Most depressing books for kids
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Most Depressing Children’s Books

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What comes to your mind when you think of children’s books? Bright colors… Happiness… Rhymes… Important lessons… Positive things, right? Generally, we imagine kids books as a place to share happy, uplifting, and optimistic tales.
Rarely do we ever acknowledge the sadness and heartbreak lurking just under the surface of these depressing children’s books.

Over Christmas, I pulled out a box of some of my old book to read to the next generation of kids. There are a lot of children in my extended family enough to fill a hockey team and lucky for them it was up to me to keep them entertained during the day.

Anyway, I found a box full of books I enjoyed as a child. Let me tell you, reading them as an adult is a completely different experience than reading them as a child.

Let’s take a look at some of the most upsetting books I found

Most Depressing Books for Kids


by Margery Williams

Most Depressing Children’s Books The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams


Ages 3 – 7 | Love and Loss | 32 Pages

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I know it’s a lesson in holding onto you loved ones just a little bit tighter. Most of the book isn’t so bad. But, when you come to the last sentence, ugly crying is inevitable. You’re going to want to hug all your teddy bears after reading this one.

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A stuffed rabbit sewn from velveteen is given as a present to a small boy, but is neglected for toys of higher quality or function, which shun him in response. The rabbit is informed of magically becoming Real by the wisest and oldest toy in the nursery as a result of extreme adoration and love from children, and he is awed by this concept; however, his chances of achieving this wish are slight. Read More


by Katherine Paterson

Depressing books for kids Bridge to Terabitha by Katherine Paterson


Ages 8 – 12 | Death and Dying | 190 Pages

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I must have been about 10 when I read this. Back then it reminded me of friendships I had at that age and the secret hideouts we used to spend time in. I remember being quite upset by the book even back then.

Years later, I can’t even tell you how thankful I am that my nieces and nephews weren’t quite old enough to understand this one. You’ve won’t get through it with dry eyes.

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Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief. Read More

Related: Best books for 0 – 2 year olds


by Fred Gipsen

Most Depressing Kids Books Old Yeller by Fred Gipsen


Ages 8 – 12 | Violence | 196 Pages

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There really isn’t much to say about this one. We’ve all read the story or seen the movie. I couldn’t get through it as a child without crying. Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier as an adult. You’re going to want extra tissues for this one.

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When his father sets out on a cattle drive toward Kansas for the summer, fourteen-year-old Travis Coates is left to take care of his family and their farm. Living in Texas Hill Country during the 1860s, Travis comes to face new, unanticipated, and often perilous responsibilities in the frontier wilderness.

A particular nuisance is a stray yellow dog that shows up one day and steals food from the family. But the big canine who Travis calls “Old Yeller” proves his worth by defending the family from danger. And Travis ultimately finds help and comfort in the courage and unwavering love of the dog who comes to be his very best friend. Read More


by Hans Christian Andersen

Sad books for kids: The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen


Ages 3 – 7 | Poverty | 95 Pages

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Here we have the story of a little girl who dreams of warmth and food, stuff no one should want for. There are mentions of domestic violence as well. Depending on the version you have there may or may not be a happy ending. With underlying lessons on being kind to those less fortunate, this is a difficult book to get through as an adult.

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In “The Little Match Girl,” a barefoot girl tries unsuccessfully to make money for her family by selling matches on the street. Afraid to go home empty-handed and face her father’s wrath, she decides to take shelter in an alley for the night and lights matches to keep herself warm. The harsh realism of this story reminds listeners to be grateful and kind during the cold holiday season. Read More

Related: Best books for kids age 3 – 5


by Shel Silverstein

Sad books for kids The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein


Ages 3 – 8 | Selflessness | 64 Pages

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This is a book I tend to gift a lot of baby showers. It a great expression of the love and sacrifice made by parents. Unfortunately the tree gives too much of itself – a situation that is all to common with parents.

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“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave. Read More


by Wilson Rawls

Most depressing childrens books Where the Red Fern Gorws by Wilson Rawls


Ages 8 -12 | Loss of a Pet | 245 Pages

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I’ve never been able to handle stories where an animal dies. So this one book was obviously super hard for me. But the author does a wonderful job of pulling you into the story, of making you fall in love with the dogs, and allowing you to feel Billy’s pain in the end.

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A beloved classic that captures the powerful bond between man and man’s best friend.

Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. It doesn’t matter that times are tough; together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks. Read More


One Comment

  • tcleland88

    One of my 8th graders asked the other day if someone would die in every book we read this year. Yes, pretty much, kid. Someone dies in The Outsiders, Tears of a Tiger, Refugee, Nightjohn, The Diary of Anne Frank (well, at the end anyway), The Pearl, and more.

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