Trying to teach your child about the loss of a loved one is arguably the hardest thing a parent has to do. Their young minds don’t understand the finality of death or that the person they love so much can’t just walk back through the door.
There are many different ways to approach the topic with your kids should the need arise. There are straight forward stories, fictionalized books that use metaphors to explain, or ones that have animals stand-in for their human counterparts.
Knowing which book about grief will work best for your child is a tricky task that comes down to a judgment call on your part of what will most resonate with your little one. We’ve tried to help by categorizing the picture books we’ve rounded up. Most of these can be found at your local library.
Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Philadelphia advises that “Research shows that being truthful with a child is always best, even when it comes to heavy topics like this. While it’s important, to tell the truth, it’s essential to do so in an age-appropriate manner. Speaking to a child in a language they will understand will help to reduce confusion, and ultimately, help to lessen any anxiety associated with the concept of death.”
If your child is struggling with accepting the death of a loved one, please seek professional help, We recommend speaking to a local psychologist (if you are in the Philadelphia area you can reach Dr. Zuckerman here) who can assist your family during the transition or recommend other providers who can help.
We’ve also included some resources to help you and your child during their time of need. If you are reading this post because you need it, we want to extend our deepest sympathies. We hope that this list of books about grief helps to ease the burden of finding the right way to talk to your loved one.
If you are looking for the best books for anxiety for adults, Dr. Zuckerman lists her favorites. And we also have a list of Dr. Bacow’s favorite books about anxiety for teens.
Practical/Serious Books About Grief for Kids
A practical format for allowing children to understand the concept of death and develop coping skills for life.
With unmitigated honesty, a touch of humor, and sensitive illustrations by Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen explores the experience of sadness in a way that resonates with us all.
Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.
Sad things happen to everyone, and sometimes people feel sad for no reason at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen. In this book the author writes about his sadness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it — like telling himself that everyone has sad stuff (not just him) and trying every day to do something he can be proud of.
Expressively illustrated by the extraordinary Quentin Blake, this is a very personal story that speaks to everyone, from children to parents to grandparents, teachers to grief counselors. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel deeply sad, the truth of this book will surely touch you.I miss you: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas
Some time ago, we said good-bye to Mommy. I am not sure where she has gone.
Honest and straightforward, this touching story explores the many emotions a bereaved child may experience, from anger and guilt to sadness and bewilderment. Ultimately, Missing Mommy focuses on the positive―the recognition that the child is not alone but still part of a family that loves and supports him.
Bestselling novelist (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and children’s (The Tia Lola Stories) author Julia Alvarez’s new picture book is a beautifully crafted poem for children that gently addresses the emotional side of death. The book asks, “When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? … Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, ‘You’re perfect, just as you are’? …” Illustrated by Vermont woodcut artist, Sabra Field, Where Do They Go? is a beautiful and comforting meditation on death, asking questions young readers might have about what happens to those they love after they die.
If you are going to buy only one book on grief, this is the one to get! It will validate your grief experience, and you can share it with your children. You can leave it on the coffee table so others will pick it up, read it, and then better appreciate your grieving time. Grand’s Cooking Tips section at the back of the book is rich with wisdom and concrete recommendations. Better than a casserole!
From the perspective of a young child, Joanna Rowland artfully describes what it is like to remember and grieve a loved one who has died. The child in the story creates a memory box to keep mementos and written memories of the loved one, to help in the grieving process. Heartfelt and comforting, The Memory Box will help children and adults talk about this very difficult topic together. The unique point of view allows the reader to imagine the loss of any they have loved – a friend, family member, or even a pet. A parent guide in the back includes information on helping children manage the complex and difficult emotions they feel when they lose someone they love, as well as suggestions on how to create their own memory box.
Poetic/ Lyrical Books about Grief for kids
Two girls were born on the same day, but one goes to live in the sky while the other remains on earth. And even though the girls are not together anymore in life, they’re certainly together in their dreams: from the zoo, to a birthday party, to the candy store, there’s no telling where the girls will go! The Girl Who Lives in the Sky is a colorful, bright, adventurous dream sequence that shows the power of love and connection that continues to exist between two people who are separated far too early. Although the girl who lives in the sky is gone, her presence is still felt and celebrated by those who cherish her memory.
