Books on sensitive subjects are not meant to take the place of counseling by parents, teachers, clergy, psychologists or others. Yet they can act as a helpful vehicle for expressing feelings and fears. The following are recommended by children's book specialists to help adults and youngsters approach such subjects as divorce, death, adoption, the new baby, fears, disabilities, AIDS, teen-age suicide, sex and puberty.
"Close to the Edge" by Gloria D. Miklowitz (Dell, paperback: $2.50. Recommended ages: 13 and over).
A teen-age girl who has everything from her parents but love contemplates suicide. Then a close friend does kill herself. She realizes the futility of suicide and comes to terms with her life.
"About David" by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Dell, paperback: $2.75. Recommended ages: 13 and over).
This is a novel about a 17-year-old boy who murders his parents and commits suicide. His friend, Lynn, learns to deal with the pain and grief of these senseless deaths.
"My Brother Is Afraid of Just About Everything" by Lois Osborn, pictures by Jennie Williams (Albert Whitman & Co., hardcover: $10.25. Recommended ages: 4 to 7).
The book is narrated by an older boy who explains how his little brother is afraid of everything: thunderstorms, men with beards, going down the drain with the bath water, pictures of bats and more. However, the author makes her point--that everyone is afraid of something--when a shaggy dog comes along and the older brother is the one who's afraid.
"The Bad Dream" by Jim Aylesworth, illustrations by Judith Friedman (Albert Whitman & Co., hardcover: $10.25. Recommended ages: 3 1/2 to 6).
A young boy falls out of bed after experiencing a nightmare. His parents reassure him that he's safe, that dreams are not real and will not hurt him. He goes back to sleep feeling peaceful and happy.
"About Dying" (An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Together) by Sara Bonnett Stein, photography by Dick Frank (Walker & Co., hardcover: $10.95. Recommended ages: 2 1/2 and over).
"About Dying" is written with two texts: One, with large black-and-white photographs, is written in simple language and is for the child; the other is a resource text for adults to help them answer questions about death.
"Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children" by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen (Bantam Books, paperback: $7.95. Recommended ages: 4 to 8).
Death is illustrated here in a somewhat metaphysical way. With flowers, newly laid eggs in a nest, vegetables, butterflies, fish and people, the author explains that each living thing has its own special lifetime.
"Nadia the Willful" by Sue Alexander, pictures by Lloyd Bloom (Pantheon Books, hardcover: $12.95. Recommended ages: 4 to 8).
With beautiful illustrations, the author tells the story of Nadia, who has a temper "as fiery as the desert sun." When her older brother, Hamed, does not return from an outing, their father declares that no one shall speak the boy's name again. Nadia persuades her father that the only way to overcome their pain is by remembering Hamed and their love for him.
"Adoption Is for Always" by Linda Walvoord Girard, illustrated by Judith Friedman (Albert Whitman & Co., hardcover: $10.25. Recommended ages: 4 to 8).
Celia feels anger and confusion when she realizes that her adoptive parents are not her birth parents. Celia learns how special she is, that there was never anything wrong with her and that she and her adoptive parents will always be a family.
"The Chosen Baby" by Valentina P. Wasson, illustrated by Glo Coalson (J. B. Lippincott Co., hardcover: $9.95. Recommended ages: 4 to 6).
This updated 1939 classic focuses on Martha and James Brown's joy when they adopt Peter, and later a sister for Peter, through an adoption agency.
"Being Adopted" by Maxine B. Rosenberg, photographs by George Ancona (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, hardcover: $10.25. Recommended ages: 4 to 8).
Seven-year-old Rebecca, 10-year-old Andrei and 8-year-old Karin were adopted. They have racial and cultural roots different from those of their adoptive families. The children tell their personal stories and how they feel as if they "stand out," sometimes even at home in this nonfiction work. Factual information on adoption is included.
