Using Books to Tackle Tough Topics

Many underlying issues we face in society such as poverty, mental health, war and the needs of vulnerable populations receive widespread media attention. Your child may hear about these issues on TV or from others at school and bring their questions to you. While it may feel overwhelming to try and explain these complex issues in a way that kids will understand, using books can make these conversations easier.

Books provide context for tough topics, and they can be used to address specific questions your child may have. Experts say the illustrations in picture books can provide a distraction, and the books can be put down and picked up for later if the content becomes too overwhelming. Here are some tips for using books to explore tough topics.

Be Informed

Read up on the topic before opening the book so you have all the basic facts. If your child asks a question you don’t know how to answer, tell them “I don’t know” and learn the answer together.

Start with the Cover

Explore the illustration and title together. Ask your child what they know about the topic so you know where to go from there.

Leave Room for Questions

Finishing the book is not the goal. Ask your child to tell you what is happening in the story and in the illustrations, and explain any vocabulary that they might be unfamiliar with.

Take Breaks

When you sense they have reached their limit, put the book down and come back to it later. Leave the book in an accessible place such as the living room or bookshelf for your child to explore on their own.

Validate their Feelings

It’s ok to admit when a situation or a topic is not ok. If your child feels scared or unsure of what they have read, remind them that they are safe and loved. Encourage them to come to you with more questions at any time.


The library has a number of booklists for tough topics, including anxiety, resilience, bullying, and coping with loss. To find picture books to spark conversation, check out our "Let's Talk About..." booklists.

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~Carlene (Youth Services Department)

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