25 books directly related to foster care 📚

All 25 foster care books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Great Gilly Hopkins

By Katherine Paterson,

Book cover of The Great Gilly Hopkins

Why this book?

Being raised in foster care is tough. But Gilly Hopkins is tougher by far. Known to be completely unmanageable, brash, and bitter, Gilly has been shuttled from one family to the next. When she is sent to stay with the Trotters, she knows it won’t be for long. She can outlast them! She can outlast anyone! But the Trotters aren’t that easily thrown. So even with her angry blow-ups, her gum-chewing scowls, and her every attempt to get herself sent away once again, Gilly might have finally met her match. For girls who are having tough times, tough Gilly is an excellent protagonist who can model the benefits of learning to control your anger and finding alternative ways to express your frustration while keeping true to yourself. 


The Unforgettable Logan Foster #1

By Shawn Peters,

Book cover of The Unforgettable Logan Foster #1

Why this book?

Logan Foster is a character who will stick with you. His story is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that belongs in the halls of great comic-book-level adventure. And it is also an emotional journey for young Logan, who is seeking a family, wondering about his lost sibling, and looking to find a place in the world. His world just happens to be extraordinary in many action-packed ways. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and, yes, sometimes dad-joke groan-worthy too. Because of its combination of excitement and heart, this book has earned a well-deserved spot on this list.


Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me

By Julie Johnston,

Book cover of Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me

Why this book?

A fictional story of Sara who is placed in foster home after foster home until she ends up with a farm family, The Huddlestons. I could feel Sara’s pain as she is rejected time after time, and feels she belongs nowhere and has no one to care for her. But I believe in hope and will not ever leave a book I have written without hope and this book did that for me. It is a touching novel of love and the meaning of family. 


Orbiting Jupiter

By Gary D. Schmidt,

Book cover of Orbiting Jupiter

Why this book?

This young adult novel is a love song from a teenage father to the child he’s never met. He yearns toward her. He wrestles with the consequences of his past decisions. He wants a future that he can never have. I can’t tell you how much I saw myself, a middle-aged mom, in delinquent protagonist Jack. This book is real and visceral and doesn’t pull any punches, but the most important thing it does is remind us that the twin of grief is love. 


We Can Talk About It: A Conversation Starter for Foster and Adoptive Families

By Whitney Bunker, Jena Holliday (illustrator),

Book cover of We Can Talk About It: A Conversation Starter for Foster and Adoptive Families

Why this book?

As a therapist, longtime foster/adoption advocate, and fost/adopt mama, I’m always looking for books that help adults have healthy, child-driven conversations with kids. More than most, kids in foster care and adoptive placements need safe spaces to feel their feelings, navigate life changes, and experience caring adults. Debut author Whitney Bunker brings her personal experiences as a foster/adoptive mama and Executive Director / Co-Founder of City Without Orphans to do just that. We Can Talk About It shows kids that the healthy, supportive adults in their lives are safe places for the questions that will come, while simultaneously modeling for adults how to be that safe place. This book is just one of many beautiful ways Bunker and her organization seek to serve hurting but hopeful families.


Love You From Right Here

By Jamie Sandefer, Pamela Goodman (illustrator),

Book cover of Love You From Right Here

Why this book?

Sandefer, a foster mama herself, wanted to give other foster parents words of comfort to give to their own hurting foster children. Love You From Right Here does just that. Kids in foster care have had so many choices taken from them. I love how this book gives some back. Sandefer has created a place where children can see another child’s agency protected and cared for, where the adult invites (instead of forces) and the child responds when he or she is ready. Sandefer’s story does a beautiful job of illustrating that trust and safety aren’t to be rushed, but developed through patience, kindness, and empathy. Kids and adults need this book.


Just Lucky

By Melanie Florence,

Book cover of Just Lucky

Why this book?

Author Melanie Florence draws together many contemporary issues faced by Indigenous kids in this gripping and sometimes harrowing novel about Lucky, a young girl thrown into the foster care system after losing her caregiver grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. Lucky is of Cree ancestry, and the author is of mixed Cree and Scottish heritage. It’s a fast-paced and easy-to-read novel that will entertain and uplift, while it remains unflinching in its depiction of the realities faced by kids in foster care.


The Sand Dancer

By Lydia Emma Niebuhr,

Book cover of The Sand Dancer

Why this book?

I found the novel The Sand Dancer a compelling mystery. I felt sorry for Carrie, the main character, who lost her parents when she was two years old. As I read about Carrie’s troubling life, bouncing from one foster family to another until she turned eighteen, I wanted her to find some answers to her past to have that closure and move on with her future. The suspense in this story is quite a page-turner. She showed that she was a strong woman and quick thinker.


A Family Is a Family Is a Family

By Sara O’Leary, Qin Leng (illustrator),

Book cover of A Family Is a Family Is a Family

Why this book?

Many kids secretly fear the questions that come up at the beginning of the school year about their family. If you are living in foster care or have been going through something difficult in your home life, talking about family can be challenging. This playfully illustrated story helps create a safe space for all different kinds of families. Great for reading at home with your child or with the whole class to nurture a welcoming environment.


