Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to illness. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about illness.
Our list includes picture books and chapter books. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.
When it comes to children’s stories about illness, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like Madeline to popular sellers like The Two Princesses of Bamarre to some of our favorite hidden gems like The Remember Balloons.
We hope this list of kids books about illness can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book! As you explore the list, please comment below to let us know what books you would add.
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines the smallest one was Madeline.”
Nothing frightens Madeline—not tigers, not mice, not even getting sick. With its endearing, courageous heroine, cheerful humor, and wonderful, whimsical drawings of Paris, the Madeline stories are true classics that continue to charm readers even after 75 years!
A 2019 Schneider Family Award Honor Book!
What’s Happening to Grandpa meets Up in this tender, sensitive picture book that gently explains the memory loss associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.
But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!
Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.
A young girl loves her grandpa so much! When they spend the day at the beach, she holds his hand as they go for a walk, and they build sand castles together. But sometimes, it is difficult, because Grandpa has become forgetful. Grandpa’s memories are like the tide, Mommy explains. Sometimes, they are near and full of life. Other times, they are distant and quiet. A story about families, laughter, and how we can help a loved one with dementia live well.
Told in diary form, Oscar relates how his grandmother becomes less able to look after herself and enters a nursing home, with information about dementia to help children discuss their feelings and adjust to the changing relationship.
A desperately ill girl and an orphaned African gray parrot find friendship, security and healing when they are inadvertently joined by fate. By the author of The Girl Behind the Glass.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre - When plague strikes Bamarre, Princess Addie must fulfill an ancient prophecy. Brave and adventurous, Princess Meryl dreams of fighting dragons and protecting the kingdom of Bamarre. Shy and fearful, Princess Addie is content to stay within the safety of the castle walls. The one thing that the sisters share is their unwavering love for each other. The tables are turned, however, when the Gray Death leaves Meryl fatally ill. To save her sister, meek Princess Addie must find the courage to set out on a dangerous quest filled with dragons, unknown magic, and death itself. Time is running out, and the sisters’ lives—and the future of the kingdom of Bamarre—hang in the balance.
Newspaper Hats - Georgie visits her Grandpa at the home where he lives, but he doesn’t always remember who she is. He does, however, remember how to make newspaper hats, and together they fold enough for all his friends. Touching moments portray the difficulties and nuances of memory loss from a child’s perspective, and an uplifting ending leaves readers with hope. A poignant and age-appropriate story about a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
Caleb and Kit - From award-winning author Beth Vrabel comes a powerfully moving story about a magical friendship, coping with disability, and the pains of growing up and growing apart. Twelve-year-old Caleb is shorter, frailer, and more protected than most kids his age. That’s because he has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. Caleb tries not to let his disorder define him, but it can be hard with an overprotective mom and a perfect big brother. Then Caleb meets Kit—a vibrant, independent, and free girl—and his world changes instantly. Kit reads Caleb’s palm and tells him they are destined to become friends. She calls birds down from the sky and turns every day into an adventure. Her magic is contagious, making Caleb question the rules and order in his life. But being Kit’s friend means embracing deception and danger, and soon Caleb will have to decide if his friendship with Kit is really what’s best for him—or her. This new paperback edition includes a Q&A with the author as well as a sneak peek at Beth Vrabel’s next middle grade novel, The Humiliations of Pipi McGee.
Sometimes When I'm Sad - A sensitive and supportive story to help young children recognize and cope with sadness. “Now when I get sad, I still cry sometimes. I still hide sometimes. But only for a little while. Because now I know ways to feel better.” Sadness can be an overwhelming emotion, especially for young children. But it’s important to know when sadness can be overcome, and when it’s indicative of a greater problem. Sometimes When I’m Sad is an invaluable self-help resource that helps children identify sadness or depression and offers helpful ways to manage it, such as:
Rika is a happy, energetic girl in control of her life and her small flock of sheep and helping her father run their farm and household since her mother died six years earlier. The one thing that would make life even more perfect would be a Border collie pup she could train to herd the sheep. But her tidy life begins to unravel with the discovery of a deadly coyote attack on her flock. With the help of a young veterinarian, and an eccentric breeder of guard dogs, Rika takes on more responsibilities. She encounters challenges which reveal that she has not coped well with the death of her mother, especially when her father and the veterinarian become romantically entangled. Rika is further demoralized when she fails to train a guard dog pup and must return him to the breeder. When the valuable and beloved older dog who guards her sheep is gravely injured because of her poor judgment, Rika slips into a depression. When Rika starts to get better, she takes stock of her blessings, and begins to deal with the changes that are imposed on her. She makes amends with her future stepmother, and the injured dog, now recovered, is returned to her care.
