13 Best Sad Books for Kids

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Sometimes we need to read sad books to release the tears that were ready and waiting. And other times, we’re surprised by a heart-wrenching story. Author Marion Dane Bauer believes that painfully sad novels deepen our humanity.

Who hasn’t cried reading Charlotte’s Web? Or at Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson?

While adult sad books are often a love story that breaks your heart or a powerful book about humans dealing with the challenges of life — whether death, abandonment, or a breakup, children’s sad books are also about hard times but at a less complex level — without the romance. They’re often the same concepts of abandonment, death, friendship loss, family struggles, and so forth.

So which are the best children’s fictional chapter books and middle grade books are so sad that they will make you cry?

Here’s a list of sad books that will move kids (and you) to tears.

(In a good way!)

Because sometimes we’re just in the mood to read poignant, beautiful sad books–and to release those pent-up tears.

Get your tissues ready… here are some of my favorite beautifully written middle grade books for kids that will make any reader cry.

Sad Books for Kids


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
by Kate DiCamillo
Edward is a china rabbit with a fancy wardrobe who was adored by the girl who owned him..until he gets lost. He experiences loss many times over and can hardly stand the pain. Yet a wise doll encourages Edward to open his heart to love again — and that’s when he finds a miracle and love.

Painful, Hopeful Growing Up Stories: New Realistic FictionWhen Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin
Tear alert! Ben has been through hell — foster family, adoption by an amazing woman who dies after a few years, and now a bad new situation with his adopted mother’s sister and her husband. But, he has two things that are good, really good — his rescued dog, Flip, and his favorite librarian’s daughter as a good friend. Until his friend’s cancer gets worse . . . and his uncle punches him in the face…The story is gripping, the ending bittersweet, and the writing amazing.

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Midnight Zoo
by Sonya HartnettTissue alert –this story made me weep. It’s a breathtaking story; a fable about life set in Nazi Germany. We follow three Gypsy siblings who have witnessed the capture of their family and friends. While walking and searching for food, they find an abandoned zoo with talking animals. I cried so much reading this sad book.

The Brave by James Bird
When Collin, a boy who counts every letter spoken to him, gets kicked out of yet another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon…

sad books for kids

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. Young Nan works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem emerges to save her. She and her growing protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant, so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. It’s an irresistible magical realism book that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.

sad books for kids

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay (ages 10+)
Layers upon layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all in this beautiful story. Ever since Conor’s mom got breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster visits Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth, but Conor refuses to do it. Meanwhile, in the awake world, Conor moves in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echos Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually, healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best sad books I’ve EVER read.

sad books for kids

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
What a beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful, transformative book! Nova is autistic and nonverbal. In this story, she writes letters (narrated in her mind) to her “runaway” big sister, Bridget. Flashbacks show them hiding from an abusive mother and time together with previous foster families. Nova clings to Bridget’s promise that Bridget will come back in time for the Challenger launch. But the launch happens, and Bridget never arrives. The truth about Nova will make you cry like a baby. At least it did for me!! I’m in awe of the author’s beautiful, gifted storytelling. One of the best sad books on this list!

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
ages 10+
Joseph is an abused boy with a violent father, a parent at age thirteen, and is now living as a foster kid with Jack’s family on their organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we slowly learn about Joseph’s deep love for a rich girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen, and his shattering heartbreak. This is an amazing story– painful yet filled with redemption and hope — beautifully written.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Vijiand her little sister Rukku run away from an abusive father to the big city where they live under a bridge with two friendly brothers. Their lives are hard but made easier by the two boys. When Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever, what happens next almost destroys Viji. (And will make you cry!) It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Following the first book, The War That Saved My Life, this captivating story continues during the War. Ada and her brother live with their new guardian, Susan. After Susan’s home is bombed, they move to a small cottage that they share with Lady Thorton and a German Jewish girl named Ruth. It’s not an ideal situation. Partly because Lady Thorton doesn’t understand how to help around the house and she’s prejudiced against Ruth. In hard times, complicated people do the best they can. That’s what we see in this bittersweet story of loss and healing.

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
A tender, beautiful, redemptive story. December is a foster child who believes with all her heart that she will soon grow wings and fly. Now she’s in yet another foster home and for the first time, she makes friends. But after a jump off a high branch in a tree and a trip to the hospital, December finally accepts the truth about everything in her life– including her mother, being a bird, and the future. I cried so hard at this ending — because her hard-earned realizations shift her future, allowing for love and happiness.


children's chapter books that will make you cry
The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan
Short but filled with tenderness! When a grief-stricken dog rescues two lost children in a terrible snowstorm, he takes them to the cabin of his former friend, a poet named Sylvan who rescued him years before. Told from the dog’s perspective we watch them bond and wonder if maybe the kids have saved the dog as much as he saved them. (And the beautiful ending WILL make you cry!)

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Through illustration and prose, an unhappy boy named Joseph runs away from his boarding school to his uncle Albert’s house in London. Sadly, because his uncle is dying of AIDS-related complications, Joseph must leave for a better boarding school, but this time he leaves with the solid comfort of knowing where he belongs and who he is. This story is about the power of forgiveness and the magic of storytelling. I believe this is Selznick’s finest work, a true marvel.

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
Izzy’s life was a series of houses, sadness, and secrets – why wouldn’t her mom tell her about her dad, who died before she was born? Why did they always move? When Izzy’s mom unexpectedly sends Izzy to her Nana’s in New Mexico, whom she barely knows, Izzy discovers her past, present, and future. Just as Izzy learns to make tortillas with practice and patience, she also learns the story of her dad, her mom, and, ultimately her own story. The wisdom mixed with grief mixed with love creates a beautiful story — I cried and celebrated.

Sometimes we need to read sad books to release the tears that were ready and waiting. And other times, we're surprised by a heart-wrenching story. Either way, here are beautifully written middle grade books for kids that will make you cry.

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2 Comments

  1. I didn’t know how much I needed a good cry after this last year of separation, isolation and hearing about deaths and illnesses. When I read Deborah Wiles’ EVERY LITTKE BIRD THAT SINGS, the sobs and tears were released. Thank you for your new book lists, Melissa! Beth