To begin, I want to say that I am not a professional psychologist, educator, disaster expert, or child development specialist. What I am is a parent who knows firsthand how destructive natural disasters in a community like a flood can impact a child. During the historic Vermont floods of July 2023, my 9-year-old daughter watched our beloved hometown of Montpelier, VT go from an idyllic downtown to a mess of ruined homes, businesses, apartments, and office buildings. We’ve witnessed a lot of destruction as well as people coming together to support each other, fundraise, and rebuild. I cannot emphasize these messages of resilience enough as we think and talk about the flood. And yet, I must say it’s a very, very sad scene.
Like so many other children across Vermont, I know my sensitive daughter is taking this all in despite our best efforts to maintain normalcy and stability. It’s on the news, it’s on our minds, and it’s a constant topic of conversation among adults. And since she isn’t a person who likes to talk about her feelings, I rely on books to help communicate messages to her in ways that might not fly otherwise.
Books are an valuable tool to help children develop understanding and empathy, and something that adults can use to help children process information. There are many important conversations to be had following a natural disaster with children, and accuracy and succinctness matter. Every child is different, and there is no single best way to go about doing this. It’s important NOT to ignore it, and also not to overload, and this is why books can be a wonderful entry point for discussion or reassurance. Reading together is also a bonding activity that builds trust, provides comfort, and helps regulate emotions.
Here are some recommended titles for children in preschool, elementary, and middle school that focus on natural disasters–both informational texts about the events, or fictional stories that convey hope and resilience on the other side of the events. I selected books for a variety of ages and reading levels that have a specific focus on both educating young people about the natural disaster itself and providing preparedness or reassurance in the aftermath of the disaster.
By Jillian Roberts; illustrated by Jane Heinrichs (2023)
This nonfiction book explains in age-appropriate language and tone what tragedy is, the feelings it may create, and how to manage those feelings. Useful for caregivers, parents, and adults who want to have meaningful conversations with children about difficult topics of tragedy and natural disaster.
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. y. Stemple; illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell (2020)
This picture book offers examples of four distinct weather emergencies (a tornado, a blizzard, a forest fire, and a hurricane) with reassuring family stories of finding comfort in preparedness and resilience. This book was also a Vermont Red Clover nominee for 2021-22.
By Lorna Schultz Nicholson; Illustrated by Ellen Rooney (2023)
This picture book is told from the perspective of a girl who must flee her home due to a forest fire and choose which of her beloved belongings she can take with her. Ideal for young listeners and readers, the book offers a straightforward and comforting exploration of an emergency evacuation. It’s especially helpful for children who need extra reassurance that their families will always be there for them.
By Ashley Wolff (2021)
Illustrated by VT-based author/illustrator and CLiF presenter Ashley Wolff, this fact-based picture book takes readers into the heart of a forest fire and shows how animals survive, how firefighters curb the flames, and how life can and will return to the forest. Useful for students to learn about the natural world’s ability to recover after a disaster.
By Karina Nicole González; illustrated by Krystal Quiles (2022)
This picture book follows a family’s resilience amid disaster in Puerto Rico following Hurricane María. Strength in community and hope are emphasized. A Pura Belpre illustrator honor in 2023, this is a wonderful book for helping children see that humans are capable of helping each other through extraordinary times.
By John Rocco (2021)
This picture book is a relatable story about folks coming together in troubled times. The resolution and striking illustrations will evoke readers’ empathy. Useful for talking about how people come together to help rebuild after a natural disaster.
By Jan Andrews; Illustrated by Dorothy Leung (2022)
Using a child’s point of view and the perspective of remembering, Jan Andrews’s expressive writing provides comfort as it portrays the way joy and laughter can be found in even the worst times. This deceptively simple book offers a gentle discussion-starter as it captures a universal experience through one specific story.
By Alvaro F. Villa (2013)
A beautiful wordless picture book about the effects of a flood on a family and their home. It’s a perfect book for children of any reading level showing the preparations for—and recovery from—a major flood. This powerful story provides opportunities for children to explore a family’s emotions as they experience the destruction of their home and ways in which they were able to cope with this loss.
By Renée Watson; Illustrated by Shadra Strickland (2014)
Children of New Orleans tell about their experiences of Hurricane Katrina through poignant and straightforward free verse in this fictional account of the storm. As natural and man-made disasters become commonplace, we increasingly need books like this one to help children contextualize and discuss difficult and often tragic events.
By Claire Watts (2022)
A nonfiction overview of a wide range of natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes, landslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and epidemics, and describes their impact and how experts try to predict and minimize their impact. Informative and interesting. The DK books are always a hit with kids, and provide scientific information in an easy-to-digest graphic format.
by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman (2023)
This fiction chapter book follows 12-year old twins and their families’ hardships after Hurricane Harvey. It’s a coming-of-age story with themes around acceptance, family relationships, hope and baseball.
By Amy Cherrix (2023)
This nonfiction book explains how meteorologists, physicists, and engineers attempt to better understand the nature of hurricanes, both for the sake of scientific knowledge and for improved storm predictions to keep people safe. A great book for students interested in weather and how scientists are working to better predict the severity of storms.
By Carrie Lara; illustrated by Colleen Larmour (2023)
This inspiring journal will help victims of a natural disaster as they follow a boy who is healing after a devastating fire in his neighborhood. Filled with drawings, news clippings, and coping strategies, this book is chock full of information on cultivating resilience after a natural disaster.
Additional resources for helping children through a natural disaster:
- Talking to kids about natural disasters – National Geographic
- Caring for children in a disaster – CDC
- Natural Disasters Around the World: Understanding and Empathy Through Children’s Books – Reading Rockets
- 20+ Must-Have Books to Teach About Weather – Scholastic
- How to talk to children about difficult news – American Psychological Association
- The trauma of wildfires and other natural disasters: Tips for coping with anxiety and talking to children about it – UCHealth
- Read for Resilience – University of Nebraska-Lincoln