A New York Times bestseller Like the classic heroines of Sarah, Plain and Tall, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables, Ada is a fighter for the ages. Her triumphant World War II journey continues in this sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning The War that Saved My Life When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. Who is she now? World War II rages on, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, move with their guardian, Susan, into a cottage with the iron-faced Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded home is tense. Then Ruth moves in. Ruth, a Jewish girl, from Germany. A German? Could Ruth be a spy? As the fallout from war intensifies, calamity creeps closer, and life during wartime grows even more complicated. Who will Ada decide to be? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?
Meet Marvin, a lovable monster with a twelve-stringed baby fang guitar, a rambunctious case of ADHD, and a diary to record it all. His teachers scold him, his parents don’t know what to do with him, and his sister is convinced he was raised by triple-tailed monkeys. In short, Marvin’s life is feeling out of controle until a secret formula changes everything. In the same humorous spirit of Diary of a Wimpy Kid comes Marvin’s Monster Diary: ADHD Attacks! (And I Win, Big Time). Using the “monstercam” and “ST4” techniques developed by Dr. Raun Melmed of the Melmed Center in Arizona, Marvin’s Monster Diary teaches kids how to be mindful, observe their surroundings, and take time to think about their actions. Marvin’s hilarious doodles and diary entries chronicle his delightful adventures, misadventures, and eventual triumph in a funny, relatable way. It’s the one book on ADHD that kids will actually want to read! Marvin’s Monster Diary also includes a resource section to help parents and teachers implement Dr. Melmed’s methods, plus ST4 reminders that kids can remove, color, and place around the house.
Misfit Tally is forced to room with queen bee Ava on the seventh-grade field trip to Washington, DC, and discovers several surprising things about her roommate—including the possibility of an eating disorder—in this timely new novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Halfway Normal.
A young girl with an eating disorder must find the strength to recover in this moving middle-grade novel from Jen Petro-Roy Before she had an eating disorder, twelve-year-old Riley was many things: an aspiring artist, a runner, a sister, and a friend. But now, from inside the inpatient treatment center where she’s receiving treatment for anorexia, it’s easy to forget all of that. Especially since under the influence of her eating disorder, Riley alienated her friends, abandoned her art, turned running into something harmful, and destroyed her family’s trust. If Riley wants her life back, she has to recover. Part of her wants to get better. As she goes to therapy, makes friends in the hospital, and starts to draw again, things begin to look up. But when her roommate starts to break the rules, triggering Riley’s old behaviors and blackmailing her into silence, Riley realizes that recovery will be even harder than she thought. She starts to think that even if she does “recover,” there’s no way she’ll stay recovered once she leaves the hospital and is faced with her dieting mom, the school bully, and her gymnastics-star sister. Written by an eating disorder survivor and activist, Good Enough is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a girl who has to fight herself to survive.
The Right Hook of Devin Velma - Even though he suffers from social anxiety, twelve-year-old Addison agrees to help his best friend achieve social media fame while at a nationally-televised NBA game.
Knockout - Levi just wants to be treated like a typical kid. As a baby, he had a serious disease that caused him respiratory issues. He’s fine now, but his mom and overprotective brother still think of him as damaged, and his schoolmates see him as the same class clown he’s always been. He feels stuck. So when his dad—divorced from his mom—suggests he take up boxing, he falls in love with the sport. And when he finds out about a school with a killer boxing team and a free-study curriculum, it feels like he’s found a ticket to a new Levi. But how can he tell his mom about boxing? And how can he convince his family to set him free?