One for the Murphys

By Lynda Mullaly Hunt,

Book cover of One for the Murphys

Why this book?

Lynda Mallaly Hunt is one of my favorite Middle-Grade authors. She is a fantastic storyteller. She creates authentic and relatable characters, and I would recommend all of her books, but One for the Murphys is the one that best fits the theme of this list. I connected deeply with Carely’s struggles with missing her mom but feeling betrayed by her and mistrusting the seeming perfection of her foster family and yet desperately wanting to belong in their world. This book is a powerful look at what it means to be a family of any kind. 


Small Mercies

By Bridget Krone, Karen Vermeulen (illustrator),

Book cover of Small Mercies

Why this book?

Mercy stole my heart from the very first page. Although more accurately, it’s Mercy’s eccentric foster aunts who did the initial stealing. Their quirky excuse notes—one says Mercy has “the collywobbles,” another that she can’t participate in inter-house cross-country because she “has a bone in her leg”—is just a taste of the humor to come. The story in this gem from South Africa is complex and surprisingly powerful with its focus on Gandhi’s response to discrimination as he traveled through South Africa and how he lived the Sanskrit word satyagraha, which means truth and polite insistence. I was fascinated by South Africa’s complicated ethnic diversity, not unlike America’s complicated diversity, which made the message of satyagraha even more potent for me. 


The Scent of Rain

By Anne Montgomery,

Book cover of The Scent of Rain

Why this book?

This book was so hard for me to put down. I was caught up in the many twists and turns, and wanted to know how this young girl would escape. This story not only looks at the horrors of modern-day polygamist cults but also the challenges of the foster care system. I was swept up and cheering her on as she escaped into the treacherous terrain of the Arizona desert. With Montgomery’s vivid descriptions, I could feel the heat and the struggles these young people faced while trying to escape. This book is beautifully written and had me connected to the characters from the beginning.


Lullabies for Little Criminals

By Heather O'Neill,

Book cover of Lullabies for Little Criminals

Why this book?

O’Neill shoved me right into the real world of her novel, as intended. The narrator ‘Baby’ (could there be a more ironically named protagonist?) is the 12-year-old daughter of a heroin-addicted father, a single parent. The story revolves around Baby’s adolescence amid her neglect and its repercussions, her descent into criminality. My heart just beat alongside Baby’s. Your heart would have to be of granite not to beat alongside Baby’s. This is what fiction does. 


How to Date Your Brother's Best Friend

By Julie Kriss,

Book cover of How to Date Your Brother's Best Friend

Why this book?

We’ve always had a soft spot for a broken bad boy and this book creates an amazing example of that in Dean. A former marine who grew up in a foster home, he’s completely unaware of the secret crush his best friend’s younger sister, Holly has harbored on him for years. When circumstances allow them to explore that crush, things go from secret to oh-so hot and we were so on board for it. We loved watching Dean finally start to feel like someone saw and understood him and even when tragedy strikes, Holly never gives up on him. The final scenes were freaking adorable…there’s nothing better than a bad boy who is all in with his girl!


Watch Over Me

By Nina Lacour,

Book cover of Watch Over Me

Why this book?

There’s something about the paranormal slant of this book that allows it to highlight so much of the journey from ignoring the past and moving forward, to re-remembering the past and learning to accept it and move forward with it rather than running away from the events that shape us.

Brilliant writing. Great for anyone who has gone into a new situation feeling completely out of place. Deals with PTSD/Repressed memories in such a thoughtful way.


Zander (Heroes at Heart)

By Maryann Jordan,

Book cover of Zander (Heroes at Heart)

Why this book?

I always find it ironic (and amusing) when critics sneer that romance writing is formulaic, emotionally shallow, and focused on sex only. Thankfully, Jordan shows them how it’s done right: in every one of her 10+ series, she writes with gut-wrenching emotional depth and her characters are complex, imperfect human beings. Zander introduces us to a group of eight men raised together in a single foster home and who now consider each other brothers. Rough around the edges and on different life paths as adults, they’re all gallant heroes at heart. Zander is the gruffest, least-affable of the brothers, a man who seems unlikely to own up to a mistake or show emotion… but Jordan brings him to life in ways that are simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.


Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline,

Book cover of Orphan Train

Why this book?

I love reading historical fiction to learn about nuanced aspects of society that we didn’t learn in history books, and Orphan Train is a novel that delivers along these lines. I had no idea that orphans or otherwise abandoned children were shipped west on trains during the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, sometimes to be adopted by loving families but other times to be forced into what was essentially indentured servitude. I’d like to think that my novel also enlightens the reader about lesser-known events, such as the flight of the Nez Perce, who were chased through Yellowstone by the U.S. military in an attempt to round them up and relocate them to a reservation.


Jason's Why

By Beth Goobie,

Book cover of Jason's Why

Why this book?

