The best picture books for tackling complicated subjects

Who am I?

I am a creator and lover of stories. I think storytelling is the most powerful force in the universe. Lately, the world has felt scary and divided and overwhelming for adults, I cannot fathom how confusing it must be for kids. Stories like these can help them process traumas, learn kindness and compassion, and see the world from new perspectives. 

I wrote...

Mama Mable's All-Gal Big Band Jazz Extravaganza!

By Annie Sieg,

Book cover of Mama Mable's All-Gal Big Band Jazz Extravaganza!

What is my book about?

Mama Mable was my first-ever children’s book, and it was also an important lesson in the challenges of telling complex stories. With so many men away at war, the 1940s saw a rise in all-female jazz ensembles (like the International Sweethearts of Rhythm or Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads) who for the first time were able to tour the country as professional musicians. These women broke barriers of race, class, and gender and yet many of their stories remain untold.

The band in my book is fictional, but each character is inspired by a real female musician of that era- in the hopes of bringing attention to the many women who contributed to this amazing time in music history.

The books I picked & why

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The Rainbabies

By Laura Krauss Melmed, Jim LaMarche (illustrator),

Book cover of The Rainbabies

Why this book?

This book is hands down one of my favorite children’s books of all time. Jim LaMarche’s gorgeous illustrations had me entranced as a kid (they still do!) and as an adult revisiting the book, I am blown away by how thoughtfully it tackles some heavy real-life issues. The story centers around an older couple struggling with infertility who, through a magical springtime rain, find themselves suddenly the caretakers of 12 fantastically tiny babies.

The story has the effortless flow of a classic fairytale and along the way weaves a moving and nuanced understanding of parenting and the overall concept of family. At the heart of the story lies the message that someone does not have to be biologically related to a child to be their parent- What makes a family is love.

The Heart and the Bottle

By Oliver Jeffers,

Book cover of The Heart and the Bottle

Why this book?

The Heart and the Bottle tackles an issue that is not only tough but also relevant to every human experience: grief. The story centers around the loss of a grandparent, and how the focal character locks her heart away to protect herself from future pain. The story is sweet and simple enough to be digestible for kids, while still tackling the issue of grief pretty directly. Through both his words and illustrations, Oliver Jeffers weaves a tender tale that I believe will resonate with readers of any age. 


By Christopher Myers,

Book cover of Wings

Why this book?

I don’t think I will ever have the words to truly express my admiration for Christopher Myers. I have had the immense good luck to get to know and work with him, but even if that weren’t the case his books would hold a powerful place in my heart. His books often take on complex emotional subjects, but do so with a sense of humor, magic, and above all hope. Wings speaks to its readers about the importance of courage and allyship and centers around a message of embracing the things that make us unique -- even in the face of bullying. 

Rosie Revere, Engineer

By Andrea Beaty, David Roberts (illustrator),

Book cover of Rosie Revere, Engineer

Why this book?

I love this one for being a feminist book that never once addresses feminism. The titular character is a smart, driven little girl with a passion for engineering. The message of the book is powerful: failure is an important step in growth! The book teaches young readers that sometimes the things you put your time and energy towards will not go as planned and that’s ok! Those failures help us learn, move forward, and grow. 

Tar Beach

By Faith Ringgold,

Book cover of Tar Beach

Why this book?

Tar Beach is a classic and for good reason! This book addresses heavy subjects like racism and poverty but is threaded through with an overall message of hope and love. The main character flies above her life in 1930s Harlem, soaring over buildings and bridges -- claiming them as her own. The dreamy illustrations and surreal storyline acknowledge the hard realities of life, but leave the reader with a sense of optimism for the future.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Harlem, emotions, and New York State?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Harlem, emotions, and New York State.

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