Books for Elementary School Children

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

The following books are out of print and/or difficult to find. You might want to consider asking your local library about interlibrary loans.

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.


We’re always looking for books about children with incarcerated parents. If you come across any, let us know!