. In this story, Whimsy is trying to find a way to deal with very heavy stones. After trying things like hiding them under a rock and sailing them out to sea, she learns they are much more manageable one at a time and with help. The illustrations are fascinating, and the formatting keeps us glued to the story.
In A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes, Sherman the raccoon shares what it was like for him after he witnessed something that brought up lots of big feelings. This story is simple and straightforward, and shows little Sherman getting support from a counselor to help him resolve his feelings.
Brave Bart: A Story for Traumatized and Grieving Children, by Caroline H. Sheppard, tells a matter-of-fact story about what happens to Bart the cat after the “bad, sad and scary thing” happens. He is teased by friends for his reaction of fear and for choosing to seclude himself. He has the support of Helping Hannah, who leads him to see himself as a survivor rather than a victim, while validating his feelings. This book is often used in therapy for children with PTSD.
You Weren’t With Me, by Chandra Ghosh Ippen, is specifically about the trauma of a child being separated from their parent, and all the feelings that would naturally come up as a result, including anger and not being ready to reconnect for a time. It occurs to me that this book also speaks to the inherent trauma that is added to a child’s experience if a parent is not present during a trauma that they experience. The wording is very simple, with sweet illustrations.
After considering these, please take a look at our other related curations on grief and loss — 5 Best Picture Books About Loss & Grief for 4 to 8 Year Olds, or 5 Best Picture Books About Loss & Grief for 8 to 10 Year Olds — to find the books that speak to you.