The New Baby
"A Baby Sister for Frances" by Russell Hoban, pictures by Lillian Hoban (Harper & Row, paperback: $2.95. Recommended ages: 3 to 8).
A badger named Frances has a new baby sister. Frances feels that she's not loved anymore so she "runs away" and hides under the dining room table. While in hiding, she overhears her parents saying how lonely they are for her. Frances discovers she's wanted after all.
"The New Baby at Your House" by Joanna Cole, photographs by H. Hammid (William Morrow, paperback: $4.95. Recommended ages: 3 to 6).
With large photographs and a substantial text, the focus here is on the range of emotions felt by older brothers and sisters: loving and tender one minute and angry and jealous the next. The book aims to reassure that these feelings are normal and OK to express.
"I Have a Sister--My Sister Is Deaf" by Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson, pictures by Deborah Kogan (Harper & Row, paperback: $3.95. Recommended ages: 4 to 8).
A young girl describes how her sister experiences everyday things. She can play the piano but will never hear the music, or the ring of the phone and the clanging of garbage cans. Yet, her sister can communicate with her fingers, face and shoulders better than anyone else she knows.
"He's My Brother" by Joe Lasker (Albert Whitman & Co., hardcover: $11.25. Recommended ages: 3 and over).
Jamie has a learning disability. His brother tells how Jamie gets teased at school, gets chosen last for teams and how it's hard for him to learn. Yet he's so gentle with animals and loves babies. The book ends with the brother saying: "I make up stories for Jamie. Stories to tell him we love him. He laughs. He's my brother."
"About Handicaps" by Sara Bonnett Stein, photography by Dick Frank (Walker & Co., paperback, $5.95. Recommended ages: 3 to 7).
Matthew's friend Joe has cerebral palsy. He doesn't understand why his own legs work well but Joe's don't. Through discussions with his dad, he begins to learn about Joe's and other people's disabilities. A separate text is included for adults to help them answer children's questions.
"You Can't Catch It Holding Hands" by Niki de Saint Phalle. (Lapis Press, hardcover: $5.95. Recommended ages: 12 and over).
With simple words and colorful illustrations, the text explains how AIDS is transmitted and the myths about contracting AIDS: You can't catch it from a toilet seat or from using someone else's comb, for example. The emphasis is on romantic love and knowing your partner well before becoming intimate.
"Night Kites" by M. E. Kerr (Harper Keypoint, paperback: $2.75. Recommended ages: 12 and over).
A novel about Erick, a 17-year-old boy who has two secrets: He's fallen in love with a girl who does not fit in with his crowd, and his older brother, Pete, has AIDS. Erick is accused by his parents of handling the news about the brother he has always adored "too well." His parents, on the other hand, are embarrassed and ashamed of Pete's debilitating illness.
"Making Babies" by Sara Bonnett Stein, photography by Doris Pinney (Walker & Co., hardcover: $10.95. Recommended ages: 3 to 6).
In large, simple print, with black-and-white photographs but without mentioning specifics, the book explains how babies are created. "Making Babies" illustrates the female and male child genitalia, how kittens are born, how dogs mate, what babies look like inside the mother's womb and that adults make love. There is a separate text to help answer children's questions.
"Where Did I Come From?" The facts of life without any nonsense by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins (Lyle Stuart, paperback: $6.95. Recommended ages: 6 to 9).
"Where Did I Come From?" explains sexual intercourse and adult genitalia explicitly through the use of comical, cartoon-like illustrations. The author describes and clearly shows: sexual organs, coitus and what it may feel like, how sperm and egg join to create a baby, the stages of prenatal development, and labor and delivery.
"A Kid's First Book About Sex" by Joani Blank, pictures by Marcia Quackenbush (Yes Press, paperback: $5.50. Recommended ages: 6 to 11).
The focus is not on reproduction but on self-image and the pleasures of sexuality and personal relationships. With black-and-white drawings, the book discusses what is sexy, sexual organs, orgasm, masturbation, privacy and sexual intercourse.
