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Prison Or Jail: Books For Kids

Looking for a list of the best children's books about prison or jail?

Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to prison or jail. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about prison or jail.

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 prison or jail, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like The Secret of Wildcat Swamp to popular sellers like Darkest Minds.

We hope this list of kids books about prison or jail can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book!

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Milo Imagines the World
Written by Matt De La Peña & illustrated by Christian Robinson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8
The team behind the Newbery Medal winner and Caldecott Honor book Last Stop on Market Street and the award-winning New York Times bestseller Carmela Full of Wishes once again delivers a poignant and timely picture book that's sure to become an instant classic.
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Land of the Cranes
Written by Aida Salazar
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12
From the prolific author of The Moon Within comes the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story in verse of a young Latinx girl who learns to hold on to hope and love even in the darkest of places: a family detention center for migrants and refugees.
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Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild
Written & illustrated by Dav Pilkey
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 7-10

Is Dog Man bad to the bone? The heroic hound is sent to the pound for a crime he didn’t commit! While his pals work to prove his innocence, Dog Man struggles to find his place among dogs and people. Being a part of both worlds, will he ever fully fit in with one?

Dav Pilkey’s wildly popular Dog Man series appeals to readers of all ages and explores universally positive themes, including empathy, kindness, persistence, and the importance of being true to one’s self.

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Al Capone Does My Shirts
Written & illustrated by Gennifer Choldenko
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

A twelve-year-old boy named Moose moves to Alcatraz Island in 1935 when guards’ families were housed there, and has to contend with his extraordinary new environment in addition to life with his autistic sister Natalie. A Newbery Honor Book & ALA Notable Book. Reprint. Jr Lib Guild & Children’s BOMC.

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Santiago's Road Home
Written by Alexandra Diaz
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12
"With every chapter, readers will be further immersed in Santiago's story as they root for his triumph over injustice." --Booklist (starred review)
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  • The Dragon Crown -

  • Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers: Color Edition - When we last saw George and Harold, they were headed to jail for the rest of their lives. What could be worse? How about being pulled from prison by a time-traveling tyrant named Tippy Tinkletrousers?!!? Now the boys are taking a trip back in time to the carefree days of kindergarten, when the scariest thing they had to face was not evil mad scientists or alien cafeteria ladies but a sixth-grade bully named Kipper Krupp, the nephew of their clueless school principal. And because George and Harold don’t invent Captain Underpants until they’re in fourth grade, the clever kindergartners are on their own. Will their brains be enough to beat the bully?!!?

  • Where Is Alcatraz? - The island of Alcatraz has always been a place that’s fascinated visitors, from the Native American tribes who believed it was home to evil spirits to the Spanish explorers who discovered the island. In modern times, it was a federal prison for only 29 years, but now draws over a million visitors each year. Learn the history of America’s most famous prison, from its initial construction as a fort in the 1800s, to its most famous residents such as Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. Where Is Alcatraz? also chronicles some of the most exciting escape attempts—even one that involved chipping through stone with spoons and constructing rafts out of raincoats!

  • The Alcatraz Escape - Sleuthing duo Emily and James engage in a literary escape-room challenge on Alcatraz Island, but soon find that an invisible enemy is trying to sabotage the team at any cost.

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Al Capone Throws Me a Curve
Written & illustrated by Gennifer Choldenko
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Moose has his hands full during the summer of 1936 watching his autistic sister, Natalie, and the warden’s daughter, Piper, and trying to get on a baseball team by proving he knows Al Capone.

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Bringing Me Back
Written & illustrated by Beth Vrabel
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Noah is not having a good year. His mom is in prison, he’s living with his mom’s boyfriend—who he’s sure is just waiting until his mother’s six month sentence is up to kick him out—and he’s officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It’s Noah’s fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year. One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck—she’s wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she’s always alone. Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother’s phone calls from jail, he can’t ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause—just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her. But rescuing the bear means tackling his past—and present—head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?

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Breakout
Written & illustrated by Kate Messner
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home. Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

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Mama’s Nightingale
Written by Edwidge Danticat & illustrated by Leslie Staub
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A touching tale of parent-child separation and immigration, from a National Book Award finalist

After Saya’s mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya finds comfort in listening to her mother’s warm greeting on their answering machine. To ease the distance between them while she’s in jail, Mama begins sending Saya bedtime stories inspired by Haitian folklore on cassette tape. Moved by her mother’s tales and her father’s attempts to reunite their family, Saya writes a story of her own—one that just might bring her mother home for good.

