Single-Parents: An Annotated Bibliography & Lesson Overview Grades 3-5

Annotated Bibliography
By: Mekenzie Voglino
Grade Level: 3rd-5th


Through this annotated bibliography, I will be looking at the social/emotional struggles many children have when they are raised by a single parent. There are many combinations of “non-traditional” household arrangements like same-sex couples, foster care, raised by another family member, etc. but I am going to specifically look at single-parent households. It is important for me to clarify that children being raised in single parent homes is not the “issue,” but rather the additional challenges that typically arise for children of single parent homes. It is a social and emotional issue worth researching because the 2016 Population Census & Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau discovered that 27% of children (under 18 yrs) in the U.S. live in single-parent households (2016). Considering more than 1 in 4 children live in single parent homes, it is important to learn the effects this can have on a child. Once we are aware of the struggles some children in single parent homes might have, we can be better equipped in supporting students that fall into this category.

There have been numerous studies conducted on different factors that can affect a child living in a single parent home. Two of the factors I have found through my preliminary research that are much more prevalent in single parent homes are a rise in poverty and negative behavior. Living in poverty is life-altering and creates many additional challenges than those not living below the poverty line. According to an article published in 2016, which analyzed single parent households and their income in 2010, about 46% of single parent households are either “at risk” or “in crisis” in terms of poverty. This number is staggering, when compared to 6.2% for two-parent households in 2010 ( Kramer, 2016). It is important to remember these numbers when you are teaching a child from a single-parent household as odds are their family has an added financial stress other student’s families may not be dealing with. Additionally, as the number of children each single parent has rises, the percentage of poverty rises as well. Unfortunately, as well as poverty being a common consequence so is increased negative behavior for students living in this style of familial structure. When comparing children from a two parent home and a single parent home, children from the latter are more likely to act out with negative behavior and be more hyperactive (Mokrue, 2012). This is especially found in urban areas and minority children. As you can see, children from single parent homes are commonly found to face more hardships than students from “traditional” style families. This topic is most definitely worth researching and I am interested to see how and what type of literature can best support students living in single parent homes.

I first became interested in this topic when looking at social/emotional learning when I had a fieldwork experience last semester at local Philadelphia charter school. I was placed in a sixth grade science classroom and I mostly observed. While I was observing, my host teacher put the students into groups to talk about genetically inherited traits. I overheard a heartbreaking conversation among a group of six students and they were talking about their fathers not being there. A couple students never met their fathers, another’s was incarcerated, and the rest had their fathers in and out of their life. They were discussing how it was difficult for them, in not impossible to figure out their traits because they couldn’t easily ask their fathers. The students continued talking about memories they have with their dads if they were in the picture at some points, while the rest either talked about another male figure in their life or stayed silent. It was such a moving experience that made me take students from single parent homes into extra consideration at times. Statistics about students from single parent homes are plentiful, but most of them are all about the negatives as I learned in my research. I want to work with students in these circumstances and ensure that they know they’re equally supported and loved in a single-parent home. Analyzing children’s books for this theme is a way to help ensure that younger children from “non-traditional” homes have access to relatable and empowering stories from other individuals possibly experiencing the same emotions.


Beaty, D. (2013). Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, by Daniel Beaty, is a powerful book revolving around and African American little boy and his father. Every morning his father plays a game with him where he knocks on his son’s bedroom door to wake up his son. The knocks then stop for an unknown reason and the boy gets a letter from his father explaining that he won’t be able to see him for a long time. The letter gives the son advice in how to grow into a man without his father by his side. The reader watches as the boy begins to flourish and by the end of the book the boy is a confident young man.
Knock, Knock has won a Coretta Scott King award and was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Beaty wrote this story about his own personal experience when his dad was incarcerated. It is essentially a quality book because it is a story that comes from the heart that also so happens to be backed up by best seller lists, nominations, and awards. Beaty is intentionally vague in not elaborating on where the young son’s father has gone in order to open up the book’s inclusiveness. It allows parents or teachers to touch on absentee fathers for more than one reason, whether it be incarceration, military leave, death, divorce, or abandonment. What makes this book so spectacular is because it goes a step further than just relating emotionally to children growing up without a father, it then explains how they will be successful in life all the same. It is a great tool to teach self-confidence to many children whose fathers are not present.
Cleary, B. (2000). Dear Mr. Henshaw. New York: Harper Collins .