"What's Happening to Me?" by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins (Lyle Stuart, paperback: $6.95. Recommended ages: 9 to 13).
Using humor and cartoon illustrations, the physical, hormonal and emotional changes boys and girls experience from age 8 to 18 are identified and explained.
"The Teenage Body Book" by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman MD, illustrated by Bob Stover (Pocket Books, paperback: $9.95. Recommended ages: 11 through teens).
Winner of the American Library Assn.'s Best Book for Young Adults award, this 275-page resource answers hundreds of questions dealing with eating disorders, teen-age depression, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, and feelings such as boredom, low self-esteem and shyness.
"Period" by JoAnn Gardner-Loulan, Bonnie Lopez and Marcia Quackenbush, illustrated by Marcia Quackenbush (Volcano Press, paperback, $6. Recommended ages: 9 to 13.)
"Period" answers questions and offers reassuring and humorous personal stories about menstruation.
"Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families" by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (Joy Street/Little, Brown & Co., hardcover: $13.95. Recommended ages: 3 to 8).
"Dinosaurs Divorce" is a picture book. Colorful dinosaurs in situations that children can relate to explain why parents divorce, what happens after divorce, living with one parent, having two homes, celebrating holidays and what it's like to tell friends about it.
"The Kids' Book of Divorce: By, For and About Kids" by the Unit at the Fayerweather Street School. Edited by Eric Rofes (Random House, paperback: $4.95. Black-and-white photos and illustrations. Recommended ages: 8 and over).
Twenty children from 11 to 14 wrote this book as a school project. Fourteen of those children experienced divorce in their families. Chapters deal with the fears and fantasies children of divorced parents experience.
"Two Homes to Live In: A Child's-Eye View of Divorce" by Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Peggy Luks (Human Sciences Press, paperback: $5.95. Recommended ages: 4 to 8).
This book concentrates on the intense feelings of sadness a young child may have but may not be able to express. It attempts to reassure by explaining that sometimes parents stop loving each other, but they never stop loving their child.
"One More Time" by Louis Baum, illustrated by Paddy Bourma (William Morrow, hardcover: $10.25. Recommended ages: 3 to 5).
"One More Time" is about a small boy named Simon who spends a wonderful Sunday afternoon with his father. At the end of the day, when his father returns him to his mother's home, Simon happily waves goodby; he knows there will be more wonderful Sundays.
The following is a list of children's bookstores that may carry the titles in this sampler or others on the same themes. An asterisk indicates a major stock of children's books. Also check with your local public library.
Sources for Books
*Children's Book and Music Center, 2500 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica; (213) 829-0215. Open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
*Children's Book World, 10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles; (213) 559-2665. Open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.
*Book Emporium, 5539 Stearns St., Long Beach; (213) 431-3595. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday (until 8 p.m. Thursdays), 9 a.m.-5:30 Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.
*Pages Books for Children and Young Adults, 18399 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 342-6657. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
*San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe, 2475 Huntington Drive, San Marino; (818) 795-5301. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
*Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, 1355 N. Grand Ave., Covina; (818) 339-9914. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sundays.
*Children's Bookshelf, 873 Via de la Paz, Pacific Palisades; (213) 459-0063. Open 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays.
The Enchanted Elf, 703 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; (213) 379-7992. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sundays.
Baby Motives, 8362 West 3rd St., Los Angeles; (213) 658-6015. Open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday (until 7 p.m. Wednesdays), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.
*Happily Ever After, 2640 Griffith Park Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 668-1996. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sundays.
Joy of Learning, 18722 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 343-7116. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Page One, 966 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena; (818) 798-8694. Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
Young Scholar, 235-A N. Central Ave., Glendale; (818) 246-7063. Open 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
*Once Upon a Time, 2284 Honolulu Ave., Montrose; (818) 248-9668. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.