Children’s lives are full of changes, both big and small, and adapting to these changes can be challenging. Moving to a new home or school, gaining a new sibling, losing a pet or a grandparent, or being separated from family members are all relatively common experiences for children, especially those at international schools. However, these changes can cause children to feel alone, confused or worried.
Learning to deal with change is an important life skill to pass on to your students, helping them to build flexibility and resilience – but how can you address this topic in class?
Books are a great way of opening up conversations about coping with change. When children connect with characters in books, it can help to broaden their perspectives and imagine what they would do in challenging situations. Here are some suggestions of books where characters have to cope with big changes:
Three books about coping with change for children aged 4–6
1. Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr
In the last book in the Mog series, Mog dies and the Thomas family are very upset – but a little bit of Mog stays behind to watch over the family as they adapt to a new kitten. Once they are all settled, Mog flies up into the sun. This book is an engaging way to introduce the topic of death and loss to young children. It will give children a chance to share their experiences or discuss difficult feelings around losing a pet.
Classroom activity: Open up the conversation and ask children to talk about what a new kitten would need to know about their home. How would they make a kitten feel welcome? What toys would they share with a new kitten?
2. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen
Uncle Bobby is getting married to his boyfriend Jamie – but Chloe is worried that he won’t have time for picnics, swimming and flying kites any more. Bobby and Jamie take Chloe out for a day full of fun and by the end of the day, Chloe is happy that she’ll have two uncles instead of one. This picture book is a positive example of same-sex relationships, as well as an exploration of how exciting life changes like weddings can still cause uncertainty and worry in children.
Classroom activity: Ask your students about their extended families. Do they have a special uncle, aunt or grandparent? What activities do they do together?
3. Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies
Syd is a daily visitor at Grandad’s house – but one day, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic, where he shows Syd a mysterious door. Together, they go on a journey to a magical island – but when it’s time to return, Syd must make the journey alone. The next time he goes to Grandad’s house, it’s just the same, except Grandad isn’t there any more. This picture book doesn’t actually mention the word death at any point, but it is a sensitive exploration of the complex feelings around missing someone when they are no longer close by.
Classroom activity: Together with your students, draw a map of the island. Tease out the idea of the island as all of Grandad’s favourite things. Then, talk to your students about what places they would want to have on their own island.
Three books about coping with change for children aged 7–9
4. The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Fox wakes each night in the forest to find Star waiting to guide him through the darkness. Star illuminates his path through the forest to find food and chase rabbits. One night, Fox wakes up and Star is gone. Fox goes on a journey through the forest, summoning up his courage to find his way without Star. This beautifully illustrated fable explores ideas of friendship, change and independence. It can help children to navigate changing friendships and relationships.
Classroom activity: Make a Missing Star poster with your students. Encourage them to come up with a description of Star. Then, ask them to describe their special friend.
5. The Leaving Morning by Angela Johnson
A brother and sister are getting ready to move house. Before they go, they have a lot of goodbyes to say. They watch as the removal men pack up their belongings, and they say goodbye to their old apartment. This book is a great way to start off a discussion about moving house. It’s a good book to share if you have a new student in your class, or you know that one of your students is moving house soon.
Classroom activity: Ask your students to imagine that they are moving house, but they can only take ten items with them (not including clothing). What would they put on their list, and why?
6. Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted by Mairi Hedderwick
Katie Morag has a new baby sister – but Katie Morag is angry that nobody is paying her any attention. She acts out, sulks and kicks her favourite teddy into the sea. Granny Island takes Katie Morag to stay with her for a few days. Many of your students will have younger siblings, so they will be able to relate to Katie Morag’s feelings. This book provides a good opportunity to talk about big feelings, how Katie Morag handled those feelings and what she could have done instead.
Classroom activity: Practise writing with a story sequencing activity, providing students with important vocabulary to include. Ask them to imagine an alternate ending to the story.
Three books about coping with change for children aged 10–12
7. Shine! by J.J. Grabenstein
Piper’s dad has just got a new job at an elite private school. From her first day at Chumley Prep, Piper feels like she just doesn’t fit in. She navigates tricky interactions with bullies and tries out lots of different activities in a bid to win the school’s brand new Excelsior prize. This story tackles themes of belonging and potential, along with lots of humorous moments. It also features a female protagonist who loves science and astronomy, which is great for representation. It can help you and your class to imagine and explore the challenges around starting a new school.
Classroom activity: Talk about the mean girls at Chumley Prep, and how unwelcoming they were to Piper. Elicit ideas of why that might have been. Then, ask your students how they would welcome a new student to their school. What would they tell them? Where would they take them on a tour?
For more classroom activities, check out the teacher’s guide to Shine!
8. Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Peter adopted Pax as a baby fox, and they’ve been inseparable ever since. But one day, Peter’s dad joins the army, and Peter is sent to live with his grandfather, hundreds of miles from home. Before leaving, Peter’s dad makes him return Pax to the wild. Peter knows he’s supposed to be with Pax – so he embarks on a journey to find him. Meanwhile Pax is having adventures of his own. The main character in this novel experiences many big changes – leaving home, a change of caregiver, being separated from his fox – so there is a lot to unpack with your students.
Classroom activity: At the start of the book, Peter cries when he returns Pax to the wild, but then reprimands himself, calling himself a baby. This is a good opportunity to discuss gender stereotypes, expressing emotion and how to cope with big changes with your students.
9. Nikhil Out Loud by Maulik Pancho
Nikhil is a thirteen-year-old who’s a minor celebrity for his role in a TV show. When he moves from LA to Ohio, he starts at a new school where he has to deal with his newfound fame, all while navigating his sexuality and dealing with family tension at home. This novel deals with important themes of identity, change and self-discovery, as well as the upheaval of moving and a new family setup.
Classroom activity: Compare Nikhil and his mum’s move (from LA to Ohio) with his grandparents’ experience of moving to a new country. Ask your students to talk about moving house/moving overseas, and the challenges they faced.
Subscribe to our blog
If you’d like to stay up to date with our articles in 2023, why not subscribe to our blog? You’ll get a fortnightly roundup of the articles you’ve missed straight to your inbox, plus links to free teaching resources.