With stirring illustrations, this tender tale shows the human side of immigration and imprisonment—and shows how every child has the power to make a difference.

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House Arrest
Written & illustrated by K. A. Holt
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

Timothy is on probation. It’s a strange word—something that happens to other kids, to delinquents, not to kids like him. And yet, he is under house arrest for the next year. He must check in weekly with a probation officer and a therapist, and keep a journal for an entire year. And mostly, he has to stay out of trouble. But when he must take drastic measures to help his struggling family, staying out of trouble proves more difficult than Timothy ever thought it would be. By turns touching and funny, and always original, House Arrest is a middlegrade novel in verse about one boy’s path to redemption as he navigates life with a sick brother, a grieving mother, and one tough probation officer.

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  • Darkest Minds - Soon to be a major motion picture!

  • The Haunted Lighthouse - An infamous prison may hold a secret only the Code Busters can uncover.

    Cody, Quinn, Luke, and M.E. may all have different talents, but they share one thing in common: they love playing around with codes. In fact, they love codes so much, they have their own club, with a secret hideout and passwords that change every day. When Cody and her friends get a mysterious e-mail hinting at a treasure on Alcatraz Island, they can't wait to get started on their clue hunt. Luckily, a class trip to the prison is the perfect cover to start their search. During the tour, the club members learn that a jewel thief kept at Alcatraz may have hidden his biggest haul on the island and left a series of coded messages to find it. And solving puzzles is what the Code Busters do best! This interactive mystery features more than fifteen codes and puzzles for you to decipher along with the Code Busters, including Morse code, the tap code, LEET, and zigzag code. Answers are in the back, if you ever get stuck.

  • Al Capone Does My Homework - Alcatraz Island in the 1930s isn’t the most normal place to grow up, but it’s home for Moose Flanagan, his autistic sister, Natalie, and all the families of the guards. When Moose’s dad gets promoted to Associate Warden, despite being an unlikely candidate, it’s a big deal. But the cons have a point system for targeting prison employees, and his dad is now in serious danger. After a fire starts in the Flanagan’s apartment, Natalie is blamed, and Moose bands with the other kids to track down the possible arsonist. Then Moose gets a cryptic note from the notorious Al Capone himself. Is Capone trying to protect Moose’s dad too? If Moose can’t figure out what Capone’s note means, it may be too late.

  • Breakout! Escape from Alcatraz - An easy-to-read study of Alcatraz, “The Rock,” describes how America’s renowned prison housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals.

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Escape from Alcatraz
Written & illustrated by Eric Mark Braun
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

What’s more exciting than a prison break? Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin escaped from Alcatraz in 1962 and have never been caught. Many authorities are certain they died crossing San Francisco Bay. Relatives claim they made it to Brazil. The theories of what happened to them are endless. Find out the facts from people who dealt with the men and the case first-hand. This is one mystery you’ll definitely want to solve.

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Al Capone Does My Shoes
Written & illustrated by Gennifer Choldenko
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

What do you do when your neighbors are a bunch of hit men, con men, and mad dog murderers? Well, if you’re Moose Flanagan, you ask the most notorious convict of them all, Al Capone, for help. But when that convict comes through for you-and then asks you for a favor in return-suddenly it’s a whole different ball game. Picking up where the Newbery-Honor winning Al Capone Does My Shirts left off, this lively second romp featuring Moose, his friends, and some of Alcatraz’s “finest” is just as satisfying as the first.

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Could You Escape Alcatraz?
Written by Eric Mark Braun
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Could you escape Alcatraz? You became the hero of your own adventure the moment you set foot on The Rock. Will your choices lead to escape, or will you be locked up forever?

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Sophia's War
Written by Avi
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

In 1776, young Sophia Calderwood witnesses the execution of Nathan Hale in New York City, which is newly occupied by the British army. Sophia is horrified by the event and resolves to do all she can to help the American cause. Recruited as a spy, she becomes a maid in the home of General Clinton, the supreme commander of the British forces in America. Through her work she becomes aware that someone in the American army might be switching sides, and she uncovers a plot that will grievously damage the Americans if it succeeds. But the identity of the would-be traitor is so shocking that no one believes her, and so Sophia decides to stop the treacherous plot herself, at great personal peril: She’s young, she’s a girl, and she’s running out of time. And if she fails, she’s facing an execution of her own.

Master storyteller Avi shows exactly how personal politics can be in this “nail-biting thriller” (Publishers Weekly) that is rich in historical detail and rife with action.

