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Read it and weep: what books make you cry?

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Kate was interested to see this article in Publishers Weekly about crying while reading.

The cathartic nature of a good children’s book (or adult book) cry is not to be undervalued, she thinks.

Kate was interested, though, that there’s an emphasis on sad books in the piece. Now, of course, sad books make Kate cry. Her first memory of crying at a children’s book is when her mother read her The Velveteen Rabbit from (how?) a Christmas edition of a woman’s magazine. Later, she remembers Charlotte’s Web (pictured here) made her cry a lot, and the The Snow Goose. And she remembers starting The Diary of Anne Frank aged about 11, and thinking it was fiction, and the enormous sadness of getting to the end, exacerbated, of course, by realising it wasn’t fiction. As a publisher, the sad book that made her cry most was Ways to Live Forever.

However, while sad books make Kate cry, she finds happy endings can be pretty blub-inducing things. She was absolutely fine through the loss of the precious picture and the car accident in A Dog So Small, but the moment that Ben realises that Brown is the dog for him is the part that she can’t type about without a little lump in the throat even now. And what about the return of the father in The Railway Children? As a publisher, the “happy ending” (sort of) that made her cry most was the one in Millions.

As an adult, Kate has discovered that reading aloud presents an even greater challenge than reading silently. She cannot read moving or sad or happy things to anyone without blubbing. This is quite incapacitating, both professionally and parentally. When she left Macmillan, she couldn’t complete her leaving speech because it concluded with a paragraph from the last page of A Gathering Light. She struggled to continue to address an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival launch of A Little Piece of Ground after reading a quote from it.

And while one of Kate’s children is similarly afflicted, her other child cannot begin to understand why Kate cried when she read The Diddakoi or Once There Were Giants at bedtime, and poked incredulously (and sometimes painfully) at her tears.

Camilla says that the book that generated “uncontrollable sobbing” in her childhood was Jenny and has just admitted that she has to pause when she reads aloud the words, “‘I must not fail’, said the tiny snail,” in The Snail and the Whale.

The normally emotionally robust Imogen says that A Gathering Light, Private Peaceful, My Sister’s Keeper (she acknowledges embarrassing tears on a train), Lovely Bones (a book, by the way, that Kate can’t be doing with so we celebrate reading diversity here at Nosy Crow) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles all make her cry.

Deb nominates Bridge to Terabithia ,Shane and Flowers for Algernon.

Do please comment to tell us what books make you cry.

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25 Responses to “Read it and weep: what books make you cry?”

  • I’m worse with music than books, but the book that made me cry most recently was Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men.- and possible most voluminously, Jenny Downham’s Before I Die.

    I also cried buckets at the end of The Time Traveller’s Wife, but in my defence I was 8 months pregnant at the time.

  • The two books that make me cry every time are by Rumer Godden: “Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time” and “China Court: The Hours of A Country House.”

    It is interesting that both are stories involving a family’s relationship to its house, although the details couldn’t be more different.

  • Have just been pondering the list of books that make me and my teenager daughter Nellie cry and we’ve decided we both really need to read some comedy.

    Her Mother’s Face surprised us by being an unexpected weepy – which was a shame as we both read it standing up in Waterstones (we did buy it in the end, honest)

    Also Goodnight Mister Tom, Charlotte’s Web, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, Ways to Live Forever – even Guess How Much I Love You (though that really must be a nostalgia thing).

    Oh and of course almost anything by Michael Morpurgo.

  • Flossie T, I agree with you- Before I Die made me cry loads- I was HOWLING– and also The Time Traveller’s Wife gets me every time. I thought The Lovely Bones was awful sentimental rubbish though.

    Films are much less likely to make me cry than books. I wonder why?

  • Oh loads!
    Little Women always used to do it (the bit where Beth nearly dies), Watership Down, when Hazel leaves his body behind, more recently A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Time Travellers Wife. But a one that I can’t even think about without welling up is a short story in The Orchard Children’s Treasury, A Balloon for Grandad, by Nigel Gray/Jane Ray which I used to try to read to my kids. In my defence my Dad had just died when I first read it…

  • The first time I read Ways to Live Forever it was tear inducing. The second time was much much worse! An amazing book. Second nomination would be Sad Book.

    Jet rattled off a load (cries at the first sign of a book), but The Book Thief, The Time Travellers Wife and My Sisters Keeper were the only three I can remember!

