The best books for young people featuring families with incarcerated members

The Books I Picked & Why

Punching the Air

By Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air

Why this book?

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between writing that is spare and writing that is sparse, read this phenomenal verse novel for young adults. Punching The Air is a stunning example of eloquence and a testament to the power of poetry, created by award author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist, motivational speaker and member of the exonerated five, Yusef Salaam. As lyrical as it is profound, this is the story of one young man’s incredible strength and resilience; a young man able to preserve his humanity and compassion as he battles against oppression and systemic racism.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Hey, Kiddo

By Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo

Why this book?

Hey, Kiddo is a touching true-life story of a brilliant author-illustrator’s childhood; it is about growing up with a parent who was incarcerated; above all, it is about the transcendent strength of love between a parent and child (in this case a mother who is struggling with addiction and her son). Krosoczka combines art and carefully chosen words to bring us a graphic non-fiction book that is as spellbinding as any novel, and as unforgettable as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, or Jerry Craft’s New Kid. If you ever doubted whether a “comic” could have true literary merit, this graphic memoir is sure to dispel your doubts forever.    


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

By Leslie Connor

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

Why this book?

I’ve read – and loved – many of Connor’s others books, but I hadn’t read this one until last year, when, after sharing the plot of Born Behind Bars with a librarian, she mentioned that it sounded a little like All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. At once, I looked it up – and when I read the synopsis, I was shocked. It seemed to begin almost exactly the way that my own novel began – with a boy whose mother is incarcerated, and who is suddenly told he’s too old to continue living with her. I wrote a frantic email to my agent, who was reassuringly calm. When I finally read the book, I felt enormous relief. While Connor’s book and mine share this single plot point, and they are both, ultimately, about the triumph of love and family and friendship, the plots diverge tremendously, the settings are oceans apart (Connor’s novel is set in the United States, whereas mine is set in India), and they are peopled with very different characters.

Most importantly, as I continued to read, I stopped comparing our two books, because I was carried away by Connor’s protagonist, Perry. If you set out with Perry on a quest to discover secrets his mother has been hiding about why she’s imprisoned, you’ll surely become as engrossed in the twists and turns of Perry’s life struggles, as I was. With her characteristic grace, Connor has brought alive for middle-grade readers a tale that honestly but gently addresses the ways in which incarceration affects families.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Visiting Day

By Jacqueline Woodson, James E. Ransome

Visiting Day

Why this book?

Lyrical and moving, this picture book is one of Woodson’s many gems. We witness a child’s excitement and attention as she carefully prepares for the one day a month when she meets her loving father who is incarcerated. We share her anticipation, see her grandmother’s affection, and also glimpse the depth of her father’s longing to see his family. The book’s climax will bittersweet – we sense the joy of reunion but it is tinged with the knowledge of imminent separation. An insightful and deeply touching portrayal of how familial love endures, despite the harsh reality of incarceration.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Milo Imagines the World

By Matt de la Peña, Christian Robinson

Milo Imagines the World

Why this book?

This book, like the author’s award-winning Last Stop On Market Street, features a child taking a trip on public transportation to an unknown destination. Milo, the protagonist, imagines where his fellow passengers are headed in language that is believably childlike but also fresh and vivid. He is heading to prison, to meet his mother – and the surprise ending to this book begs the question of who has a right to judge anyone else, and sends a gentle but powerful message against making conclusions about people based on appearance.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists