The best books on stepfamilies

3 authors have picked their favorite books about stepfamilies and why they recommend each book.

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A House in the Woods

By Inga Moore,

Book cover of A House in the Woods

There are multiple possible interpretations for this very well illustrated story: it’s above moving from one habitation to another, but also on, a more symbolic level, about reconstituted families. At least, this is the sense it has for the adult because for children it’s much simpler, we see here sympathetic animals building a house in the forest.


Who am I?

I’m the happy father of five children, born between 2000 and 2017. So in my adult years, I have quite constantly lived in the company of young children, and I’ve started inventing stories for them. I have now six albums published in France, all of which were originally imagined for my kids just before we switch off the light for sleeping. Born in 1975, I live in Paris, I’m the chief editor of Philosophie magazine (a monthly publication with 50 000 readers), and I’ve published twenty novels and essays alas not available in English. I’m the president and co-founder of a creative writing school located in Paris, Les Mots.


I wrote...

Dragons in Love

By Alexandre Lacroix, Ronan Badel (illustrator),

Book cover of Dragons in Love

What is my book about?

Strokkur is a little dragon, living alone with his daddy. Then, he’s got a problem: when a charming little girl grants him a kiss on his cheek, he feels his fire burning inside… He’s terrified, a dragon shouldn’t be in love, otherwise, he may hurt the one he loves with his flames… Like in his previous adventure, Dragons. Father and Son, also illustrated by Ronan Badel, Strokkur we’ll have to solve a moral dilemma.

Cat Dog Dog

By Nelly Buchet, Andrea Zuill (illustrator),

Book cover of Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family

With two simple words--“dog” and “cat”-- in several configurations, Cat Dog Dog explores the stress of settling into a blended family as well as the power of pets to bring people together. If a child can recognize these two three-letter words, they can read this book independently. The illustrations are worth a thousand words.


Who am I?

Growing up, my brothers and I begged for a dog, but our parents never gave in. Fortunately, when my kids begged for a pup, my husband and I gave in. So, as a children’s book writer, I wanted to give kids a book to help them convince their parents that there’s always room for a pup in the family, and at the same time, subtly emphasize the importance of gratitude and inclusion.  


I wrote...

No Room for a Pup!

By Elizabeth Suneby, Laurel Molk,

Book cover of No Room for a Pup!

What is my book about?

Warning parents, No Room for a Pup! book could convince you to get a dog. Mia wants a dog more than anything. Her mom insists there is no room in their tiny apartment. One day, Mia falls in love with a small pup. With help from Grandma --- and her pet-owning friends --- can Mia convince her mom they have enough room?

Think “I-want-a-dog” story meets classic Yiddish folk tale about how things could always be worse --- to comic effect! With action-packed narrative and illustrations, this is a terrific read-aloud. The nonpreachy messages about the importance of gratitude, generosity, and the inclusion of others --- “there's always room for one more” --- resonate. 

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

By Shari Green,

Book cover of Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Macy’s mom is getting married and Macy isn’t looking forward to a new step-dad and two pesky little step-sisters. When Macy and her best friend have a falling out, the crabby ancient woman next door—who doesn’t even know sign language—couldn’t possibly become an ally…or could she? I love the free verse format of this novel, and the use of bolded text for dialogue, and how Macy’s hearing impairment is a streamlined and interesting aspect of her characterization.   


Who am I?

I love middle-grade stories that touch the mind, the heart, and the funny bone. These books are filled with possibilities and hope—they give me courage for the future. I have three grown sons who have inspired much of my thinking about children and childhood, and I keep close to me all of the children I worked with as a teacher, hoping they might finally see themselves and the world they know in the pages of what their children read. I’m grateful to other writers who inspire me to read, and to write, creating the best stories we can for kids living now, today, in the world we have (and imagining the world we want to see). 


I wrote...

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

By Beverley Brenna, Tara Anderson (illustrator),

Book cover of Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

What is my book about?