Where the Watermelons Grow - Fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and A Snicker of Magic will be swept away by Cindy Baldwin’s debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness. When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time. With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations. But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.
My Grandfather's War - The award-winning team of Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper share this poignant story about a Vietnam veteran and his relationship with his granddaughter. While the relationship is a positive one, the young girl senses her grandfather’s pain and is curious to find out the cause of it. As she innocently seeks answers, she unknowingly opens old wounds and discovers her grandfather’s sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there. This is a sensitive exploration of the lingering cost of war and of the PTSD so many returned servicemen experience. Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh (the Vietnam War’s longest battle), My Grandfather’s War also sheds light on a war that is not always remembered in the same way that the world wars and other conflicts are. Many who served experience a sense of betrayal at the treatment they received on their return, as the conflict came to be regarded as the ‘unpopular’ war, and this is covered in a child-friendly way in a note at the back of the book.
When your grandmother can’t remember your name it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her. Grandma Forgets is the heart-warming story of a family bound by love as they cope with their grandma’s dementia. Over the years, the little girl has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can’t remember those memories. She makes up new rules for old games and often hides Dad’s keys. Sometimes Dad is sad because he has to hold onto the memories for both him and his mother now, but fortunately his daughter is only too happy to help him make new memories to share. This is a warm, hopeful story about a family who sometimes needs to remind their grandmother a little more often than they used to about how much they care. She might not remember any of their names but she will always know how much she is loved.
Every two seconds, someone in the world suffers a stroke. In Finding Granny, that someone is Edie’s beloved grandmother. When Edie comes to the hospital, she is confronted by the physical changes in her grandmother: muddled words, a crooked face, a woman confined to bed. This isn’t the ‘playtime, bedtime, story-time pantomime Granny’ that Edie knows. “That’s not my Granny,” she says, as she waits outside in the corridor during her mother’s visits. But when her mother takes Edie to watch one of Granny’s art therapy sessions, Edie starts to understand that the Granny she loves is still there. Finding Granny is a heart-warming story of changing relationships and the bond between children and grandparents. It’s also a sensitive exploration of coping with illness and disability that will offer children much-needed comfort.
Wonder meets Mark Haddon in the poignant and uplifting debut novel about superheroes, super-nurses, and the beauty you can find in hope. Eleven-year-old Joe has never had a life outside of the hospital, with its beeping machines and view of London’s rooftops. His condition means he’s not allowed outside, not even for a moment, and his few visitors risk bringing life-threatening germs inside his bubble. Then a new nurse offers Joe the possibility of going outside. But Joe doesn’t know if the nurse is serious—or whether he could survive the adventure. Bubble is the touching story of how Joe spends his days, copes with his loneliness and frustration, and looks—with superhero-style bravery, curiosity, and hope—to a future without limits.
Nora’s whole world plummets faster than the Cyclone roller coaster when her cousin Riley falls into a coma that Nora thinks is her fault in this warm, big-hearted debut middle grade novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author, Doreen Cronin. Riding the Cyclone, the world famous Coney Island rollercoaster, was supposed to be the highlight of Nora’s summer. But right after they disembark, Nora’s cousin Riley falls to the ground…and doesn’t get up. Nora had begged and dragged Riley onto the ride, and no matter what the doctors say, that she had a heart condition, that it could have happened at any time, Nora knows it was her fault. Then, as Riley comes out of her coma, she’s not really Riley at all. The cousin who used to be loud and funny and unafraid now can’t talk, let alone go to the bathroom by herself. Now she’s only 10% Riley. Nora, guilt eating her up on the inside worse than a Coney Island hotdog, thinks she knows how to help. How to get 100% Riley back. But what Nora doesn’t realize is that the guilt will only get worse as that percentage rises.
