The best books about childhood that make you cry

Ellen Banda-Aaku Author Of Patchwork
By Ellen Banda-Aaku

Who am I?

My name is Ellen Banda-Aaku a writer from Zambia and the UK. I have been writing – mainly for young adults - for many years. My latest YA book The Elephant Girl which I have co-authored with James Patterson is due in July 2022. A memorable book for me is one that haunts me long after I turn the last page even though it’s fiction. Whilst the books mentioned here are very different, I have linked them in that they have child protagonists who go through a lot of suffering through no fault of their own. That is what makes them tearjerkers.

I wrote...


By Ellen Banda-Aaku,

Book cover of Patchwork

What is my book about?

Lusaka 1978. Pumpkin is 9 years old. Her fashionable mother is the queen of Tudu court, but beneath the veneer of respectability that her father's money provides lies a secret that threatens their whole world – the tall, elegant Totela Ponga is a drunk. And when pumpkin’s father – the wealthy businessman JS – discovers her mother’s alcoholism it sets in motion a chain of events that come to define the rest of her life. 

Weaving together the stories of three generations of women, this novel is a patchwork of love jealousy and human frailty set against a backdrop of war and political ambition. This book is about how childhood experiences influence who an adult becomes. Patchwork was shortlisted for the Commonwealth book prize in 2012. 

The books I picked & why

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Flowers in the Attic

By V.C. Andrews,

Book cover of Flowers in the Attic

Why this book?

This is a book about a mother who hides her children away from her new husband so that she can win an inheritance.

I read the book when I was at an age I believed all mothers loved their children selflessly so the story of a mother betraying her children traumatised me. I sobbed my way through it and recall my younger brother asking me why I just didn’t put the book down if it was making me so sad. It was a question to which to date I have no answer.  Although it was fiction because of the way it touched me, I learnt that sometimes greed can make people justify anything. 

I would recommend it for being very emotive! And if one needs a good cry.

Purple Hibiscus

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Book cover of Purple Hibiscus

Why this book?

The main character Kambili helplessly suffers domestic abuse by her father who spares no one in the family. The bullying the family undergoes due to their tyrant father is heart-wrenching and a sadness stayed with me long after I closed the last page. The vivid writing made me feel as if I was at Kambili’s side watching helplessly as everyone imagined she had a perfect life. I recommend it for the descriptive writing, for anyone interested in coming of age stories, and if one wants to get a feel of an aspect of family life in Nigeria. Having grown up in Lusaka I could relate to the story. Because of the way the story ends, the lesson I took away is that if one is in an abusive marriage/relationship, forget tradition and societal values – get out fast!

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini,

Book cover of The Kite Runner

Why this book?

This was a major tearjerker for me. The relationship between the young protagonist and his friend was one-sided and subtly abusive because they came from different social classes. 

This emotive story reminded me that as human beings we can be cruel if there are no perceived consequences and if we don’t keep our conscience in check. Although the protagonist somewhat redeems himself as an adult later in the story, I was tearful for days after reading this book.

The Mourning Bird

By Mubanga Kalimamukwento,

Book cover of The Mourning Bird

Why this book?

The experience in this book of orphaned siblings living in the streets of Lusaka is harrowing. The children’s narration of their experience is told in a matter-of-fact way which makes it more poignant because they have accepted their fate. A recommended read for anyone who likes stories about the dark side of growing up and feels like a good cry. This is because although Chimuka the protagonist is fictional; they are thousands of real Chimuka’s growing up on the streets. 

We Need New Names

By NoViolet Bulawayo,

Book cover of We Need New Names

Why this book?

Having lived in poverty and forced to grow up fast due to the hardship of life, what makes this book tragic is that when Darling the child protagonist arrives in the US, the land she dreamed of, she misses ‘home’ and her dreams don’t come true. Recommended for the author's narrative verve and its general overview of Zimbabwe through the lens of the less privileged. The lesson for me was that material comfort does not guarantee happiness. 

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