Nine-year-old Jeannie really, really wants a hamster. Her dad has moved out, her mother is busy with work, and her brother might be addicted to video games. Sapphire really, really wants a family. Life in the pet store is no picnic, and it’s been hard imagining the thrill of freedom. Both narrators come together in a hilarious, heartwarming story about finding one’s place in the world. 

Jeannie’s dad and his new partner are gay, and Jeannie’s family expands to include Robin, along with Sapphire—a very special rodent whose existential wonders frame an important story about belonging. Anna, a trans woman who lives in the neighborhood, completes a cast of characters that encourage readers to embrace diversity, recognize their purpose, and be who they are. 

Two Naomis

By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Audrey Vernick,

Book cover of Two Naomis

I’m cheating and throwing in a middle grade novel! It’s that good! This one can be read independently or as a read-aloud. (Side note: I still read every night to my 14- and 10-year-olds and plan to for as long as they’ll let me.) A story about redefining family, Two Naomis explores the growing relationship—first antagonistic and slowly becoming loving—between Naomi Marie and Naomi Edith, whose parents become seriously involved. Hilarious and full of heart, this story is a great contemporary take on divorce and blended families. And Audrey and Olugbemisola are brilliant human beings and make a kick-ass writing team to boot!


Who am I?

When my sister got divorced, she and my nephew, Jordy, moved in with our parents. My mother was—and still is—a big music fan, and she decided to play the same music in her house that Jordy’s dad played in his. The music became a bridge; a way for Jordy to feel like he was at home in both places. I loved this and kept it tucked away for years before Here and There came to me. I feel passionate about helping kids find a way to feel safe and comfortable in themselves—no matter where they are or what they’re going through—and all the books on my list do this brilliantly.


I wrote...

Here and There

By Tamara Ellis Smith, Evelyn Daviddi (illustrator),

Book cover of Here and There

What is my book about?

After Ivan's parents separate, he has trouble finding joy at either of their homes until he discovers that the birds and music that he loves may be found in both places.

Commonwealth

By Ann Patchett,

Book cover of Commonwealth

In Commonwealth, Patchett weaves together flawed families who fail one another over the decades but keep trying and trusting in spite of the failures. There are no villains here–just complicated characters struggling with their own hopes and inadequacies, and desperate to move on from the difficulties of their pasts. This is not a fast-moving novel, but it is stunning, and it shows, more clearly than any other story I’ve ever read, the enduring power of loyalty, love, and forgiveness. 


Who am I?

Mary Karr once wrote, "A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it." I totally agree with that. In forty years, I’ve yet to encounter a magical family where everybody gets along, nobody screams things they don’t mean, and there’s never a need to drown your feelings in food or drugs or booze. I grew up in a more-than-averagely dysfunctional household, where poor health and crippling anxiety frequently raised their ugly heads. Since losing my younger sister to mental illness six years ago, I’ve worked hard to make sense of our past, both through my own writing and through the work of authors who write so well about family dynamics.


I wrote...

A Matter of Life and Death

By Andy Marr,

Book cover of A Matter of Life and Death

What is my book about?

Six months ago, Tom Halliday left his job. Two days after that, his wife left him. Now, with his mother seriously ill, he is forced to return to his childhood home and rejoin the family he has worked to avoid for the past twenty years.

As the weeks pass and his mother’s condition continues to worsen, secrets are revealed and longstanding grudges resurface within the Halliday home. But by re-examining their shared histories and the status of each tattered relationship, the family begins to reconnect in moving and unexpected ways, and Tom is finally able to make sense of the mess his life has become.

The Ring Bearer

By Floyd Cooper,

Book cover of The Ring Bearer

The Ring Bearer is a celebration of a blended family. Jackson has a big job: he must carry the ring in his mother’s wedding ceremony. He’s nervous. What if he drops it? What if he trips? The simple action of this story is relatable for kids and, even more importantly, they will connect with the deeper fears Jackson faces—big changes, new family dynamics, and sharing love. Also, Floyd Cooper’s illustrations? Stunning.  


