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Best Children's Books that Do Not Include Mothers or Fathers (or any Parents)

Updated on May 14, 2014

Children Who Might Particularly Like These Books

Given that these books have no parent figure, they may be particularly appropriate for:

  • Children who have lost one or both of their parents
  • Children who do not currently live with their parents for any number of reasons (perhaps the parents are struggling for some reason and the children are staying with relatives, etc)
  • Foster children

Background - Why These Books?

Sadly, over the last few years, some of our dearest friends have had tragic life events that led to children growing up without one or more of their parents. Close friends of ours have two preschool aged girls, and their mother passed away from cancer. Another family I didn't know but who was close to other friends of ours just lost both parents in a car accident. For many years I have worked with a foster youth who has not lived with his family since he was five, and has been through many foster homes and group homes.

The grief and sadness connected to all of these events is overwhelming to me at times, and could be another topic all together. But in this hub, I wanted to focus on books that would be good to give these children as gifts that do not include a mother or father or parent figure. While I realize that they will be surrounded by the reality of their missing parent/s for their entire lives, and they are strong enough to face that reality, I also think sometimes it is nice or even necessary to just have a break from thinking about what you are missing.

The books I recommend below are great for all children, and they also share the quality of having to mother or father or parent figure in the book at all.

As a child, I found such joy and magic in losing myself in a good book. My hope is that these recommended books could do the same for other children.

There is nothing so wonderful as losing yourself in a story...
There is nothing so wonderful as losing yourself in a story... | Source

Five Recommended Children's Books with a Parent Figure

Before going into more detail about each one of these books, I thought I'd list them all up front. In general, I would say they are appropriate for a wide range of ages - from pre-readers (because all have beautiful or interesting pictures) to older children who can read but still like picture books. If I had to pick an age range, I'd say these are all appropriate for two to eight year olds, and probably a much wider age range.

Also, I want to point out that I focused on books that tell an actual story. There are plenty of books that just have pictures of animals or don't tell much of a story that don't have parent figures. These books all tell a story about a child, multiple children, or a grown-up, but do not feature a parent at all.

The book recommendations:

  1. Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson (1955)
  2. Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina (1938)
  3. Strega Nona, by Tommie dePaola (1975)
  4. The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater (1977)
  5. Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth (2005)

Boy reading alone
Boy reading alone | Source

Book Recommendation #1: Harold and the Purple Crayon

  1. Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson (1955)

I challenge anyone to find a child (or adult) who doesn't love this book. One of my good friends who does not have any children himself yet gave this to my son for his second birthday, because it was one of his favorites as a child. It has become one of our favorites over the past two and half years.

Summary: Harold sets out on a walk with his purple crayon, and everything he draws becomes real, even an ocean that he draws by accident when his hand shakes! He ends up finding his way home to his bed and "drawing" up the covers and going to sleep.

Favorite things about this book: I love that Harold is out there on his own in the world and finds his way home on his own. He has adventures and even some scares, but he is fine the whole time and gets himself out of any trouble. I also read an interview with Halle Berry in which she said she likes this book for her child because Harold could be biracial.

Harold and the Purple Crayon Video

Harold and the Purple Crayon Video

I've included the link to this video of Harold and the Purple Crayon being read aloud, because it's wonderful to take a moment to enjoy being read to, as so many of us were as children! I imagine all five of my book recommendations as best for children who are still being read to - but they can also be enjoyed by a child reading to him or herself.

Why books make great gifts

  • Easy to take with a child anywhere he or she goes
  • Can enjoy the book time and time again
  • Can read the book aloud with the child when you give it to him/her
  • Nice to write a special, personal message to the child inside the book
  • Great way to encourage a child to use his or her imagination and creativity

Book Recommendation #2: Caps for Sale

2. Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina (1938)

I loved this book as a child, and I still love it. There is something so satisfying about this book. My 4.5 year old son loves it and we keep coming back to it time and time again.

Summary: A peddler keeps all his caps on his head, and one day decides to take a nap leaning up against a tree. While he's sleeping, the monkeys in the tree steal his caps. He tries to get them back but the monkeys just copy him when he yells at them. Finally, he throws his cap down in anger and all the monkeys throw their caps down too. It ends as it begins, with the peddler walking with the caps on his head, calling out "caps for sale."