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Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Written by Karen Foxlee
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

“Magic is “messy and dangerous and filled with longing,” we learn in this brave tale of grief, villainy and redemption that borrows from the story of the Snow Queen. Set in a vast, chilly museum, the tale brings together a valiant girl, a charmed boy, a magical sword and a clock ticking down to the end of the world.”–<i>The Wall Street Journal<br></i><br>This is the story of unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard who doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty, the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help. <p/>As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy’s own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world. <p/>A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

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  • Isle of the Lost - Evil tree. Bad Apple? <p/>Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon to the Isle of the Lost–a dark and dreary place protected by a force field that makes it impossible for them to leave. Stripped of their magical powers, the villains now live in total isolation, forgotten by the world. <p/>Mal learns from her mother, Maleficent, that the key to true darkness, the Dragon’s Eye, is located inside her scepter in the forbidden fortress on the far side of the island. The eye is cursed, and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She’ll just need a little help from her “friends.” In their quest for the Dragon’s Eye, these four kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain’t so bad.

  • Nevertell - After escaping a Soviet prison camp, Lina is pursued by a powerful witch and her shadow wolves in a riveting debut that imbues frozen wilderness with fairy-tale magic.

  • Sinking the Sultana - The worst maritime disaster in American history wasn’t the Titanic. It was the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River–and it could have been prevented.

  • The Year the Swallows Came Early - Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she’s old enough. But even Groovy’s thoughtfully—planned menus won’t fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven—suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend’s long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can’t get in the way of a family that needs to come together. Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s lovely debut novel is distinctively Californian in its flavor. Her rich characters and strong sense of place feel both familiar and fresh at first meeting—and worth revisiting, again and again.

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The Secret of Wildcat Swamp
Written by Franklin W. Dixon
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

An invitation from Cap Bailey, science teacher at Bayport High, to accompany him out West to Wildcat Swamp on an archaeological expedition triggers off a series of dangerous events for Frank and Joe Hardy. On their way West the boys and Cap have a near-fatal accident in a private plane which has been sabotaged. Though warned to leave the area, Frank, Joe, and Cap doggedly remain until they have caught the cunning ex-convicts they are up against in this swift-paced adventure.

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Snared: Escape to the Above
Written by Adam Jay Epstein
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

In the first book of a new action-packed middle-grade trilogy by the bestselling author of The Familiars series, a young inventor and a group of treasure seekers plunder dungeons across a kingdom under threat.

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A Night in Terror Tower
Written by R.L. Stine
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Losing sight of their tour group while visiting London, Sue and Eddie find themselves in a gloomy prison tower and are horrified when they discover that they have traveled back in time to the seventeenth century. Original.

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R Is For Rebel
Written & illustrated by J. Anderson Coats
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-99

Princess Academy meets Megan Whalen Turner in this stunning novel about a girl who won’t let anything tame her spirit—not the government that conquered her people, and definitely not reform school!

Malley has led the constables on a merry chase across her once-peaceful country. With her parents in prison for their part in a failed resistance movement, the government wants to send her to a national school—but they’ll have to capture her first.

And capture her they do. Malley is carted off to be reformed as a proper subject of the conquering empire, reeducated, and made suitable for domestic service. That’s the government’s plan, anyway.

But Malley will not go down without a fight. She’s determined to rally her fellow students to form a rebellion of their own. The government can lock these girls up in reform school. Whether it can break them is another matter entirely…

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The Children of Alcatraz
Written & illustrated by Claire Rudolf Murphy
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Offers a look at the life of the children who grew up on this infamous island with their families throughout its long and diverse history as a military prison, maximum security prison, and site of a Native American uprising, enhanced with period photos, interviews, and first-hand accounts.

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  • Dungeons & Dragons: Escape the Underdark: An Endless Quest Book - You awaken in an underground cell, stripped of your armor and your sword. Your fellow prisoners inform you that you’re trapped in the Underdark, soon to be taken to the great drow city of Menzoberranzan and sold off as a slave. But word is that demons are stirring in the underworld’s depth. Perhaps you can use that to break free, fighter.

  • Breaking News: Bears to the Rescue - A missing cub, a carnival, and a gang of cat burglars… Hold on to your hats! Best-selling author David Biedrzycki brings back the hilarious bears from Breaking News: Bear Alert, but now they have sleepy bear cub in tow. When the cub goes missing Mama and Papa Bear go on the hunt. Their search takes them to the town carnival where the whole family rides the Ferris wheel, rocks the rollercoaster, and inadvertently foils another dastardly plot by the persistent cat burglars from Bear Alert. Covering the story is intrepid—but bumbling—reporter Chad Newsworthy and the rest of the crew at Channel 3 News.

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