The best picture books for bringing on a tear

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the emotional power of picture books since I was a child and have spent my adult life reading, sharing, and trying to write the kinds of books that connect to the youngest of readers on a deeper level. In Looking for Smile, I tried to write about the day when I was five years old and experienced real sadness for the first time. This became a story about Bear and his friend, Smile. My favorite kind of picture books are those that make me smile and tear up at the same time. I decided I would share some recent books that have had that effect on me…


I wrote...

Looking for Smile

By Ellen Tarlow, Lauren Stringer (illustrator),

Book cover of Looking for Smile

What is my book about?

In this sweet and gentle picture book, Bear wakes one day to find his Smile gone and enlists his friends to help him find it. Bear and Smile are always together. They wake up together, swim by the waterfall together, and eat honey together. But one day, Bear wakes up and Smile is nowhere to be found. With the help of his woodland friends, will Bear be able to find his Smile again?

This tender and special debut picture book explores sadness with a light touch and shows that sometimes a good friend can make all the difference.

The books I picked & why

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The Longest Letsgoboy

By Derick Wilder, Catia Chien (illustrator),

Book cover of The Longest Letsgoboy

Why this book?

The loveliest and most resonant book on the loss of a pet ever. It tells the story of a last walk (“the last letsgoboy”) in an old dog’s own sweet, earthy, love-suffused voice. Deeply aware that this is his last day, the old dog puts all of his love and earned wisdom into saying goodbye to the earth (I wuffwuff farewell to tweeters, branchjumpers and fuzzhoppers) but mostly to Little, his foreverfriend. In addition to being a beautiful book about a pet and owner, it is also a touching tribute to a life well-lived, full of caring and connection.


The Bear and the Moon

By Matthew Burgess, Catia Chien (illustrator),

Book cover of The Bear and the Moon

Why this book?

A dreamlike book about an all-alone bear who befriends a balloon. When the little bear accidentally punctures his new friend, he blames himself. And now the poor thing is not only utterly alone, but is overcome with sadness and self-blame. The delicacy with which this story treats the difficult topics of shame and self-blame is marvelous. Making a bad situation worse by blaming it on yourself is just so relevant to all of our lives, no matter how young we are and this book really captures that in an elemental way. The tender, emotive illustrations are a perfect complement to the delicate and penetrating text.


Ida, Always

By Caron Lewis, Charles Santoso (illustrator),

Book cover of Ida, Always

Why this book?

Based on a true story about two polar bears at the Central Park Zoo, this is a beautiful book about the death of a loved one. In a zoo, there may literally be only two-of-a-kind, so the loss of one is especially poignant. The realization that one of the pair would be “going away” at first seems almost unbearable. Their leave-taking (complete with days of denial and days of laying together comforting each other) really takes readers through the process and yet offers enough wisdom and hope to help them come out better on the other side.


The Suitcase

By Chris Naylor-Ballesteros,

Book cover of The Suitcase

Why this book?

This is a deeply touching story about the increasingly relevant topic of stranger fear. A weary blue creature arrives in a strange land carrying a large suitcase. Not knowing what to make of this stranger; a fox, a bird, and a rabbit break into its suitcase to discover its secrets. What they do uncover is a photo of the creature’s lost home. So they come to see all that that the creature really is and all it has lost. In a larger sense, the story speaks to how difficult it is to see what each of us is carrying inside our own “suitcase.” And how important it is to listen.


Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse

By Marcy Campbell, Corinna Luyken (illustrator),

Book cover of Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse

Why this book?

A book about empathy that is also a tribute to the power of imagination. A boy without much money tells his classmates he has a horse. A more well-to-do girl knows he is lying and can’t tolerate it. When she visits the boy at his home, she is able to see past herself and can begin to appreciate and enter into the boy’s reality. One thing I really love about this book is that it shows how much larger empathy can make us -- how that kind of openness in addition to making us kinder can also give access to joy. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in bears, poverty, and best friends?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about bears, poverty, and best friends.

Bears Explore 47 books about bears
Poverty Explore 42 books about poverty
Best Friends Explore 49 books about best friends

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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