Books for Elementary School Children
All Kinds of Families - Norma Simon
"Explores in words and pictures what a family is and how families vary in makeup and styles."
Almost Like Visiting - Shannon Ellie
"Almost Like Visiting aims to provide feelings and emotions children with an incarcerated parent may experience before, during, and after visiting their parent in prison. The book primarily focuses on one way of visiting called video visiting. This book is a great resource for the population experiencing an incarcerated loved one and also serves to provide valuable information to their peers."
Anna's Test - Whitney Quinn Hollins PhD
"Anna is an awesome student who looks forward to her spelling test each week so she can show her parents. Her dad is especially proud of her. When she goes to visit her dad in prison, Anna can't wait to share the good news with him! Written and illustrated by directly impacted individuals, Anna's Test is a book that fosters conversation and allows children with incarcerated parents to see themselves represented in literature. While Anna's story is not the story of every child with an incarcerated parent, it can serve to facilitate a much needed conversation about parental incarceration. Aiming to decrease the secrecy and stigma that is attached to parental incarceration and highlight the goodness of these families, Anna's Test focuses on positive family dynamics despite obstacles."
Clarissa's Disappointment: And Resources for Families, Teachers and Counselors of Children of Incarcerated Parents - Megan Sullivan
Clarissa Pettaway has waited five years for her father to come home from prison. When the day finally arrives, her mother makes a special dinner, and her father calls her his favorite names: Oh, Clarissa, Sissy, Sassafrass Girl, I'm never gonna leave you again. Soon, however, Clarissa discovers it isn't all that easy for people who have been incarcerated to rejoin their families and reenter society. Clarissa has to learn to cope with the reality of her father being out of prison, and all of the confusing, conflicting emotions it creates in her. Two books in one, Clarissa's Disappointment combines a moving children's story with resources to assist the families, teachers and counselors of children of incarcerated parents.
Deena Misses Her Mom - Jonae Haynesworth
Lately, Deena has been getting angry. A lot. She acts out in school and keeps getting in trouble. Everyone is surprised because she used to be very calm, but that was before her mother went to jail. Her dad, her grandma, and her best friend Josey all do their best to help her out, but Deena doesn’t want to talk about it. Will a day at the carnival with her Dad help her open up?
Does He Still Love Me? Book for Children Whose Parents are in Prison - Rebecca Smith
A children’s book sparked by a visit to a maximum-security prison, Rebecca Smith wrote and illustrated a book for young minds whose parents are facing time in prison. ‘Does He Still Love Me?’ detailed the fictional story of a boy named Thomas, whose father goes to prison as he grows up. The goal of this book is to be used as a resource for children with relatives in prison to help understand the legal system, the adjustment of a parent leaving the home, and the readjustment to the parent returning to the home after their sentence.
Doogie’s Dad - Richard Dyches
"This story is about Doogie, a young boy, and his sister whose father is sent to prison. It explores their feelings of loss, fear and frustration at not being told what’s going on until their mother finally takes them to visit their dad in prison."
Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights - Julie Nelson
"All families change over time. Sometimes a baby is born, or a grown-up gets married. And sometimes a child gets a new foster parent or a new adopted mom or dad. Children need to know that when this happens, it’s not their fault. They need to understand that they can remember and value their birth family and love their new family, too. Straightforward words and full-color illustrations offer hope and support for children facing or experiencing change. Includes resources and information for birth parents, foster parents, social workers, counselors, and teachers."
Far Apart, Close in Heart - Becky Birtha
"Children can experience many emotions when a parent is in jail or prison. They may be angry, sad, lonely, or scared. Sometimes friends act differently toward them. Sometimes the children begin acting differently too. In this important book, young readers will learn that even when it feels like nothing can get better again, there are ways they can improve their circumstances. Sending letters, talking to a trusted grown-up about their feelings, and even visiting a parent in jail or prison can help keep a parent close in their hearts. Use this title as a helpful tool to start a conversation with any child in this situation and to remind them they are not alone."