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary is about 6th grade Leigh Botts who over the years has been writing letters to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. When Mr. Henshaw replies to Leigh’s letters, he asks the boy a series of questions about his life. Through his answers, the reader learns that Leigh is struggling with his parent’s divorce, being the new kid in school, and the complicated relationship with his father. Per Mr. Henshaw’s request, Leigh starts to keep a journal where he writes pretend letters about his problems and stories that he’s working on. After some obstacles, the main character ends up winning a writing contest and gets to meet a famous author (not Mr. Henshaw).

Cleary’s short young adult novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1984 and the National Education Association named the book one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” Cleary has also written dozens of other children’s book and has received multiple awards for her writings. Dear Mr. Henshaw is a perfect choice for students heading into upper elementary as the story has a deep plot outside of hitting upon single parent issues. Still the book highlights Leigh beginning to understand that there are parts of his life he cannot change and must adapt too. He deals with other hurdles, besides having a single mom, that most kids have to face like: bullying, being the new kid at school, and homework. Cleary’s book is one that would benefit and relate to an entire classroom full of students, not just those with single parents.

Waber, B. (2015). Ask Me. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Waber and Lee’s Ask Me is a heartwarming story of a little girl and her father strolling through the park on a windy fall day. They take turns asking each other questions and talking as they adventure, focusing on the importance of patience and adoration when it comes to their relationship. Waber was an experienced writer, who has written many quality children’s books like Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and The House on East 88th Street. Ask Me is a relatively new book that was published in late 2015, but has received rave reviews from The New York Times Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, and a Mock Coretta Scott award on GoodReads. The book is great at pointing out the extraordinary relationship between father and daughter in the context of a quite ordinary day. It would be a wonderful book for single fathers and teachers alike to remind children of all the memories they can make with their parent, as well as the amount of love their father has for them. I added it to the list because it is a book about a single father and his daughter, but only captures the innocence and good times that come from their situation.
Danziger, P. (2006). Amber Brown is Not a Crayon. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger focuses on the friendship between Amber Brown and her best friend Justin Daniels. They are the perfect tag team until Justin has to move away. The duo get into a fight about splitting up and have to work together to resolve it. Danziger has had a successful career and has written over 25 children’s books, including the Amber Brown Series. Amber Brown is Not a Crayon has been high-ranked by critics and is currently one of Scholastic’s most recommended book series for elementary students. Amber Brown is Not a Crayon mirrors the spats that occur between divorcing parents and the uncertainty that follows in a friendship metaphor. In addition, Amber’s parents are divorced and her father lives abroad, a side story seamlessly woven into the story. It is helpful for teachers because it addresses a lot of the emotions and events that follow along with divorcing parents that also mimic the feeling of a friend moving away. Students can benefit from this story on multiple levels and Amber Brown makes it out stronger in the end, just as many single-parent children will as well.

Gonzalez, R. (2016). Antonio’s Card/ La Tarjeta de Antonio. Lee & Low Books, Inc.

Antonio’s Card/ La Tarjeta de Antonio by/por Rigoberto Gonzalez is a bilingual children’s book about young Antonio who is struggling to navigate his Mexican heritage and the absence of his father. We learn slowly that his father left him to go back to Mexico when he was a small child and Antonio longs for connection with his father and the resulting culture. This all comes on top of him trying to accepting his once single mom’s partner, Leslie, who is the source of a lot of Antonio’s bullying by other kids. It end with Leslie not taking the place as a second parent, but a support system Antonio can turn to when he misses his father.