The night that Rachel and Toby’s parents are taken away by the Nazis, they give their daughters three gold coins. “Use these wisely to help save your lives,” they tell them. They also ask the girls to promise that they will always stay together. This compelling true story follows the girls as they confront the daily horrors of Auschwitz, protecting one another, sharing memories, fears and even laughter. Always together. But when Rachel becomes ill and is taken away by Nazi guards, likely forever, Toby risks her life to use the wellhidden gold coins to rescue her little sister.
Almost Famous - Ten-year-old Maxine is determined to become a famous inventor so she can take care of her younger brother’s heart condition, and she convinces a troubled classmate to help her.
Miles to Go - A powerful and poignant story of two young girls’ friendship, family, loss, and loyalty, set in 1940s Saskatchewan. “Beryl Young’s novel Miles to Go is sparse, poetic and, at times, perfectly heart wrenching. It subtly captures the coming of age of two young prairie girls. The beauty of this story is in the little things, the life things. In short: it’s wonderful.”—Arthur Slade, Governor General’s Award-winning author of Dust “This is a tender story about two friends dealing with tragic personal loss. Beryl Young captures a snapshot of small town life in the 1940s. Lovingly told, realistic, sad, and, like life, often very funny.”—Harriet Zaidman, teacher-librarian and writer, Winnipeg, Manitoba Miles to Go is the story of a friendship between two twelve-year-old girls in a small Saskatchewan town. In the spring of 1948, each girl faces a heavy personal loss and challenges that threaten their friendship. Through a hard few months the girls learn the meaning of loyalty and the value of keeping a promise. Loosely based on the author’s own experiences of growing up in rural Saskatchewan, this book’s timeless themes and authentic emotion will speak to young readers.
Jammer Star - Sixteen-year-old Robin Ellis (aka Robin CookieJars) wants to be the best jammer on her roller-derby team and maybe one day play for the Creek City Roller Derby All-Stars like her idol, Annie Mossity. But star junior player April Reid (aka April Powers) always seems to be one lap ahead. Until recently, that is. Robin has noticed that April has been losing a lot of weight, and her game is suffering. This may be Robin’s chance to finally grab the mvp title. But her success may come at a very heavy cost.
The Day Abuelo Got Lost - A touching story about a boy and his grandfather who enjoy a special relationship—until Abuelo starts to lose his memory. Instead of building model planes and cooking together, Luis and his father have to search the neighborhood for Abuelo, and Luis and Abuelo have to find new activities to enjoy together.
Ever since his mom left, Riley has been a mess. He feels nervous all the time. His heart pounds, his neck is tight, and he can’t seem to turn off his brain. His dad signs him up for aikido, hoping it will help. In the dojo, Riley meets boys who are much rougher than he is and a girl who is tougher than all the rest of them put together. For Wafaa, aikido is not her first choice. She was disqualified from competing in judo for wearing a hijab. From the first time she steps on the mat, it’s clear she is far more skilled than anyone expected. Through the teachings of their sensei, Riley and his classmates come to understand that aikido is not about winning or losing or about being perfect. Sensei shows them how to tap into their inner strength and find their place in the universe.
Esther the Wonder Pig meets Little Book of Sloth in this charming true story about the adorable Instagram stars, Pickles the pig and his friend—the hog-turned-hero—Tickles. Pickles the Pig (@LivingwithPickles) has been featured on The Dodo, Inside Edition, and People! Pickles is a pig, rescued as a wee one and now living it up at his forever home. But one day Pickles becomes very sick. His only hope? One big sow with an even bigger heart on a faraway farm…but will she get to Pickles in time? Learn the true story about one extraordinary pig and his savior in this inspiring photographic picture book!
Twelve-year-old Izzy’s life just seems to get more and more complicated: she is upset by her father’s new marriage, and a new baby on the way; she is expected to look out for her ten-year-old cousin, Oliver, who has moved in with her family since his mother committed suicide, because his father is depressed and having trouble coping; and now Ben, the rebellious sixteen-year-old son of Izzy’s mother’s boyfriend, is also living with them—but when Oliver’s father disappears, the three children put aside their differences and set out to find him.
