We Need to Talk: 15 Books For Discussing Difficult Subjects With Your Children

I’ve often said that one of the reasons I started Busy Bookworms is that I’ve always loved teaching children through amazing picture books. This is equally true in the classroom and in my own home – I often use picture books to raise issues with my own children, and find them an invaluable springboard for discussions about challenging topics.

A quick Google search will reveal lists of picture books related to almost anything, but I thought I’d share some of my favourites about issues that can be particularly difficult to address with young children. Let's dive right in.


Mental Illness

My Happy Sad MummyWritten by Michelle Vasiliu, Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

I’ve only come across this book recently, when I met author Michelle Vasiliu. It is a beautiful story of a young girl grappling with her mother’s mental illness, and perfectly captures the challenging unpredictability of her situation.

Virginia WolfWritten by Kyo Maclear, Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Kyo Maclear has written many amazing, innovative picture books, and this example deals with using creativity as a way of overcoming depression.

The Huge Bag of Worries – Written by Virginia Ironside, Illustrated by Frank Rogers

Although this book was written over 20 years ago, it is especially relevant today, when the incidence of anxiety in children is higher than ever. I’ve used this book with my own children on many occasions.


The importance of a healthy diet

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato – Written & Illustrated by Lauren Child

It makes it a little easier to encourage your children to try healthy foods when the ever-adorable Charlie and Lola are doing it!

The Dinner Detectives - Written by Yves Stening, Illustrated by Nigel Buchanan

This series exposes children to international cuisines, and is perfect to open up discussion about where food comes from and the joy it can bring us. Each book features the recipe for a dish that can be prepared by children and their parents, which is a great step towards encouraging children to try new foods.

Hugo Makes a Change - Written by Scott Emmons, Illustrated by Mauro Gatti

Fabulous, humorous tale of how a meat-loving vampire accidentally came to love vegetables. I love this book, and included it in the curriculum for the Busy Bookworms food-themed class.



Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World - Written & Illustrated by John Burningham

This book is brilliant – it’s a demonstration of the way people sometimes become what they are labeled by others. It’s a reminder to both children and adults to think twice before they call a child a bully.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? – Written by Carol McCloud, Illustrated by David Messing

I came across this book when my kids came home from school talking about being ‘bucket-fillers’. It provides a great framework to show children how rewarding it is to go out of one’s way to be kind and generous towards others. When adopted at a whole-class level, this focus on kindness and positivity is a perfect way to reduce bullying.  

The Recess Queen – Written by Alexis O’Neil, Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

I’ve come across plenty of Recess Queens while strolling schools on yard duty – it’s great to find a book dealing with this common type of playground bully.

Books are invaluable way to talk to children about difficult subjects.


Cry, Heart, But Never Break – Written by Glenn Ringtved, Illustrated by Charlotte Pardi

My mum bought me this book recently – she was amazed at the beauty with which a children’s book can deal with this challenging subject matter, but that really is the magic of picture books.

Looking for Atlantis – Written & Illustrated by Colin Thompson

I’m a huge fan of Colin Thompson’s work, and love losing myself for hours in his illustrations. This beautiful story, dealing with the death of a grandfather, is a perfect example.

The Heart and the Bottle – Written & Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers’ books often deal with big issues such as friendship, loneliness and imagination, in a way that is simple and relatable to children. His newest book Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth is also truly spectacular.


We’re All Wonders – Written & Illustrated by R.J. Palachio

This is the picture book version of the novel Wonder, which was recently made into a feature film. This book allows younger readers to see through the eyes of Auggie, who doesn’t look like everyone else, but hopes others will see beyond his differences.

Odd Dog Out – Written & Illustrated by Rob Biddulph

This is a beautifully illustrated, funny rhyming story which encourages readers to celebrate their differences, rather than trying to fit in.

Introducing Teddy – Written by Jessica Walton, Illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

The subtitle of this book is ‘A gentle story about gender and friendship’ and it was written by the author to help initiate a conversation with her son about his transgender grandparent. After beginning her writing project on Kickstarter, the book quickly found a publisher and is now available in many countries worldwide.


Have you used books to raise difficult issues with your children? Can you recommend any amazing titles? Share your knowledge by leaving a comment below.