Glennis, Before and After - Patricia Calvert
Glennis just wants things to be the way they were. This means that Dad would be proven innocent and be out of prison; Mom would recover from her nervous breakdown. And the whole family -- Vinnie, Louise, Allie and Missy, and Glennis -- would be together again, living in a big house with a huge backyard and having family picnics complete with badminton nets and hoops for croquet. As the family has dissolved, Glennis has chosen to live with eccentric Aunt Wanda, who cooks only meals that come out of boxes, and wears rhinestone shirts and cowboy boots. When Wanda is at work, Glennis has no one but Skipper, Aunt Wanda’s only son, to keep her company. But living with both of them has allowed Glennis to visit Dad every weekend at the correctional facility, where she is sure he’ll ask her to help prove his innocence. Quite the opposite happens and Glennis is left wondering: If her life before is gone forever, then where does she stand now? Patricia Calvert writes with power and grace in a novel that probes the intricacies of family relationships and the many prisons that we construct for ourselves.
Hooray! Hooray! Dad’s On His Way - LaShelle White-Corley
Hooray! Hooray! Dad’s on His Way! is a children’s book for children ages five and older who have or had experienced separation from their parent(s) or guardian(s) due to incarceration. The book provides these children with an opportunity to verbalize and be transparent about the separation.
Hooray! Hooray! Dad’s on His Way! will empower children and their families with the knowledge and resources they need to strengthen their family infrastructure and break the cycle of incarceration.
The book is beneficial in the following ways:
1) Provides a child-centered focus and perspective.
2) Promotes constructive dialog and insight between the child and the adult.
3) Strengthens the family unit by connecting them to community resources.
If You Listen - Charlotte Zolotow
"This loving tale about loss from two-time Caldecott Honor winner Charlotte Zolotow is a gentle, reassuring approach to a subject that's always challenging for parents to discuss with children. In it, a mother comforts her daughter about the absence of the child's father by explaining that if she listens hard, she'll feel him far away sending love to her." Note: not specifically about parental incarceration.
Kennedy’s Big Visit - Daphne Brooks
"Little Kennedy is so excited to visit her father again. After she tries on her princess dress and a tutu, Kennedy's mother finds something pretty for her to wear. Finally, they are ready to take the long car ride to visit her daddy! When Kennedy arrives at the big building, she knows she cannot run around or talk loudly. When she sees her father, she is happy and sad all at once. Happy because she loves her daddy, but sad because she knows her visit will come to an end soon and she will have to say goodbye. Even though she knows her father must be punished for his bad choices, Kennedy hopes that one day, God will answer her prayers and bring him home to her again. Kennedy's Big Visit is the poignant children's story about a father and daughter bond that is unbreakable, despite their unique challenges."
The Kissing Hand - Audrey Penn
"School is starting in the forest, but Chester Raccoon does not want to go. To help ease Chester's fears, Mrs. Raccoon shares a family secret called the Kissing Hand to give him the reassurance of her love any time his world feels a little scary. Since its first publication in 1993, this heartwarming book has become a children's classic that has touched the lives of millions of children and their parents, especially at times of separation, whether starting school, entering daycare, or going to camp. It is widely used by kindergarten teachers on the first day of school." Note: not specifically about parental incarceration.
Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me – Daniel Beatty
This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children find in themselves as they grow up and follow their dreams.
Kofi’s Mom - Richard Dyches
Kofi’s Mom is a story about Kofi whose mother is sent to prison. It explores his feelings of loss and confusion. Through friends at school, Kofi begins to talk about his mom and to look forward to her return.
Let's Talk About When Your Parent Is In Jail - Maureen Wittbold
More people are in prison today than at any other time in U.S. history. Many prisoners have children. The impact of this situation on kids can be traumatic. This book takes kids through the stages of a parent's incarceration to help them understand and deal with their thoughts, fears, and other feelings.
Mama Loves Me From Far Away - Pat Brisson and Laura Caple
Separated by a prison sentence, a child and her mother find ways to stay connected in this affecting story. Sugar and Mama are extremely close. They share the same birthday and love to spend time together telling stories. But life takes an unexpected turn when Mama is incarcerated-Brisson doesn’t give details, but all readers need to know is revealed in Sugar’s eyes. Caple’s realistic watercolors focus on the child’s face, portraying a sense of deep sadness, confusion, and loss. What emerges is a story of triumph over adversity, a non-judgmental look at life rocked by unfortunate events and how people cope under difficult circumstances. Young readers will empathize with Sugar; those in the same situation will no doubt be comforted. (Picture book. 8-12), Kirkus Reviews
Marinka, Katinka, and Me (Susie) - Winifred Madison
"Three fourth-grade girls enjoy their special friendship until two of them stop speaking to each other."