Filip, the ten-year-old son of Croatian immigrants, lives in a boring suburb of the big city,where he passes his time either at school or in his cozy kitchen, googling everything from dinosaurs to the Hubble Space Telescope. When his favorite uncle gets sick, Filip turns to Google for answers. Instead he receives a visit from the Great Googlini, a tiny woman in Converse sneakers who swirls out of the computer vents. She’s not really a genie, she explains: “I’m more of an archivist.” Her visit is a little bit of magic that lets Filip see the magic all around him. Ultimately about the things we can know and the things we can’t, this is a smart, touching, funny chapter book about growing up, braving tough times and looking for answers.
A gentle introduction to the issue of poverty, On Our Street explores the realities of people living with inadequate resources. Using age-appropriate language, this book addresses mental illness, homelessness and refugee status as they are connected to this issue. Insightful quotes from individuals and organizations such as unicef are included to add further perspective on the issue. A section on how kids can help empowers readers to take what they have learned and use it to make a difference. Child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts created this series to guide parents/caregivers through conversations about difficult issues in a reassuring and hopeful manner and help children understand their expanding awareness of the world around them.
Kasey & Ivy - Through twenty-six letters to her friend Nina, twelve-year-old Kasey chronicles the often humorous observations and impressions of her unexpected, month-long stay in a geriatric ward for the treatment of a rare but treatable bone disease (“osteo-something-something-itis”). Kasey tries to make her life less dull by wearing her own nightgowns, surrounding herself with her favorite stuffies and developing an unusual exercise routine. Hospital food, insomnia and the germy communal bath are enduring sources of dread, but some new (and unexpected) friends make her life bearable.
Stricken - Naomi doesn’t expect anything unusual from her annual family trip to visit her grandparents in Ireland. What she finds is a country hit by an unexpected virus that rapidly infects the majority of the Irish population over the age of twenty-one, turning its victims aggravated, blank or violent. Naomi and her friends must survive on their own, without lucid adults, cut off from the rest of the world, until a cure is found.
A Day with Parkinson's - Ever since Grandpa got Parkinson’s, Noah has noticed he hasn’t been the same. He doesn’t have as much energy as he used to, and sometimes when he’s excited or happy, he can’t smile. Noah worries that Parkinson’s is his fault, but Grandpa assures him it’s not—and it won’t stop him from having fun at the beach!
A Nearer Moon - Long ago the dam formed, the lively river turned into a swamp, and the wasting illness came to Luna’s village, and now that her little sister is sick Luna will do anything to save her, even offer herself to the creature that lives in the swamp on the day of the nearer moon—a lonely and bitter water sprite who was left behind when her people fled through a door to another world.
When Molly Mac loses her “lucky” pencil, she starts to panic. She needs her pencil to create a drawing for the school’s art show. Just when her luck is running out, things get even worse. Will Molly be able to enter the art contest? She needs good luck, and fast!
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Papademetriou delivers her most fantastical, emotional story yet in this tale of a young girl’s journey into her dreams to save her brother from the darkness that surrounds him. Perfect for fans of A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Echo. Every night, your sleeping body stays in your bed, while the you of you travels deep beneath the earth to ride the complex rails of the Dreamway…. Stella Clay thought it was just another ordinary day at her drab gray school. Then her twin brother, Cole, is attacked by a shadowy creature on their way home, and Stella’s world turns positively peculiar. Suddenly, her brother seems different, almost dimmer, like a candle about to flicker out. And then a talking mouse shows up in her bedroom. Stella discovers that the real Cole has been taken prisoner in the Dreamway. Determined to find him, she sets out with the “help” of a stuck-up rodent, a nervous dragonfly, and a mysterious pirate, and finds her way to the darkest edge of the Dreamway to bring her brother home…before he’s trapped forever. In this allegorical exploration of childhood depression, with a moving author note that follows, Lisa Papademetriou gently and safely illustrates for her readers the emotional effects of anger, anxiety, and insecurity—and illuminates a pathway to hope and recovery.