Favorite parts: I love the way it starts and ends in the same way. I love that the monkeys copy him - makes for a fun part to act out with a child as you read the book.

Book Recommendation #3: Strega Nona

3. Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola (1975)

This book is on almost every list of the best children's books of all time. I have recently rediscovered it and I find it so much fun to read. It's on the longer side, so probably not as good for the youngest children, but if they have a good attention span, I think kids of any age will get a kick out of it.

Summary: Strega Nona has magical powers and helps everyone in her village. She is getting older and hires a young man to help her, but he doesn't pay attention. One day she leaves the village and he decides to use her magic pasta pot to make pasta for everyone, but he didn't pay attention to how she stops the pot (blowing three kisses). She comes back and saves the day and he has to eat all the pasta!

Favorite things: It's one of those fun books where the child reading it knows more than at least one of the main characters (how to make the pasta pot stop cooking) - I think this can make children feel powerful. I just also love Tomie dePaola's drawings. And the element of magic is also a ton of fun for children.

Vote on Your Favorite

Of these five books, which is your favorite?

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Book Recommendation #4: The Big Orange Splot

4. The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater (1977)

This book is so appealing to children for so many reasons. It has silly words in it (what the neighbors say about Mr. Plumbean when he paints his house all crazy), it involves breaking social taboos (painting your house all crazy!) and it has nice bright colors and simple drawings.

Summary: One day a seagull drops a splot of orange paint on Mr. Plumbean's house. Instead of painting over it to keep his street a neat street, he paints his house to look like his dreams. One by one his neighbors come to him to talk at night and the next day they paint their houses to look like their dreams. In the end they are all proud of their street.

Favorite things about this book: I love the sense of power I think it gives children. The idea of painting a house however you want lets their imaginations run wild and think of what they would do if they could. I think it's particularly good for very creative children.

Giving a child a book is a great way to show your love
Giving a child a book is a great way to show your love | Source

Book Recommendation #5: Zen Shorts

5. Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth (2005)

Lest I appear to only love books from my childhood, I included this recent one. Though it is the last on the my list! I guess this reveals my bias for older books. But really it just goes to show that the joy of a special children's book can last a lifetime!

Summary: This book includes a few short stories (hence the name) about three siblings who go visit a zen panda bear. They come to him with their troubles and he tells them zen stories in response. It comes close to being a little too proud of itself, but the drawings are beautiful and the stories are lovely. It's the only book on my list about siblings, because I realize that some children in the scenarios I mention may also be apart from their siblings.

Favorite things: The children present predicaments that most children can relate to and the panda is very mellow and doesn't preach at them. Could be refreshing and calming to many children.


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    • twoseven profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Crabijee - thanks for reading!

      Alice in Wonderland is a fantastic example. That makes me want to write another hub covering longer books!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Interesting reading.

      Great insights into the world of "parentless" children.

      The very first book which came to mind was "Alice in Wonderland."

    • twoseven profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      MarleneB - I am honored that you took the time to comment on this hub! And I am so happy that it was at all helpful to you. That's so interesting that you were just talking about this issue! I have just been introduced to two new (to me) series of books that also don't feature a parent: Pete the Cat and Elephant and Piggie. Both are fun, light-hearted, and funny.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      4 years ago from USA

      This is a wonderful review of children's books. But, it is even more valuable because it is so specific and caring. My husband and I were just talking about this very subject the other night. We noted that many books have a parent figure and that's alright, but how do you read a story like that to a child who no longer has a parent? We became sensitive to the issue when a child that we know lost his mother. This year, I'm giving out books to the children as gifts. You have just saved me a lot of research in finding just the right book for this one little boy. It's perfect.

    • twoseven profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      B.Leekley - thank you for your very kind comment! I am so glad that you are going to read the books yourself. I find such joy in children's books and I think I always will, even when I am not reading them with my young children.

      And I love your idea of a reading list of stories about children coping with challenges and dangers on their own! Thank you so much for sharing this idea with me. I will pursue it!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      I'm going to find these books at the library and read them for my own pleasure. I came upon, read, and loved the purple crayon book not long ago at a relation's house, but the other titles are new to me.

      As for the theme of the hub, I think you were thoughtful and considerate to think of it. Perhaps over time you can develop a booklet-length ebook reading list of stories about children who cope with challenges and dangers on their own. One story that comes to mind is Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.


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