Missing Daddy - Mariam Kaba
"A little girl who misses her father because he's away in prison shares how his absence affects different parts of her life. Her greatest excitement is the days when she gets to visit her beloved father. With gorgeous illustrations throughout, this book illuminates the heartaches of dealing with missing a parent."
My Daddy’s In Jail - Anthony Curcio
"There are nearly three million adults in the U.S. alone that are in prison or jail. Many of these being parents that leave behind unanswered questions with their children:
What is jail? Why did this happen? Is it my fault? Is my daddy (or mommy) bad? Do they love me?
My Daddy's in Jail is a story of two bears who have a father in prison. The book is narrated by a very odd cockroach."
My Daddy Is In Jail - Janet Bender
My Daddy is in Jail is a long overdue resource for helping children cope with the incarceration of a loved one. It includes a read-aloud story, discussion guide, caregiver suggestions and optional small group counseling activities. With this book, helping professionals, and other caring adults, will find themselves better equipped to provide information and support to these vulnerable children and their families.
The Night Dad Went to Jail: What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail - Melissa Higgins
The Night Dad Went to Jail: What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail' follows a young rabbit as his father is arrested at their house in front of the neighbors and sentenced to six years in prison.
It offers tips for dealing with the hardship of losing a parent for many years and an explanation of what to expect as a mother or father going through the legal process.
Nine Candles - Maria Testa
The reality of a prison sentence is brought down to a child’s perspective in this unusual birthday story. Seven-year-old Raymond makes his weekly visit to this mother, who is in a correctional facility for stealing money from the restaurant where she used to work. “Mama says...she’s never been so sorry for anything in her whole life. I don’t like what she did, but I believe her.” The boy is afraid that she has forgotten about his birthday, but when he arrives, she surprises him with a cake. Details of prison life, such as the fences, uniformed people with guns or dogs, and the experience of walking through a metal detector all add to this sensitive story. The colorful, cheerful paintings of this loving family are done in strong, bold strokes. The author notes that one and a half million children in the United States have a parent in prison. A thought-provoking picture book that shows the cost and consequences of crime. Janet M. Bair, Trumbull Library, CT School Review Journal
Oh No! When A Parent Goes Away - Dakota King-White
"Duane is a seven-year-old boy who recently found out his dad went to jail and will not be coming home soon. Throughout the book, Duane goes through different emotions about his dad being gone and often says, “Oh no! What am I going to do?” His mother decides to take him to see a counselor who teaches him to use coping strategies. The book explores healthy ways to cope with a child losing a parent due to incarceration.
Our Gracie Aunt - Jacqueline Woodson
Johnson and his sister, Beebee, seem to be all alone in the world. Their mama has gone away many times before, but something tells them that this time she won’t be coming back. Then a social worker comes and takes them to meet their Aunt Gracie. Beebee barely remembers her, and Mama never even told Johnson about her. They wonder where she’s been all this time—and why she would want to take care of them. Warily, though, the children begin to trust Aunt Gracie. And in the process, they come to a better understanding of what it means to be a family.
Our Moms (Living with Incarcerated Parents) - Q. Futrell
"Meet Michael, Paul, Jennifer and Anne! All children are different in many ways, but all have one thing in common, their moms are in prison. Parental incarceration affects children in many ways. This book will serve as a conversation starter for such a sensitive issue that impacts nearly 3 million children in the US."
The Prison Alphabet: An Educational Coloring Book for Children of Incarcerated Parents - Dr. Bahiyyan Muhammad and Muntaquim Muhammad
When a parent is incarcerated it can be very difficult to explain that to a child. This unique coloring book was created to serve as a conversation starter between adults who plan to talk about parental incarceration with affected children. The Prison Alphabet allows each letter of the alphabet to serve as a topic of discussion. By using the letters of the alphabet, this book is a child-friendly approach to helping young children begin to understand what is going on behind bars with their parent or family member. The motivation for this coloring book emerged from Dr. Bahiyyah M. Muhammad’s recognition that children with parents in prison have many questions about what prison life is like. During her extensive interviews with children of the incarcerated, children voiced their curiosity and concern about the daily lives of their loved ones. Specially developed books such as The Prison Alphabet can empower children to gain a better understanding of the experience of their loved ones behind bars, show children with parents in prison that they are not alone, and provide resources for caretakers to use to create opportunities to openly discuss the child’s feelings and help them cope with their parents’ absence. The Prison Alphabet is divided into two sections: The first section is a coloring book and uses the letters of the alphabet, from A thru Z, to explain in a child-friendly manner what life is like inside a prison using terms associated with incarceration. The second section of the book contains a discussion guide to help caretakers and counselors explain parental incarceration to a young child by providing sample responses to children’s commonly asked questions about life inside prison. The Prison Alphabet contains illustrations depicting ethnically diverse characters and can therefore be used by any race or gender. Furthermore, it provides opportunities to discuss maternal, paternal and/or familial incarceration.