  • Two books spring immediately to mind. The first is a Victorian children’s novel called “At the Back of the North Wind” – highly sentimental Victorian stuff but I loved it. Read it many times.

    Also loved “The Little Prince” – a story of great depth.

    No doubt with time I can think of more!

  • I have sobbed at many books and shan’t attempt to list them, but perhaps the first was Tom’s Midnight Garden: Tom bereft and screaming out Hattie’s name. Conversely the book that left me too devastated/changed for tears as a child was The Mark Of The Horse Lord.

  • I remember crying at Peter Ackroyd’s The House of Doctor Dee (an author not normally noted for emotion). And also Livi Michael’s children’s novel The Angel Stone. Incidentally, both books feature John Dee as a character, though that obviously wasn’t what induced the tears. I think it was the fact that both authors momentarily freed their lead characters from the shackles of the time and place they belonged to, giving them a sense of perspective that it’s very rare for humans to feel. I’ve always found that moving. Similarly, a very good episode of Dr Who can have the same effect on me.

  • Reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to Sam made me cry frequently, more because of the beauty of the language than what was happening, ‘tho the end is sad. The last chapter of ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ has the same effect. Also a Rosemary Sutcliff book called ‘Sun Horse, Moon Horse’.

  • Well, if we’re talking books that make you cry, Philip, I think that the ending of Here Lies Arthur, “And the name of that ship, the name of that ship is called, Hope“… (disappears to blow nose and can go on no further)

  • I weep buckets over too many books to list (and films and opera—I’m the one when when the lights go up with the puffy red eyes and rivulets of mascara) but I vividly recall reading Charlotte’s Web 25 years ago to my then 5 year old son on a plane, me with tears rolling down my cheeks and he sobbing heartbrokenly “but wh-why did she have to d-ie?”. (and incidentally being cross with Kate who had recommended it but hadn’t warned me about the ending)

  • As It Is in Heaven by Nial Williams. His writing is sweet poetry and I sobbed every time I read it. Cry Freedom, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Frances Farmer – Will There be a Morning, Sybil and a couple by Lee Weatherly.
    And I agree. I’ve sobbed over Tuesdays with Morrie – definitely a book I hugged for a while. And, oh my gosh, I remember reading My Sister’s Keeper and sobbing on one page then laughing on the next. I was so vocal my hubbie couldn’t concentrate on his book. It was so painful to read I swore I’d never read another of Jodi’s books and have since read ten. Hee hee. What can I say? When a writer grips you like that, you have to go back for more. I agree with The Kite Runner and The Time Traveller’s Wife too. I couldn’t see the words for the tears.

  • Really late response, I know, but as far as children’s books, Love You Forever gets me every time. I can feel the tears start before I open to the first page.

    I have stopped reading it to my son though as I am not sure at 2 1/2 that he needs to understand why Mama cries at it, and I am sure that question is just around the corner. Where to you stand on when to introduce sad topics, age wise?

  • It’s never too late to comment on a Nosy Crow blog post, and thanks for doing so.

    I think that my equivalent (though it’s not quite as hard-hitting) of Love You Forever (which, like most of Robert Munch’s work except, perhaps, the Paper Bag Princess, is very little known in the UK) is Once There were Giants by Martin Waddell and Penny Dale (who has written and illustrated the very different Dinosaur Dig for Nosy Crow. My children really loved this book, which is about children growing up from babyhood and a new generation being born, but I think that one of the reasons they liked it was that they could see that I found it moving.

    My own children demonstrated a fascination with sadness and distress really early on: both of them were fascinated by the “Baby cry” spread of David Ellwand’s Big Book of Beautiful Babies, which was one of the reasons I was interested in publishing the Pip and Posy books (illustrated by Axel Scheffler), because they deal with the emotional roller-coaster of toddler life in which bad and sad (small) things happen as well as happy ones: ice-creams fall off cones, people fall off scooters and graze their knees.

    I think that, for books that deal with less tangible sad and bad things (books like Once There Were Giants) most children will be interested more in the adult’s reaction than the story, if the adult’s reaction is unusual. I think if you’re choked up, it’s OK, if you’re sobbing helplessly and tearing at your hair, it’s maybe best to avoid the book! By and large, I think that children take from books what they are ready to take from books.

    I have “used” picture books as a springboard to talk about bereavement and death too, particularly Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts, which I read several times to my children to give them a context, when it was later needed, for the death of someone in our family that we knew was dying.

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