Picture Books About Incarceration

Best Picture Books for Children with Loved Ones Incarcerated

By Rhiannon Maton, Ph.D., Emily Urias-Velasquez, Breeanna Dexter, Nicolette McKeon, Breanna Washington


Over 2.7 million American children currently have a parent who is incarcerated. Meanwhile, an increasing number of picture books have been published that represent the experiences of children with familial incarceration. Such picture books can allow children to connect with the stories of others, see their own experiences represented in text and image, and destigmatize incarceration.

Our top picks for picture books include Daniel Beaty and Bryan Collier’s Knock Knock and Ivana Mlinac and Porsche Tiavale’s Stardust, which present dream-like experiences of children missing their parents. Jacqueline Woodson and James E. Ransome’s Visiting Day portrays visitation rituals through beautiful graphics. Melissa Higgins and Wednesday Kirwan’s The Night Dad Went to Jail deflects racial stereotypes by using animals as the main characters. Missing Daddy, from social activists Mariame Kaba and Bria Royal, uses accessible text for children’s independent reading. In our view, the most widely accessible picture book is Becky Birtha and Maja Kastelic’s Far Apart, Close in Heart, which represents a range of emotions and experiences by kids from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

We reviewed 21 books for this list, and have decided upon eleven top picks. We have compiled this list of best picture books on parental incarceration with the intention that such picture books be made available to children through parents and guardians, teachers, social workers, and others. It is important to note that our top picks are not without flaws. There is no perfect picture book that deals with incarceration and might be supportive of every student and situation. Each book is identified below by its Title (Author & Illustrator; Publisher).

Book List

Knock Knock (Daniel Beaty & Bryan Collier; Little, Brown and Company) 

Far Apart, Close in Heart (Becky Birtha & Maja Kastelic; Albert Whitman & Company) 

Kennedy's Big Visit (Daphne Brooks; Archway Publishing)  

Almost Like Visiting (Shannon Ellis & Katrina Tapper; CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)  

Waiting for Daddy (Jennie Lou Harriman, Kylie Ann Flye; CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)  

Deena Misses her Mom (Jonae Haynesworth, Jesse Holmes, Layonnie Jones, Kahliya Ruffin & Leslie Jindalay Pyo; Shout Mouse Press, Inc.)  

The Night Dad Went to Jail (Melissa Higgins & Wednesday Kirwan; Picture Window Books)  

Missing Daddy (Mariame Kaba & Bria Royal; Haymarket Books) 

Stardust: We Always Share the Same Sky (Ivana Mlinac & Porsche Tiavale; Mary Egan Publishing) 

What is Jail, Mommy? (Jackie A. Stanglin & Cierra Jade McGuckie; Lifevest Publishing, Inc.)

Visiting Day (Jacqueline Woodson & James E. Ransome; Puffin Books)