Resilient Mr. Ball - Charlotte Apricot
"A fun and adorable story about resiliency, that I wrote for my son when I was in prison. It's all about the bounce back! Resilient Mr. Ball is a story about bouncing back. When I created him, I was an inmate at the Women's Adult Correctional Institution in Rhode Island. Even though I was in a very low and dark place, separated from my son, holding on to the notion of bouncing back helped me endure through adversity. Now that my son, Dasan, and I are reunited, we want to bring this book to other children who are affected by the prison system. We survived - so can you! Although I wrote this book for my son, the message is universal to people of all ages. We all get knocked down, but it's all about the bounce back." (from the author)
Rocky's Road: A Coloring Book for Children of Incarcerated Parents – Janice Beal (formerly A Boy Named Rocky – Janice Beal and Vanessa Gilmore)
This coloring book can be used in educational, therapeutic, and family settings to explore loss and help maintain family cohesiveness during parent-child separation. Furthermore, it helps create treatment plans for the minor child.
Ruby on the Outside - Nora Raleigh Baskin
Ruby’s mom is in prison, and to tell anyone the truth is to risk true friendship in this novel that accurately and sensitively addresses a subject too often overlooked—from the author of The Summer Before Boys. Eleven-year-old Ruby Danes is about to start middle school, and only her aunt knows her deepest, darkest, secret: her mother is in prison. Then Margalit Tipps moves into Ruby’s condo complex, and the two immediately hit it off. Ruby thinks she’s found her first true-blue friend—but can she tell Margalit the truth about her mom? Maybe not. Because it turns out that Margalit’s family history seems closely connected to the very event that put her mother in prison, and if Ruby comes clean, she could lose everything she cares about most.
Sing, Sing, Midnight - Emily Gallagher
"Maya is one of the nearly two million American children with an incarcerated parent, and she has a question for her Daddy. 'Who takes care of you?' A simple question with an unexpected answer. Sing, Sing, Midnight! celebrates finding your voice, singing out loud, taking care of one another, and family."
Someone I Know Lives in Prison - Rebecca Myers
"A young person visits an incarcerated family member and explains the many rules and procedures of a prison visit. Watercolor pictures accompany the text with images of visitors, inmates, and prison employees."
Sunny Holiday - Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Fourth-grader Sunny is dealing with a lot in her young life. Her father is in prison, her school is in danger of being shut down, and she is trying to come up with new holidays so that every month has a fun day. Difficult situations are handled gently, but realistically. Sunny knows that her daddy went to jail because he made a mistake trying to take a shortcut to success. Her mother, who works as a maid and is taking college courses one at a time, emphasizes that success only comes from hard work. The mayor visits Riverview Towers, an “ugly cement-gray building” where Sunny lives, and she decides to tell him about her idea for January’s holiday, Kid’s Day. When she gets her chance to speak, she finds herself telling him about all the things he needs to do for her and her neighbors, like fixing the community pool, finishing the park he started, and cleaning up the river. While Sunny’s life still isn’t perfect, the novel has a happy ending. The text is not difficult and includes some fun images for abstract ideas, for example, negative comments are “butterfly squishers.”-Laura Stanfield, Campbell County Public Library, Ft. Thomas, KY School Review Journal
A Terrible Thing Happened - Margaret Holmes
After Sherman sees something terrible happen, he becomes anxious and then angry, but when a counselor helps him talk about these emotions he feels better.
A Visit to the Big House - Oliver Butterworth
When Willy, Rose, and their mother go to visit Daddy in prison, they are quite anxious. But once Daddy appears and they can talk and ask questions. “This sober work of bibliotherapy attempts to articulate the emotionally confusing experience of youngsters with a parent in prison . . . The designated audience will no doubt receive it with enthusiasm.” -- Publishers Weekly
Visiting Day - Jacqueline Woodson
In this moving picture book from multi-award winning author Jacqueline Woodson, a young girl and her grandmother prepare for a very special day—the one day a month they get to visit the girl’s father in prison. “Only on visiting day is there chicken frying in the kitchen at 6 a.m., and Grandma in her Sunday dress, humming soft and low.” As the little girl and her grandmother get ready, her father, who adores her, is getting ready, too, and readers get to join the community of families who make the trip together, as well as the triumphant reunion between father and child, all told in Woodson’s trademark lyrical style, and beautifully illustrated by James Ransome.
