Divorce Books for KidsWritten by: Rob Print This Article
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(Originally published January 15, 2009. Updated August 27, 2010.)
So you’re getting a divorce, or have already gotten one. Have any kids in the picture? You can bet they are confused about what you and your ex-spouse (or soon-to-be-ex-spouse) have done by breaking up the family. Kids need to understand what is going on from such a big family change as a divorce, and it’s not a simple thing for them. Why? Well, for starters:
Children often blame themselves for the divorce.
They need to know that divorce is an adult problem, not one caused by children.
Child self-blame for divorce creates psychological problems, some of which can be long-term and severe.
Children need to know that it’s OK to love both parents.
They are often put in the middle and made to “pick sides” by one or both parents and don’t like this at all.
They need to know that parents who try to make them “pick sides” and bad-mouth the other parent are doing the wrong thing so they won’t participate and may possibly help their misguided parent(s) control themselves.
Even in an amicable divorce involving children, there are going to be questions and worries. All of the books discussed in this posting can help with those, especially for the intended audience which is generally late toddler-hood to early grade school, about ages 2 to 9.
Was It the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story For Little Kids About Divorce features a funny story about two brothers living primarily with their father. They see their mother regularly every other weekend and clearly have a great time with her, too. The older brother thinks he caused the divorce because of a really messy day with chocolate pudding all over him and his hungry little brother. Kids seem to enjoy this book a lot because of the humor and how it relates to their viewpoint about the basics of what happens to the kids when their parents don’t get along and they end up living in two households. This is a definite “repeat reader” type of book, likely to be asked for at story time more than once. A few readers have criticized this book for gender bias which is unfair in my opinion. If the roles of mother and father in this book were reversed, these nitpickers would be pleased. Yet there is a scarcity of books that present alternative custody arrangements in a positive light, so it’s great that author Sandra Levins didn’t cave in to the “marginalize daddy” crowd.
Do You Sing Twinkle?: A Story About Remarriage and New Family is the sequel to Was It the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story For Little Kids About Divorce. The two brothers have grown a little and spend about equal time with each of their parents. Their mother has a boyfriend who has two daughters. When she and her boyfriend Tom decide to marry and she’ll be moving in with him in another city, the older brother has many jealous and angry feelings. He doesn’t want stepsisters and he doesn’t want to back to seeing his mother only every other weekend. Their parents work together to help the kids adjust with frequent phone calls, read-alongs with mommy over the phone, and sharing emails. Their mother helps them find some common ground with their new stepsisters and explains that an uncle they love is actually her stepbrother. Just after the story concludes, there is a section for parents with insights on helping children adapt to changing family dynamics including remarriage and new siblings.
Dinosaurs Divorce is another humorous book that features dinosaurs as the characters throughout the story. It is a collection of observations and explanations rather than a traditional story with main characters and a plot. The surreal and hilarious illustrations are very entertaining. Dinosaurs in bedrooms flooded with tears, with heads exploding from bottled-up feelings, and step-sibling-dinosaurs traveling in flying saucers are some of those that elicit the most laughs. Of the books we’re covering here, this one is probably the best at covering the whole gamut of divorce topics from what caused the divorce (parents not getting along) to the kids’ feelings, suggestions to talk with their parents and trusted adults about troubled feelings, how they may have to take some more responsibilities and money may be more tight, and so forth. It also covers longer-term changes in divorced families, such as when parents start to date, remarry, and more kids join the family. Overall, this is a very good read, one that most kids will enjoy over and over.
Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce (Albert Whitman Prairie Paperback) covers divorce from the perspective of the little sister Dinah. She loves her dad, mom, and older sister Ruth. She enjoys doing different things with mom and dad. The illustrations are lovely. Sometimes toddlers enjoy just pointing at the objects in them and getting parents to say their names. This book is written around the mother having primary custody and the children living with the father on weekends. Relations between the two are good enough that Daddy can come to the birthday parties at Mommy’s house. It also shows that even when weekend visits with Daddy don’t go as planned, the kids can still talk on the phone and share letters with their father.
Two Homes focuses on what it is like for a young child named Alex who lives with both parents in a cordial joint custody situation. Alex enjoys the plus points of having two homes such as two bedrooms, different toys and books in each home, and different friends in each neighborhood. The book stays neutral on gender. Not only can you not determine exactly what the custody split is, you also are not really sure if Alex is a boy or a girl. Thus this is one of the better books from the perspective of staying totally out of the mommy vs. daddy gender wars. Some of the other books in this review are criticized by a small minority of readers as biased because they have not managed to do this.
It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear: A Read-Together Book for Parents and Young Children During Divorce (Lansky, Vicki) is another cordial joint custody story covering from learning about the divorce, to feeling upset and learning how handle those feelings, to adapting to life split between mommy and daddy. This book has a scene where the teacher points out to Koko that there is another child in the class with a divorced family in order to help her get some emotional support. It might be good to mention to your kids that divorces vary widely, from parents getting along well to much less amicable situations, and that you’ll do your best to get along well with the other parent. Prove it to them by being positive about their other parent.
I Don’t Want to Talk About It focuses on just the time around when the divorce is revealed to a little girl and how badly she feels about the situation. It captures how she feels a range of conflicting emotions which are difficult for her to express. She has a vivid imagination and identifies herself and her feelings with several different animals as the story progresses. The best part of this book is that it reassures the child that both parents will still be in her life and will both still love her.
If you’re on a tight budget and have to buy just one or two of these books, I’d recommend Dinosaurs Divorce and Was It the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story For Little Kids About Divorce.
If you’re past the divorce and your family situation is changing again, with a new marriage, then Do You Sing Twinkle?: A Story About Remarriage and New Family is a great choice for this stage. While it does not show the ideal situation where the kids could have equal time with both parents, it does show that even an imperfect situation can work out well enough if the parents are cooperative for the sake of their children.
Our least favorite was I Don’t Want to Talk About It as it tends to dwell too much on negative feelings about divorce and really doesn’t cover much beyond just revealing the divorce at the start. However, it might be an appropriate choice for some kids who are really feeling a lot of pain and need to be reassured that both parents will still love them.
Still Looking for High Conflict Divorce Books for Kids
One thing we didn’t find in any of these titles is a portrayal of a high-conflict divorce. We’d particularly like to see some books that focus on how to help children deal with a parent committing parental alienation. While we realize that these aren’t pleasant topics for anyone, there are far too many high-conflict divorces involving one or both parents bad-mouthing and trashing each other, sometimes to the point it is emotional child abuse, to ignore the needs of kids stuck in such bad situations. It would be a blessing to see a few titles take on such difficult topics, explaining how a parent can bad-mouth and lie, refuse to cooperate with exchanges and visitations, hide letters and gifts, refuse to take phone calls, and basically do everything possible to wreak vengeance on the other parent, not even thinking about how they are hurting the children. Sad, but it’s often the case. Kids would do better knowing the truth that such situations are bad, they are not the cause, and they should be able to love both of their parents. They also need to learn that what they are seeing it totally the wrong way to handle a divorce as these kids are at high risk for repeating the destructive family dynamics they are experiencing. Perhaps some enterprising children’s author will write a book to help kids in those situations. If you know of any such books, please leave a comment to let us know.
We have run across one book that focus on the difficult topic of parental alienation that has been written for kids around 11 to 15 years old. Please read our article Parental Alienation Book For Middle School Kids: “I Don’t Want to Choose!” for more information.