Who am I?

When my sister got divorced, she and my nephew, Jordy, moved in with our parents. My mother was—and still is—a big music fan, and she decided to play the same music in her house that Jordy’s dad played in his. The music became a bridge; a way for Jordy to feel like he was at home in both places. I loved this and kept it tucked away for years before Here and There came to me. I feel passionate about helping kids find a way to feel safe and comfortable in themselves—no matter where they are or what they’re going through—and all the books on my list do this brilliantly.


I wrote...

Here and There

By Tamara Ellis Smith, Evelyn Daviddi (illustrator),

Book cover of Here and There

What is my book about?

After Ivan's parents separate, he has trouble finding joy at either of their homes until he discovers that the birds and music that he loves may be found in both places.

Stepping Stones

By Lucy Knisley,

Book cover of Stepping Stones

This graphic novel is based on Lucy’s real life. It’s about a girl who begrudgingly moves from her home in the city to the country to live with her mom’s new boyfriend and share a bedroom with his daughters. I love this one because when you’re a kid, so many things are out of your control, and grown-ups are the ones making decisions for you. Sometimes, kids are forced to learn a whole new way of life. Stepping Stones is a great depiction of that experience—an experience I can relate to as someone whose mom remarried and then had to move towns and schools. I love how the main character, Jen, is terrible at math but has to handle money at the farmer’s market. She spends the summer persevering through her math troubles, her embarrassment related to it, and her new family and farm work expectations. 


Who am I?

Growing up, if I wasn’t good at something right away, I’d quit. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of others. Because of that, I never experienced how great it felt to overcome obstacles, to succeed at something hard—until I played football. Girls Who Persevere is an important topic to me because so often, girls are treated as if they’re inferior or incapable. It’s ingrained in them that they shouldn’t try certain things (like football!), and if they fail at first, it must mean they can’t do it. I think it’s important to see strong girls doing big things, even when they’re hard. These books show just that.


I wrote...

Play Like a Girl

By Misty Wilson, David Wilson (illustrator),

Book cover of Play Like a Girl

What is my book about?

Misty never shies away from a challenge, on or off the field. So when the boys tell her she can’t play football, there’s only one thing to do: join their team and show them what she’s got. But the training is rougher than she thought—and so are the other guys, who aren’t thrilled about having a girl on their team.

Middle school isn’t so easy, either. Misty wants to fit in with the popular kids, but they think a girl playing football is “weird.” Even her best friend doesn’t get it. Can Misty find a way to score points with her teammates, make new friends, and show everyone—including herself—what it means to play like a girl?

Take Back Your Kids

By William J. Doherty,

Book cover of Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times

Bill Doherty is an astute psychologist and master storyteller who draws on a great store of examples and anecdotes from his work as a family therapist and director of the University of Minnesota’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program. What he sees most often missing in modern parents is not love, but the confident exercise of authority. His short book is an excellent tutorial on how to practice that. He’s right to emphasize it: At all developmental levels, studies find that an “authoritative” (not authoritarian) style of parenting is the one most often associated with kids’ becoming confident, respectful, and responsible persons. This parenting style values both obedience to adult requirements and independence in children, explains the reasons behind rules, allows give and take, but doesn’t permit kids to treat parents as peers.

Doherty’s chapter on 11 guidelines for giving and getting respect is a gem. He also offers good advice…


Who am I?

I’m a developmental psychologist and former professor of education. My life’s work and 10 books have focused on helping families and schools foster good character in kids. Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility is credited with helping launch the national character education movement. My first book for parents, Raising Good Children, described how to guide kids through the stages of moral development from birth through adulthood. My focus these days is kindness and its supporting virtues. My wife Judith and I have two grown sons and 15 grandchildren, and with William Boudreau, MD, co-authored Sex, Love, and You: Making the Right Decision, a book for teens.


I wrote...

How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain

By Thomas Lickona,

Book cover of How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain

What is my book about?

