Book collection to help children of parents who are incarcerated

Center for Child Well-Being, ASU Library collaborate on Empathy Through Literacy book collection

Empathy Through Literacy, Noble Library, Arizona State University, Center for Child Well-Being

The Empathy Through Literacy book collection at Arizona State University's Noble Library. The collection, designed to help children of parents who are or who have been incarcerated, appears through a collaboration between ASU Library and the ASU Center for Child Well-Being, based at the Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions. ASU photo


More than 2.7 million American children are directly affected by the current incarceration of a parent or loved one. Many of them, as well as their relatives and peers, lack the resources to deal with the associated feelings of shame and stigmatization.

Arizona State University's Center for Child Well-Being and the ASU Library have put together a collection of 64 books designed to help Arizona’s nearly 100,000 children of parents who are incarcerated better cope with their feelings.

The books are part of the “Empathy Through Literacy” collection developed by the center. They are directed at a range of ages from early reader to young adult and are available to visitors to the main floor of ASU’s Noble Library on the Tempe campus.

ASU Library’s participation in this project was motivated by the library’s recent “Future of Print” initiative, which was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as an effort to transform engagement with library print collections, said Shari Laster, who is head of ASU Library’s Open Stack Collections.

Laster said visitors will see that this collection looks different from what they may expect in a traditional academic library book display. It’s meant to invite exploration and engagement and to offer the public more insight, based on the experiences of those involved, into the lives of children who are dealing with family members and loved ones who are incarcerated, she said.

Laster said the books will help children of incarcerated parents understand that they have done nothing wrong — something that their peers need to know, as well.

“They are books that are rich in imagery, and include fiction as well as nonfiction,” she said. “It’s easy to pick them up and read them. We hope people reading them will make connections in their own lives, maybe to someone they know or maybe to understand the experience of what it’s like to be a person in these situations.”

Laster said while the collection is currently at Noble Library, ASU affiliates can request materials from this display for quick delivery to an ASU Library location convenient to them.

Many times children, teens and young adults whose parent or loved one is incarcerated feel very alone and stigmatized, said Judy Krysik, director of the Center for Child Well-Being, which is based at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“There’s a lot of shame that goes with it,” said Krysik, a School of Social Work associate professor. “This exhibit shows that if they pick up a book about how others have dealt with it, it’s not uncommon, it helps them know they are not alone. The books can also help parents, caretakers and teachers who need to know the language of how to talk to a young child about incarceration.”

In addition, Krysik said some parents feel they have to keep their or a family member’s prior incarceration a secret because they’re afraid their children won’t be invited to play dates and parties at other children’s homes. Grandparents and other family members may also feel the impacts of this, she said.

“The occurrence of incarceration is so common in this country, and a lot of understanding and empathy needs to be developed,” Krysik said.

Donors including the Hickey Family Foundation have provided funds to purchase books from the collection to be sent to Arizona children’s hospitals, the state Department of Child Safety’s placement center, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and the Children’s First Leadership Academy, as well as to public libraries that do not have the funds to purchase the books, Krysik said.

Krysik said posters are being printed promoting the collection and will be displayed in the counseling centers at all four ASU campuses. The counseling center is starting a support group for those affected by incarceration, she said.

Posters also will be sent to several Arizona libraries, with those in rural areas being especially targeted in hopes they will draw attention to the books being available there as well.

Krysik said the center’s next target is to offer the books for placement in visitor areas of jails and prisons so parents can read them with their children.

For more information about the project or to donate, visit

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