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20 Chapter Books That May Upset Your Kids

An amazing true story that will make you ugly cry.

My third grader is at this amazing point in her life where she has turned a corner. To quote her teacher: “she is no longer learning to read, she is reading to learn.” It happened overnight. One day she was giggling and reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the next she was diving into books that really matter. The kind of books that consume you while you read them and later become a small part of who you are.

I have to start really paying attention now. Because prior to this change, I was just happy she wanted to read anything. But now, she’s into books. She really thinks about them and the sad or difficult parts stick with her. I’m the same way, though I’m a much bigger cry baby.

Recently, she told me that she loved the writer Patricia Polacco. She came home with a ton of her books from school one day and we sat down together to read one called “Pink and Say“. It looked like a picture book for younger kids, so I wondered why she chose it. It’s a civil war story of two friends, one white and one black. It was amazing. And it was heartbreaking. I was sobbing at the end and my daughter (while not crying – mostly because my blubbering amused her) was also deeply moved. We shared a really special moment and an incredible book.But it made me think, how many other books is she reading that are like this that I don’t know about? Thought provoking, amazing, but also sad or upsetting. My daughter can be… tender-hearted. And I want to be a good parent and encourage her read the good stuff – even if its hard.  But I felt body-slammed by the sadness in “Pink and Say” in large part because I didn’t expect it.  If I’d had a head’s up, I probably would have gotten more out of reading it. Instead I just ugly cried through the last half while my child raised her eybrows at me and patted my arm.

I decided to find the books that she might read in school between now and maybe 6th grade (or maybe find in the library) so that I can give her a head’s up and say: “That’s a great book! But if you want to talk about it or have a hard time with it, that’s cool. Because there’s some sad parts in there.”

Here’s the list. All of these books are wonderful. If you have other suggestions for me, I’d be very grateful for them!


  • Pink and Say 1 of 22
    Pink and Say
    By Patricia Polacco
    For ages 6+

    This true story of two friends during the civil war, one white and one black. An amazing and thought-provoking book about friendship, race, history and hope. Not a chapter book, but not for little kids either.
  • Shiloh 2 of 22
    Shiloh
    By Phillys Reynolds Naylor
    For ages 8-12

    The story of an 11 year old boy and an abused Beagle puppy. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1992.
  • The Underneath 3 of 22
    The Underneath
    By Kathi Appelt
    For ages 9+

    A very bad man WANTS TO KILL KITTENS. Seriously. But this amazing book has a Newbery Honor sticker on it and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
  • Black Beauty 4 of 22
    Black Beauty
    By Anna Sewell
    For ages 8+

    This classic book paints a vivid picture of life in 19th century England and was revolutionary for it's perspective.
  • Bridge to Terebithia 5 of 22
    Bridge to Terebithia
    By Katherine Paterson
    For ages 9+

    This Newbery Medal winner is the story of friendship and tragedy. If you've seen the movie, you know - it's REALLY sad.
  • Flowers for Algernon 6 of 22
    Flowers for Algernon
    By Daniel Keyes
    For ages 12+

    A mentally disabled man on a quest to raise his IQ and the extraordinary lab mouse Algernon, who undergoes the same intelligence-raising experiments.
  • Anne of Green Gables 7 of 22
    Anne of Green Gables
    By L.M. Montgomery
    For ages 10+

    Anne is an orphan who hopes she will be able to stay at Green Gables. But she is always getting into trouble. A sad death at the end of the book makes this one teary for me.
  • The Yearling 8 of 22
    The Yearling
    By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
    For ages 10+

    A young boy named Jody cares for a fawn and survives in the backwoods. A sad but wonderful story that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939.
  • Walk Two Moons 9 of 22
    Walk Two Moons
    By Sharon Creech
    For ages 8+
    The story of a 13 year old girl trying to reunite with her mother. It won the Newbery Medal in 1995.
  • Little Women 10 of 22
    Little Women
    By Louisa May Alcott
    For ages 10+

    The March sisters must survive while their father is away fighting in the Civil War. There is a death in the book that is tragically sad. This classic novel has been in print since 1868.
  • The Boy In the Striped Pajamas 11 of 22
    The Boy In the Striped Pajamas
    By John Boyne
    For ages 12+

    It's about children and a concentration camp. You know it's going to break your heart.
  • Of Mice and Men 12 of 22
    Of Mice and Men
    By John Steinbeck
    For ages 12+
    The story of Lennie and George and their ill-fated quest for a simple life on a place of their own. Accidents happen and bad things occur that can't be undone.
  • Jacob I Have Loved 13 of 22
    Jacob I Have Loved
    By Katherine Paterson
    For ages 9+

    This Newbery Medal winner is the story of 2 sisters and learning to make the choices that define us.
  • Old Yeller 14 of 22
    Old Yeller
    By Fred Gipson
    For ages 9+

    A boy and his dog, beautifully written but we all know how its going to end.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows 15 of 22
    Where the Red Fern Grows
    By Wilson Rawls
    For ages 9+

    A boy and 2 coon hounds in the Ozarks. If you love dogs, it will make this book so much better and so much harder.
  • The Red Pony 16 of 22
    The Red Pony
    By John Steinbeck
    For ages 12+
    Young Jody trains and loves a horse, and guess what happens. Not one of Steinbeck's best works, it may still find its way into your child's book bag and the ending is tough for animal lovers.
  • Stone Fox 17 of 22
    Stone Fox
    By John Reynolds Gardiner
    For ages 7+

    A young boy and his dog must win a sled race to save the family home. Critically lauded and wonderfully written, but will make boys and girls cry at the end.
  • Tuck Everlasting 18 of 22
    Tuck Everlasting
    By Natalie Babbitt
    For ages 8+

    Is it a blessing or a curse to be able to live forever? And what happens to those you love who remain?
  • Watership Down 19 of 22
    Watership Down
    By Richard Adams
    For ages 12+

    This amazing story - stories, really - of rabbits. But as we all know, rabbits are prey and humans are cruel.
  • Mars Needs Moms 20 of 22
    Mars Needs Moms
    By Berkley Breathed
    For ages 5+

    Not a chapter book, but one intended for kids to read to themselves. This story is a much-needed Mom Appreciation Lesson, that may bring some tears.
  • Picture Books That Will Make Mommy Ugly Cry 21 of 22
    Picture Books That Will Make Mommy Ugly Cry

    These are some amazing but tissue-worthy kid books that are well worth checking out.
  • Even More Super Sad Picture Books 22 of 22
    Even More Super Sad Picture Books

    If you didn't see your favorite, tissue-worthy kid book it may be right here!

Read more from Julie at her blog Rants from MommyLand. Follow Julie on Facebook and Twitter for additional goofy nonsense at no extra charge. You can catch up on her posts for Strollerderby, too – where she is often slightly less stupid.

 

Check out more of Babble’s favorite picks for Children’s Book Lessons!

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