The big idea of my book is to try to create an intentional family culture based on our deepest beliefs and values like kindness and respect—and never give up. Each chapter provides real-life examples of how to do this, such as protecting family together time, talking about things that matter, getting control of screens, disciplining wisely, sitting down as a family to solve problems fairly, and more. Library Journal found the book “chock-full of straightforward tips for creating a home that cultivates empathy.” Kids, of course, are constantly shaping their own character by the choices they make and so share the responsibility for the person they are becoming. Our part as parents is to make the most of the opportunities we have to help them grow in goodness.

Along for the Ride

By Sarah Dessen,

Book cover of Along for the Ride

When Auden spends the summer with her dad and his new family in coastal North Carolina, she never expects that a friendship with a new boy Eli will change everything she’s believed about life and love. A burgeoning romance and deep secrets shared under a Carolina moon on late-night adventures while the rest of the town sleeps? Can you get any more magical than that? This one is all about healing and blooming and taking the chance to be yourself against the backdrop of a quirky-cute beach town.


Who am I?

There’s never been a time I haven’t had a pen in my hand, crafting a good story. And as the YA literature movement grew, so did my love of it. There’s not a more “blooming” time of life when life and love and friendship can grow with such authenticity and excitement. And true to my Deep South roots, I write and gravitate to romance novels that capture the beauty of first love and Southern culture in tandem, from the slow, relaxed pace to the sometimes gritty culture to the never-meet-a-stranger, colorful personas. Where humidity is thick but the accents are thicker, that’s where you’ll find my Southern-fried heart!


I wrote...

As Much As I Ever Could

By Brandy Woods Snow,

Book cover of As Much As I Ever Could

What is my book about?

After a fatal car crash takes her mom and sister, CJ quits driving and isolates herself from the world. When her dad sends her to spend a summer with her estranged Memaw in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, she never expects to meet a boy, especially champion race car driver Jett.

When CJ loses a bet that lands her in Jett’s driver’s seat, he reintroduces her to driving while they confide in each other, and CJ learns she’s not the only one suffering through a loss. As their connection deepens, Jett’s focus on the track is called into question, and CJ refuses to be the cause of another crash. Can CJ learn to put her heart in drive or will she throw it in reverse?

White Noise

By Don DeLillo,

Book cover of White Noise

MortalityWhite Noise is not so much a novel. To me, it's more of a wildly amusing collection of clever observations about life. The book's protagonist is a professor of Hitler studies, something he invented. And that's not the last thing he invents. He's invented a patchwork family of absurd proportions. In fact, he invents so much that he doesn't know what to believe. And there we are at the center of this novel: what can we believe in when we don't even know if death is finite or if there is life after death. The absurdity of mortality as we ride through American academia. If you sometimes wonder if it's all real or just a simulation, this book is for you.


Who am I?

I'm a child of the 80s. Growing up in West Berlin, when Allied soldiers patrolled the streets, had a huge impact on my view of the world. There was this underlying feeling of uneasiness. I was well aware that Russian soldiers with tanks and nuclear weapons were waiting on the other side of the wall. Fascinating, terrifying times indeed. To convey this atmosphere to my readers is my foremost drive to write stories set within the framework of the cold war. Cheers and nastrovje!


I wrote...

Iron Curtain 1987

By Raf Beuy, Christophe Bugetti (illustrator),

Book cover of Iron Curtain 1987

What is my book about?

What interested me most about this topic is the underlying continuity of the old Prussian attitude of mind within the framework of East German socialism. A gruesome mixture indeed. But see for yourself. 

The American citizen Adam Hedman followed his ideals and went to the land of his ancestors, which is behind the Iron Curtain in the German East. As all his hope is lost and he only wants to see justice for his family, a coworker vanishes, and he gets blackmailed into looking for her. Unwillingly he starts a hunt for the man who took her. A dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the socialist secret services unfolds, where it is impossible to emerge as a victor. Or is it?

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