The quality of this book really comes directly from the author himself and the difficult subject matter he chose to focus on. Gonzalez has written fifteen books and is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the American Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. His books, including, Antonio’s Card, have been revered and used as a teaching tool by many. Gonzalez’ children book touches on a multitude of issues that children of “non-traditional” families might have to overcome like: single-parents, same-sex couples, step-parents, and the bilingual aspect. I really wanted to include this work because it is from the perspective of a boy who grew up only having a single mom and so that is his “normal.” Antonio goes through his mom dating as a single-parent, which can be a difficult thing for many kids, especially if their other parent isn’t in the picture. The book doesn’t focus on the common issues that come along with single-parents and that adds a lot of importance. Overall I think this book would be an exceptional book to read to a classroom as it does delve into a lot of not talked about issues, can curb any bullying towards children of same-sex couples, and is accessible for children whose native language is Spanish.

M. (2003). The English Roses (English Roses Series). New York, NY: Callaway Editions, Incorporated.

The English Roses is a children’s book written by Madonna about a group of girls that begin to bully a new girl at school, Binah. The four girls are jealous of the extra attention Binah is receiving from her classmates for being pretty and athletic. The same girls are at a sleepover when they are approached by a fairy godmother-like person who takes them to see what Binah is doing. The girls discover that Binah lives only with her father because her mother passed away. Consequently, Binah spends all of her time at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the house since her father is always working. The four girls immediately feel bad for how they’ve treated Binah and befriend her the next day, even coming over to help with her chores and keep her company.

Though Madonna seems like an unlikely children’s author, her five works of children’s literature have sold over half a million copies. Additionally, The English Roses debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List for seven weeks straight. The inclusion of Madonna’s book was vital to me because it gives insight into the extra responsibilities that sometimes accompany single-parent children. The English Roses also forces children to stop and think about what they don’t know about their classmates, especially the students that are always being picked on. It teaches students to look past vanity and disregard jealousy for others because they never know what another student could be going through.

Moore, J. (2013). My Mom is a Foreigner, but Not to Me. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Julianne Moore’s My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me is a children’s book told from the perspective of first generation Americans. The children talk about their mothers’ different customs that they have from their native culture and their accents. They decide that no matter how different their mothers are they should be celebrated just for being moms. Julianne Moore is the best-selling author of the Freckleface Strawberry series and ambassador for Save the Children inspired by her own mom. Her philanthropy work takes her into many different cultures and is a first-hand resource for many of her children’s books. Her strong reviews from The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and her personal experience classify My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me as a quality children’s book. Moore’s book can be used by parents or teachers to address the topic in a more indirect way, specifically by just celebrating moms. The book’s illustrations show a variety of families from every creed, including an interracial mother and son, with no fathers present. The book would be a great way to have students be proud of their culture and their mothers, whether from a single-mother home or not. **Know your students, I would only use this book if I knew every student in the class had a mother or motherly figure that was involved**

Grimes, N. (2012). Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope. New York, NY: Little Simon.

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes tells the story of Barack Obama’s journey from a young age moving around the world from Hawaii to Chicago and Indonesia to Kenya. Wherever Obama went he always carried hope and that allowed him to “be a bridge to bring people together.” Barack Obama was just a boy who believed in holding hope above all else and it let him to the presidency. The credibility of this book begins with its topic and that happens to be about the story of Mr. President Obama. The book won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work and held the #1 New York Times bestselling picture book spot. Grimes is an experienced author who has won the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children and the Coretta Scott King Author Award for her works. Teachers could use Grimes’ book to teach children from single-parent homes that even if time are tough, you can become someone and achieve great things. President Obama was raised by a single-mom and became a symbol of hope and change for many people, especially as the first African American president. This book can be a history lesson and inspiring for all children to hear about his story.

Seuss, Dr. (1940). Horton Hatches the Egg. Random House Children’s Books.

Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss is essentially about an egg that was abandoned by its mother when Horton the Elephant is tricked into sitting on the egg before the mother leaves. Horton takes care of the egg until it hatches and reveals a half elephant, half bird creature. Horton becomes a single “parent” as the bird never comes back. Horton Hatches the Egg is a critically acclaimed book, winning the Lewis Caroll Shelf Award in 1958, and has been analyzed through many different lenses. It is currently on the National Education Association’s top list of “Teacher’s Top 100 Books for Children.” Horton’s story was of course written by Dr. Seuss who has won awards such as: the Legion of Merit Award, an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature,” and a Pulitzer Prize. This book is a way for single-parents to remind their children of all the love they have for them, even if there’s only one of them around. It’s a subtle way to instill the lesson that a child within a one parent home is no less special or loved. Horton was dedicated to hatching the egg no matter what just as child’s parent and other supporting family are dedicated to them.

Brown, J. (2012). Darth Vader and Son. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader and Son is a twist on the classic and ever so popular Star Wars franchise. Brown plays with the idea that what if Darth Vader was just like your average father to his son Luke. He goes through all of the trials and tribulations of being a single father to a young Jedi master. Brown started off and still writes as a comic and graphic novel author, elements that he has included in his children’s books. Since he tried his hand at writing for children, he has written multiple books and won an Ignatz award for his comic writing. The modern and fun aspect of this book allows for it to be used either in the classroom or by parents. Children will be familiar with the basic storyline and it provides examples of a strong father-son relationship looks like. Single-fathers are still othered at time just like Darth Vader and seeing a loving relationship that parallels one they may have with their father could be really beneficial.

Korman, J. (1999). Disney’s Tarzan. New York: Golden Books.

Tarzan by Justine Korman is the Disney, and most common, version of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Burroughs. Tarzan is about an infant who is raised by a female gorilla after his own parents are killed. He grows up with the apes and finally meets a girl named Jane in the jungle one day. Jane is with her father and other company, company that will later betray Tarzan by taking his ape family. Tarzan rescues his ape family and marries Jane in the end. This adaptation for children has not won awards, but it is backed by the biggest company involved with everything kid-friendly: Disney. Korman is also an experienced children’s author, lending credibility and quality to the book. With a current adaptation of Tarzan just released last year and it being a classic Disney story, I think it would be an interesting way to cover the topic of single-parents. Students can look up to an independent, smart, inventive, and creative character like Jane with a single-father or to a strong, loyal, and caring character with an adopted single-mother like Tarzan. Tarzan provides both scenarios of single parents in a classic story, in addition to teaching other morals weaved into Tarzan’s story.

Mortensen, L. (2008). Marie Curie: Prize-Winning Scientist. Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Lori Mortensen’s Marie Curie: Prize-Winning Scientist tells the story of Marie Curie’s life and many achievements. Marie’s mother was a teacher and before she passed away when Marie was 10 yrs. old her mother instilled a thirst for knowledge within her. Marie and her father left Poland so she could study in Paris. She earned degrees in physics and math, while most women weren’t in college. Marie Curie discovered radioactivity while studying rocks and became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics. The quality of the book can be derived from the quality of the subject, which of course is Marie Curie and from the author. Mortensen has written over 70 books and has won countless awards, including Book of the Year. The purpose of this book would be to use in the classroom or at home by parents to encourage kids, especially young women of their abilities. Marie Curie would be an excellent role model for young girls coming from a single-father home or any girls interested in science since STEM fields are still so limited to males. Marie Curie’s story tells kids that no matter what adversities may have to be overcome you can break boundaries and excel past people’s expectations of you.
Karst, P. (2000). The Invisible String. Devorss & Co

Patrice Karst’s The Invisible String is about a mother trying to ease her son’s sadness when they’re apart from each other by creating a magical invisible thread that always connects them. The string could connect a child to their mom at work, a best friend that moved away, or even a fish in the sea. The Invisible String was on the best seller list and Karst is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers. Furthermore, Patrice Karst is a single mother in real life and wrote this children’s book purely out of the struggle she felt leaving her son for work every day, then it expanded it to a larger audience. The book is powerful because it addresses separation from those we love (could be applied to single parents, parents in the military, death, or distance). The Invisible String gives kids a “tangible” connection to those they can’t physically see and its comforting. It would be great for children who are missing their parent throughout the day in the lower grades or feel disconnected to their uninvolved parent to read this.