There is a wonder and magic to childhood. We don’t realize it at the time, of course . . . yet the adults in our lives do. They encourage us to see things in the stars, to find joy in colors and laughter as we play.
But what happens when that special someone who encourages such wonder and magic is no longer around? We can hide, we can place our heart in a bottle and grow up . . . or we can find another special someone who understands the magic. And we can encourage them to see things in the stars, find joy among colors and laughter as they play.
Oliver Jeffers delivers a remarkable book, a touching and resonant tale reminiscent of The Giving Tree that will speak to the hearts of children and parents alike.
Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gently, naturally. And he comes with enough time to share a story with the children that helps them to realize the value of loss to life and the importance of being able to say goodbye.
A little boy and his family gather at the cemetery for the unveiling of his grandpa’s gravestone, bringing stones to place on the grave, in the Jewish custom. They tell stories that help the boy deal with his loss, reminding him of the wonderful memories he has of his grandpa.
Nature/ Animals Books about Grief for kids
Chester Raccoon’s good friend Skiddel Squirrel has had an accident and will not be returning – ever. Chester is upset that he won’t get to play with his friend anymore. Mrs. Raccoon suggests that Chester and his friends create some memories of Skiddel, so that they will have good memories when they miss him. Chester, his brother Ronny, and their friends decide to gather at the pond, where they combine their memories and create a touching celebration of their friend’s life.
All the woodland creatures—Mole, Frog, Fox, and Rabbit—love old Badger, who is their confidante, advisor, and friend. When he dies, they are overwhelmed by their loss. Then they begin to remember and treasure the memories he left them.
Told simply, directly, and honestly, this uplifting story will be of tremendous value to both children and their parents. A gentle classic that can help foster communication, care, and understanding.
A beautiful, honest portrait of loss and deep friendship told through the story of two iconic polar bears.
Gus lives in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city, and he spends his days with Ida. Ida is right there. Always.
Then one sad day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick, and she isn’t going to get better. The friends help each other face the difficult news with whispers, sniffles, cuddles, and even laughs. Slowly Gus realizes that even after Ida is gone, she will still be with him—through the sounds of their city, and the memories that live in their favorite spots.
Ida, Always is an exquisitely told story of two best friends—inspired by a real bear friendship—and a gentle, moving, needed reminder that loved ones lost will stay in our hearts, always.
This story by Leo Buscaglia is a warm, wonderfully wise and strikingly simple story about a leaf names Freddie. How Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter’s snow, is an inspiring allegory illustrating the delicate balance between life and death.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf is a warm and thought-provoking story and both children and adults will be deeply touched by this inspiring book. This 20th-anniversary edition of this beloved classic has helped thousands of people come to grips with life and death.
“Wise tree wizards talk to a squirrel and a tree about the tree’s impending death, and eventually help them both move toward accepting it.”—NYPL Blog
Gentle Willow is a book for children who may not survive their illness. This comforting story about a tender-spirited tree and her friends in the forest will also help all children with the death of friends, family members, or even pets. A healing metaphor, it addresses our feelings of sadness, love, disbelief, and anger, and provides children with a transformational way of viewing death and dying .Now in its second edition, Gentle Willow contains additional guidance to parents by children’s author and psychologist Jane Annunziata, Psy.D.
Losing a Pet
My cat Barney died this Friday. I was very sad. My mother said we could have a funeral for him, and I should think of ten good things about Barney so I could tell them…
But the small boy who loved Barney can only think of nine. Later, while talking with his father, he discovers the tenth — and begins to understand.
Through the lens of a pet fish who has lost his companion, Todd Parr tells a moving and wholly accessible story about saying goodbye. Touching upon the host of emotions children experience, Todd reminds readers that it’s okay not to know all the answers, and that someone will always be there to support them. An invaluable resource for life’s toughest moments.