At last, a book about a kid whose anger is just as big as the anger of many kids I know, and whose transition into parent-requested foster care isn’t easy—but gets easier. Jason and his family are in trouble, and this straightforward novel opens a door that readers don’t often walk through, unless we’re opening that door in real life. This novel reflects real-life situations in a direct and caring story about what happens next. 


What Beauty There Is

By Cory Anderson,

Book cover of What Beauty There Is

Why this book?

There is something very powerful about finding beauty in a dark and gritty situation, as Cory Anderson does in this novel. Told in a multi-person viewpoint, the language is powerful yet also poetic and shines a light into the dark, uncomfortable spaces of poverty and crime, and limited options, but still comes back to the hope, love, and friendship that can exist in-between those places.

There is cold, and then there is the unforgiving cold of an Idaho winter. The setting echoes the biting poverty that Jack and his younger brother are forced into by events out of their control. The crimes of his father drag Jack and his brother further into a desperate situation with no safe way out, even with the help of Ava, who has demons of her own. The despair of poverty, the desperation of trying to do the right thing and being forced not to, and the hopelessness of being in love in a dire situation make for a compelling and original story. Chilly yes, but with a lot of heart!


Another Hill and Sometimes a Mountain

By Tim Green, Marlayna Glynn (editor),

Book cover of Another Hill and Sometimes a Mountain

Why this book?

You think you had a tough childhood? Meet Tim Green. Born blue into an uneducated, poor, and incestuous family in 1950s Ohio, it's a wonder this child lived at all. However, grit and forces of luck arrived to meet Tim when he needed help. Luck involved the right policemen, care workers, social workers, and foster parents. Grit involved the resolve of Tim himself.

Like Frank McCourt, Tim Green learned early to look on the bright side of life. You'll read the most shocking things you can imagine in this book that will leave you shaking your head at the things people will do. But Tim maintained the idea that not only was he worth something, but so was everyone around him. He learned how to forgive, and that was his rocky path to the fabulous life he lives today. This book is LGBTQ positive.


The Saddest Girl in the World

By Cathy Glass,

Book cover of The Saddest Girl in the World

Why this book?

Cathy has written many books about children from abuse, but I feel this book resonates with me, as the story of the little girl Donna, is very similar to my own story. Placed in care after being neglected by her alcoholic mother, all Donna really wanted was to be loved. 

I think this really is true with most children who are placed in the social system, the feeling of abandonment and detachment runs deep and we all just want to feel part of something, to be part of a family. 

Many of Cathy’s books are written to explain what can happen and the reality of life, when living in certain situations that many are just not aware of, or choose to ignore. This book is well worth a read, it certainly brought a tear to my eye.


White Oleander

By Janet Fitch,

Book cover of White Oleander

Why this book?

It’s been many years since I first read this book, and I am still haunted by the voice of its protagonist. Unlike the other mother-daughter books on this list, White Oleander is fiction, although readers who have clung to toxic mothers or endured hardship, abuse, loneliness, and abandonment, will see the truth on every page. The story and its characters are unforgettable.


The Boy at the Back of the Class

By Onjali Q. Raúf,

Book cover of The Boy at the Back of the Class

Why this book?

Nine-year-old Ahmet, a Syrian refugee, has arrived in Mrs. Khan’s classroom after fleeing the horrors of war. One of the things that is so striking about this book is how the children in the story have far more understanding than most adults. It is both funny and heartfelt and is a masterclass in teaching empathy – for the young and the old.


Runner

By Tracy Clark,

Book cover of Runner

Why this book?

I grew up on the great South Side of Chicago, so Tracy Clark’s vibrant portrayal of the bitter cold of my city’s winter struck home with me. The icy conditions form a perfect setting for PI Cass Raines’ increasingly desperate hunt for a missing girl. Raines battles corrupt city officials, suspicious teenagers, indifferent cops, and the brutal blizzard to find her client’s daughter. This is the latest in the series, but it’s a deft and polished novel that stands on its own.  


Smoke Signals

By Sherman Alexie,

Book cover of Smoke Signals

Why this book?

This is a book that shares intimate glimpses into the lives of a handful of Native Americans living on an Indian Reservation in the late 20th century. The book is full of humor, irony, and wit and was later made into a popular film. There are moments that are amusing and funny, but loneliness and a sense of apathy make their way into the storyline as well, as Victor, the lead character, tries to navigate the unpredictable family life he finds himself in. As a small boy he witnesses the damaging effects of alcoholism and what it does to his father and other family members, much like Sherman Alexie did himself. Victor is deeply resentful of his father’s abandonment when he was a child, and resents his friend Thomas for admiring his father for things like eating 15 pieces of fry bread in one sitting.

Victor struggles to find his true nature and vacillates between being cynical and aggressive, and melancholy and sentimental. Tasked with the obligation of going to his father’s beat-up mobile home to get his effects and then his father’s ashes, after he passes away, Victor learns to forgive his father for his weaknesses and learns about his father and himself in the process before releasing his ashes into a river and letting go of some of the pain of the past. I enjoyed this book because it shows the human side of Native Americans struggling to survive in a hostile and isolated landscape. You learn to care about the characters as you read and find that you can’t forget them.