Lagonegro, M. (2017). Beauty and the Beast. New York, NY: RH Disney.
Beauty and the Beast by Melissa Lagonegro writes the Disney twist on an old folktale of a woman who falls in love with a man who is cursed to look like a beast. The main character Belle is left to live with a hideous and cruel beast in exchange to save her father’s life. Belle and the Beast start to learn from each other and develop feelings for one another. Belle’s town attempts to burn Beast’s castle to the ground and kill him. While Beast is dying the magical curse is broken by love and he is healed and human again. Belle and the Beast live happily ever after. Beauty and the Beast is a “tale as old as time” that is current (with the new remake). popular, and relevant to the topic of single parents. Lagonegro has plenty of experience as a children’s author, writing over 100 books. Her main focus is to rewrite Disney classics to help children progress in their reading skills. Belle and her father’s bond is one of pure adoration for another and quirkiness. There are many moral lessons in Beauty and the Beast that would be great for parents to use, but also provides a highlight of a strong father-daughter relationship. It can reassure the child how much they are loved by their single-father and the extent children and parents will go to protect each other.

Lewis, R. A. (2000). I Love You Like Crazy Cakes. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose A. Lewis and Jane Dyer is about a single woman who decides she’ll adopt a baby when she turns 50. She ends up adopting a little girl from China as a single mom and can’t contain the joy that follows with a new baby. The book mostly focuses on their bond and happiness as she holds her baby for the first time after bringing her home. I Love You Like Crazy Cakes was on the New York Times Best Seller List and received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Scholastic and GoodReads. Lewis is an author of multiple children’s books, a few focusing on her real-life experiences with her daughter, whom which was in fact adopted from China. Lewis’ story is filled with raw emotion and is a great way to spark a conversation between parent and child about how they “met.” This book could be used by teachers to look at biracial families, a different culture, and it weaves in the message of just how much single-parent kids are loved. No matter if a child has a single-parent biologically or through adoption, they are wanted and they matter just as much, if not more than children in two-parent homes.

Teaching Example

This brief lesson layout is intended for grades 3rd-5th, as listed before the annotations. Depending on the grade level being taught, many of these books can be taught “up” or “down” and the lessons being taught are useful for any grade level. My lesson would be a history lesson that focuses on influential individuals that existed in our society that happened to be raised by single parents. I would use Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast, The English Roses, Marie Curie: Prize-Winning Scientist, and Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope for my lesson. Using Tarzan and Beauty and the Beast I would discuss the life of Walt Disney, the impact he had on society, children’s entertainment, his philanthropy skills, and how he was raised by a single-father when his mother passed away. I would make sure to incorporate how having a single-parent impacted his life and that is why so many Disney movies do not have a mother that is present. Marie Curie’s book would be used to explain that she was raised by a single-father after her mother passed away as well. She made huge strides in the science world, especially with all the pushback from being a woman. Even today, Marie Curie has a lasting impact on modern technology and status for women in the science field.

Madonna’s The English Roses would lend her hand to her contributions in the music world and popular culture. She is a successful business woman, musician, actress, children’s author, and single-mother to four children. Students could cultivate a connection between popular, success and having a single-parent. Lastly, I would use Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope and explain his influence in society as being the first African American President, as well as strong advocate and political leader for change towards the future. President Obama has always been proud of being raised by a single-mother and the support he received from her. The lesson would be a great way to use the topic of single-parents as a catalyst for further conversations about gender, race, values, and what exactly makes a person “influential in society.”
Additional Sources Used


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