Children's books are a wonderful way to start difficult conversations around loss, death and grief.
Explaining death and grief to young children is one of the most difficult conversations a parent, teacher or caregiver can have. Books are a wonderful resource for children coping with loss and can help open up the lines of communication. The following books have been chosen based on their ability to help bereaved children make sense of the difficult feelings associated with death and the healing process.
For more advice on helping children deal with death and grief, read eFuneral's article on how to help a child cope with loss.
1) The Purple Balloon, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka
The Purple Balloon gained national attention when it was published in 2010. The simple, heartfelt potato print illustrations by award-winning illustrator Chris Raschka explore what it means to be terminally ill in a way that’s remarkably digestible for young children. The main character, a red balloon, experiences the loss of his Grandmother before he himself becomes sick and eventually dies. This is a great resource for anyone working with a terminally ill young child.
2) I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas, illustrated by Lesley Harker
This book seeks to demystify death for young children by addressing a wide range of issues surrounding the loss of a loved one. It helps facilitate a healthy and straightforward conversation about why people die, how people die and what happens to them afterwards. Through this story, children can see that the feeling of grief is a natural reaction to loss.
3) The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
After the sudden loss of his mother, a boy fears that with time he will forget about her special qualities. The boy goes to great lengths to preserve her memory, from shutting all the windows in the house in order to keep in her scent, to reopening the scar on his leg in order to remember her love. His grandmother teaches him that a mother’s memory in fact lives in our hearts forever. The Scar is beautifully illustrated and less heavy-handed (it even includes some humor) than some other books for grieving children.
4) Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney, illustrated by Robyn Henderson Nordstrom
This is a great book for gently explaining death to young children. The story centers on a colony of water bugs that live in a quiet pond. As the bugs mature and fly off into the sky, the rest of the water bugs are left to wonder where they go when they leave and why they never return. This book’s abstract message is appropriate for a range of issues that a grieving child could be dealing with.
5) Goodbye Mousie by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Jan Ormerod
Although Goodbye Mousie is about the loss of a pet, it’s a useful tool for slowly introducing kids to the idea of mortality. By focusing on the loss of a mouse instead of a person, the realities of loss and death become more easily digestible for young children.
6) When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny, illustrated by Marc Brown
Rather than taking a narrative approach to explaining death, When Dinosaurs Die is a comprehensive, almost dictionary-like reference book for families with young children. Consider using this as an introduction to grief for children before they go through a serious personal loss.
7) Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine: Your Activity Book to Help when Someone has Died by Diana Crossley, illustrated by Kate Sheppard
This activity book for a bereaved child provides a structured outlet for the difficult feeling associated with the loss of a loved one. It helps a child make sense of her experience and understand the duality of remembrance and letting go.
8) The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illustrated by Komako Sakai
Bear is overwhelmed by grief when he discovers his best friend Bird lying dead in the woods. It isn’t until he meets Wildcat that he rediscovers friendship and learns to honor old memories while making new ones. The illustrations in The Bear and the Wildcat are especially beautiful and touching.
9) The Copper Tree: Helping a Child Cope with Death and Loss by Hilary Robinson, illustrated by Mandy Stanley
In The Copper Tree, a group of students are introduced to grief when their beloved teacher passes away. They learn that even though she is dead, her memory lives on. Author Hilary Robinson takes a tender and lighthearted approach towards helping young children understand death and the subsequent feeling of loss.
10) Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope when a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman
Like Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine, this is an activity book for bereaved children. Kids are guided through art therapy exercises to express through drawing what they are unable to describe through words.