The best books with stories for and about children of incarcerated parents

Why am I passionate about this?

There are 2.2 million people behind bars in the United States—more than any other country in the world —in greatly disproportionate demographic numbers. There are mandatory drug sentencing laws that put fathers and mothers, sometimes both, away for many years regardless of their actual direct involvement in a crime. I wrote this book because no matter how one feels about these laws, or these crimes, if 2.2 million adults are incarcerated, there are at least as many children without mothers or fathers. Having lost my mother to suicide there are many connections, stigma, shame, and the hardship of reconciling a mother’s love in spite of the events that took her away from me.


I wrote...

Ruby on the Outside

By Nora Raleigh Baskin,

Book cover of Ruby on the Outside

What is my book about?

The real purpose of this story is to create conversations about what it means to have a mother (by extension a father) incarcerated and the many sides to the way we “punish" people in our society. Is incarceration necessary in all cases, why or why not? All of this is disguised in a story about one girl, Ruby Danes. 

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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me

Nora Raleigh Baskin Why did I love this book?

This is probably the most authentic, emotional, powerful picture book story about a boy whose dad is incarcerated.

It touches on a subject not often told, the legacy of the cradle to prison pipeline and how one father fights against that for his son. I dare you not to cry when you read it. Or better yet, listen to the author perform it. 

By Daniel Beaty, Bryan Collier (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Knock Knock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Winner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Medal and the Boston Horn Book Award
 
A simple, powerful book for children, about an absent father and the love he leaves behind

Every morning, I play a game with my father.
He goes knock knock on my door

and I pretend to be asleep

till he gets right next to the bed.

And my papa, he tells me, "I love you."

 

But what happens when, one day, that "knock knock" doesn't come? This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children…


Book cover of My Brother Is Away

Nora Raleigh Baskin Why did I love this book?

I loved this book. It is one of the most heartfelt, deeply moving picture book stories about a young person with a family member who is incarcerated.

It is sensitive and subtle and it speaks to both those dealing with a similar experience, and maybe more importantly, someone to whom this topic is unfamiliar. That is a special book. The illustrations are absolutely perfect, to match the tone and sensitivity of this story. Quite a beautiful book. 

By Sara Greenwood, Luisa Uribe (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Brother Is Away as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

In this moving picture book, a young girl reflects on the emotions and challenges of growing up with a brother who is incarcerated. This touching story is filled with vivid illustrations and is based on the author’s childhood experiences.

An NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book • NPR Best Book of the Year • A Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book

With her older brother in prison, a young girl copes with the confusing feelings his absence creates. At times she remembers the way her brother would carry her on his shoulders or how he would make up stories to tell her…


Book cover of All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

Nora Raleigh Baskin Why did I love this book?

On the other end of the spectrum is a light and funny, extremely well-written, and poignant middle grade novel about a boy growing up with his mother inside prison walls. (Full disclosure, I cried at the end of the book.)

While it’s not realism, it brings attention to its readers, that the law is not perfect, and often the wrong people are in prison. The happy ending helps make this realization palpable for young readers, who nonetheless will get the message about criminal justice and being quick to judge. 

By Leslie Connor,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Junior Library Guild Selection * Kids' Indie Next List Pick From Leslie Connor, award-winning author of Waiting for Normal and Crunch, comes a soaring and heartfelt story about love, forgiveness, and how innocence makes us all rise up. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a powerful story, perfect for fans of Wonder and When You Reach Me. Eleven-year-old Perry was born and raised by his mom at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C, and so far Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them…


Book cover of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Nora Raleigh Baskin Why did I love this book?

While this is by far not a children’s book, I feel strongly it is a book that should be required reading for all high school students across the entire country. I pretty much have nothing more to say than that.

This book literally changed my view of our criminal justice system in the most powerful way possible. Be prepared it is very hard to read, not because of the reading level, but the content. That is exactly why it should be read.

No one should hide their head in the sand and be unaware of the ways incarcerated people are treated in our United States of America.

By Bryan Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Just Mercy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, STARRING MICHAEL B. JORDAN, JAMIE FOXX, AND BRIE LARSON.

A NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, BOSTON GLOBE, ESQUIRE, AND TIME BOOK OF THE YEAR.

A #1 New York Times bestseller, this is a powerful, true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix America's broken justice system, as seen in the HBO documentary True Justice.

The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One in every 15 people born there today is expected to go to prison. For black men this figure rises to one…


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A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

Book cover of A Beggar's Bargain

Jan Sikes Author Of The Edge of Too Late

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Avid reader Lover of Music Astral Traveler Tarot Reader Grandmother

Jan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Historical Fiction Post WW2.

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.
Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.

Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger. If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.

A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

What is this book about?

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father's dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.

Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time-a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an…


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