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20 Chapter Books That May Upset Your Kids

By julieminer |

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!

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Chapter Books That May Make Kids Sad

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.

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.


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About julieminer



Julie W. Miner writes the blog Rants from Mommyland. She has three kids, a long-suffering husband, a very naughty dog and a geriatric, ill-tempered cat. In addition to blogging, she teaches at a college she couldn’t have gotten into because she made bad choices in high school. Read bio and latest posts → Read Julie's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “20 Chapter Books That May Upset Your Kids

  1. Mrs. Turkey says:

    I’ve got an entire blog full of book suggestions:


  2. carmen says:

    getting ready to yell at you if ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ wasnt on the list…..was getting worried scrolling through

  3. Michelle says:

    The timing of this blog is amazing. I just read Stone Fox with my daughter a couple nights ago. We were both very surprised and shocked at the sad ending, as in ugly-crying for about 1/2 hour for me. She kept it together pretty well, but I think she just didn’t want to be made fun of by her older brother. She’s only 10 and I guess I thought she had a couple more years before being exposed to the sad and serious books. So, while I am thrilled that her book-reading world has opened up, I thank you for this list. I will be having the same talk with my daughter.

  4. bunnytwenty says:

    Most of these are great, but I don’t know why anyone gives Steinbeck books to kids under the age of, I don’t know, maybe 17. “The Red Pony” traumatized my poor 12-year-old horse-loving self in middle school.

  5. Amanda says:

    I remember reading “Charlotte’s Web” with my stepdad when I was about 9 years old. I LOVED the book, and still do, but we both cried like babies at the end.

  6. Martha says:

    Farley Mowat’s “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be” is funny and heartbreaking but based on Mr. Mowat’s real life dog Mutt. There is a “life lesson” (as we call them in our house aka Mommy will sob and blow snot bubbles everywhere) at the end but it’s a great and fun read.

  7. Nikki says:

    A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace – I bawled my eyes out every single time I read that book as a kid. I’m 33 years old now, my son is in the 8th grade and I was excited when I saw it still for sale in the Scholastic flyer. Even if it wasn’t available, no big deal because I still have my copy. I just remember it as a good story, one that I would read under the covers with a nightlight or in the closet with a nightlight (see a trend?). It’s one of those books that pulls you in, keeping you tied to the character and it’s a no brainer that since it has a dog in it, it has a horribly sad ending.

  8. PushingThirty says:

    The Red Pony traumatized my 12 year old self as well. It taught me to despise Steinbeck, and even still that wretched cover makes me tight in the chest. Even now, I wouldn’t think of reading it again. :(

  9. Erica says:

    Oh man, Flowers for Algernon and Of Mice and Men destroyed me. (What is it about mice/rats?). Agreed with Mars Needs Moms. Took my 7 year old to see it and he had a bit of a hard time with it asking if Mars was going to take me away. Didn’t see “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” on the list (and sequels). Read these in 3rd or 4th grade myself and was amazed and truly changed by the story. But they are heart heavy stories of racism. Really one of the most life-changing books I’ve read and it’s stuck with me years later (and I continue to re-read it even at 30something) but I would definitely caution Mamas about it and the questions it will inevitably raise.

  10. amy says:

    The Year Without Michael and The Red Badge of Courage should have been on the list. I’m glad to see Anne of Green Gables, I read the entire series and each book is about life and death and things that happen in between.

  11. Jrseygirl in VA says:

    I rememeber in the 7th or 8th grade we watched the movie based on Flowers for Algernon. No one warned me and I was ugly crying at the end. No girl wants to do that in Middle School, ugly cry in front of all her class mates, and strangely no one ever made fun of me for doing that.

  12. Layne says:

    I read Pink and Say for the first time when I was pregnant. Talk about waterworks!

  13. Ami says:

    Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr is another tear jerker that deals with the aftermath of war and atomic bombs. It’s short with pictures but it makes me cry like a baby.

  14. Kevin Gerard says:

    Add these to your list:

    Conor and the Crossworlds

    Diego’s Dragon

    The kids will L.O.V.E. them!

  15. Heidi says:

    Someone beat me to recomending A Dog Called Kitty! Really good book. Also Girl Who Owned a City, and My Side of the Mountian are really good.

  16. candice says:

    where the red fern grows is one of my all time fav books i wore many copies of this book out reading it again and again and again!! its a book that will tear your heart out and show you true love and determination!! i still read this book as an adult and cant wait to share it with my kiddos!! stone fox was also a really good one!! in fact there were quite a few of my faves as a kid!! good blog!

  17. Cec says:

    When I was in 3rd grade, we had to read Stone Fox….ALOUD. We would each take turns reading a paragraph or two aloud in groups of about 8 other kids.

    To this day, that book still haunts me because I (of course) got stuck reading the part where the damn dog dies (it happens SOOO SUDDENLY with little warning. I had to keep backtracking and re-reading the same line cuz it didnt make sense in my head at the time) and I remember feeling my throat close up and the tears come as I was made to keep reading. I loved my 3rd grade teacher until that moment. I loved her even after that. But I can’t ever really forgive her for making us read it aloud. lol

    Add to your list: Among the Hidden.

    Among the Hidden takes place in a fictional future in the US after a food shortage. The government decides to rectify the situation by cutting back the population and enforcing a law that states that no family is to have more than 2 children. The main character, Luke is an illegal 3rd child. He lives on a farm in the middle of no-where with his parents and two brothers and has been able to go outside on occasion and help out with the farm, though no-one is allowed to know of his existence.
    Eventually, a neighborhood is built behind the farm and Luke is forced to remain indoors for fear of someone in the neighboring houses seeing him and reporting him to the Population Police (all 3rd children are killed when they’re found). He watches the families from the window in the attic as they go about their normal lives. He one day discovers that there’s another 3rd child living in the house behind him. So when their parents are gone, he sneaks over to her house and befriends her.


    Jenny is a 3rd child and her father works for the Population Police as a double agent and tries to find other 3rd children before the rest of the organization does and provide them with false identities. Jenny introduces Luke to the internet and a chatroom filled with other 3rd children who are planning to go to Washington and protest the population ban. Luke plans to go with her, but backs out at the last minute. Jenny never returns, and Luke breaks into her house to find no evidence she was ever there. He gets on her computer and can’t contact anyone in the chatroom. Her dad comes home unexpectedly and explains that all the kids that went and protested on the steps of the White House were shot on sight in front of everyone as a warning. Jenny was dead.

    Jenny’s dad then gets Luke a fake identity and has him sent off to a boarding school where the second book continues.

  18. Chelsea says:

    The giver. Even at 20 I was horrified by this book.

  19. Jess says:

    I read this list so I would know what NOT to get to start introducing my son to chapter books…and and glad to know I was not the only 12 yr old permanently traumatized by The Red Pony. Don’t give a kid anything by Felix Salten either (almost everything dies) and anything you may pick up thinking “Oh, Disney movie based on this!” is usually trauma-inducing as well (speaking from experience). Marguerite Henry books are usually very good for young horse lovers, but Black Gold is a tear-jerker.

  20. K Jones says:

    I teared up just reading this list! Where the Red Fern Grows was one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.

  21. Faith says:

    ANYTHING by Patrica Polacco. She is a gifted writer and artist ( she illustrates the books also). Thank you Mr. Faulkner is my absolute favorite. All of her books are based on true stories. I will keep buying all of her books even after all my children are adults.

  22. carrieg says:

    The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting is a good picture book to read after Pink and Say. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer.

  23. Becca says:

    The Giver and Number the Stars. Also “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” though that one isn’t likely to just show up in your kids book bag.

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