Top 10: Books for Children Dealing with Death and Grief

    March 13, 2013 5 Comments

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 to understand 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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: The Purple Balloon

The Purple Balloon gained national attention when it was published in 2010, and for good reason.  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 died.  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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: I Miss You

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.  Children learn that the feeling of grief is a natural reaction to loss.

3. The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

Children's Books on Death and Dying: The Scar

After the sudden loss of his mother, a boy fears that with time, he will forget about her special qualities.  The boy goes through 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 lovingly 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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: Water Bugs

This is a great book for gently explaining death to young children.  It centers on a colony of water bugs that live in a quite 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 child could be dealing with.

5. Goodbye Mousie by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Jan Ormerod

Children's Books on Death and Dying: Goodbye Mousie

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 actualities 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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: When Dionsaurs Die

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.  Chapters include: What Does Alive Mean? Why Does Someone Die? Keeping Customs, and Ways to Remember Someone.  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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: Muddles Puddles

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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: The Bear and the Wildcat

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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: The Copper Tree

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

Children's Books on Death and Dying: Help Me Say Goodbye

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 through words.

To learn more about the books listed above, as well as other great reading options for children dealing with death and grief, check out eFuneral’s Pinterest page. And for more of my favorites, read my other Top 10 lists related to caregiving, end-of-life, death, dying, and loss.

Nicholas Kania works in marketing for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, an online resource providing caregivers and those thinking about end-of-life with free, helpful information. 

  • Emma

    This is a valuable list, thank you. I’ll be sharing this with the hope that it reaches the right family at the right time. I’d also recommend ‘Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute?’ by Elke Barber & Anna Jarvis. It explains the sudden death of a dad, using gentle dialogue.

    • eFuneral

      Thank you Emma! We appreciate the recommendation and will be sure to check it out.

  • Julia Simens

    Thanks so much for such a wonderful list. Working with a global population, I always try to give multi cultural stories as well as stories that deal with the issues that happen when a death occurs in a family. Here are my top four today:

    “Fly High – the story of Bessie Colemen” (Borden 2001) determined to ‘be someone’ received her international pilot license in 1921 – a story about her and her death

    “My man Blue” (grimes 2002) death of a father and how a child learns to accept a new friends of his mother.

    “Mama does the Mambo” (Leiner 2001) Death of a dad but Mom and daughter still have a passion for music and dance.

    “Papa’s Latkes” (Edwards 2004) death of a mom then dad and girls build new traditions.

    • eFuneral

      Julia, thank you for your insights. You’re absolutely right – there is great value in books with a multi-cultural perspective as well as those that pertain to deaths within a family. We’ll be sure to check out the books you mentioned! Thank you!

  • Jackie Morris

    Badger’s Parting Gifts also springs to mind. And I have written two: The Sea Children and The Snow Leopard. They leave a great deal of space for conversation.

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