Waiting for Daddy - Jennie Lou Harriman and Kylie Ann Flye
This is a story about a young girl, who wants more than anything to be with her father, but cannot because he is in prison. She discovers many ways to cope with her loss through creative expression, the natural world, and play.
Welcome Home: Mommy Gets Out Today - Jamantha Williams
"When Bernice and her favorite cousin, Malaika meet Mother Olivia - Bernice's mother - for the first time; the girls share similar emotions while forcing themselves to understand society, familial and gender issues. Written primarily for students in grades 1st through 3rd, this story aids youth who are experiencing the return of a parent who has been incarcerated."
What Do I Say About That - Julia Cook
Why can’t he see what he did to me - to our family? My dad says that drugs and alcohol made him choose to do the wrong things. But he could have said no to the drugs and the booze, then my life wouldn’t be what it seems. Why didn’t he love us enough to say no? Aren’t we worth it to him? He had a choice . . . us or drugs. He chose to let the drugs win.
This book takes a unique look at the internal struggles with which a child of an incarcerated parent is faced. It creatively explores and validates the roller coaster journey of emotions that children of incarcerated parents endure. It also gives insight to the process of healing and coping.
What is Jail, Mommy? – Jackie Stanglin
This book was inspired by a much-loved, five-year-old whose father has been incarcerated most of her life. One day after visiting with friends who have both devoted parents in the home, this little girl blurted out to her mother in frustration, “What is jail anyway, and why can’t Daddy be home with us?” She needed answers! When the truth is withheld from children they tend to blame themselves for other’s mistakes and short-comings. It is the author’s firm belief that it is incumbent on each of us to provide age-appropriate facts to young inquiring minds. To do otherwise will be evident in future generations. What Is Jail, Mommy? not only explains why the parent is incarcerated but what his/her life is like as an inmate.
When Dad Was Away - Liz Weir
"When Mum tells Milly that Dad has been sent to prison, Milly feels angry and confused. She can't believe her dad won't be at home to read her stories and make her laugh. But soon Mum takes Milly and her brother Sam to visit Dad in prison, and a week later a special package arrives at home - a cd of Milly's favourite animal stories, read especially for her by Dad. At Christmas the family go to a party at the prison, and in the spring there's an even better surprise for Milly and Sam."
When I Miss You - Cornelia Maude Spelman
Young children often experience anxiety when they are separated from their mothers or fathers. In this story a young guinea pig expresses her distress when her mother and father go away. But she eventually finds ways to deal with it.
When I Visit My Daddy . . . We Dance - Josiah Jonathan, Howell Webber and Ramona Lofton Wright
"This is a book of hope and encouragement for children with parents that are incarcerated, guilty or innocent. The whole world may seem dysfunctional at times, so don't be surprised if it knocks at your door one day. Be prepared to endure and look to the future with hope, patience and love. You may even want to do a happy dance, every time you overcome an obstacle or receive an unexpected blessing."
Where’s Dad? - Richard Dyches and Korky Paul
"The story - which helps children understand and cope with losing a parent to incarceration - is about an eight-year-old dreamer of a boy, who imagines himself in a series of fantasy adventures as he tries to find out why the police have taken his dad away and explores his relationship with his mother, sister, grandmother and classmates."
The following books are out of print and/or difficult to find. You might want to consider asking your local library about interlibrary loans.
Andy: Another New Dad-less Year - Amanda Florence-Houk
Monkey See, Monkey Do - Barthe DeClements
My Mom Went to Jail - Suzanne Bergen and Kathleen Hodgkins
My Mommy’s in Prison - Carol Lynne Vogel
My Mother and I Are Growing Stronger - Inez Maury
When Can Daddy Come Home? - Martha Whitmore Hickman - A second grader moves to a new town to be near his father who is in prison.
Where is My Daddy? – Rev. Dr. Warren A. Rhodes
We’re always looking for books about children with incarcerated parents. If you come across any, let us know!
We do not condone or promote the books on this page. The list was compiled as we became aware of them.