Jump to reviews by developmental level:
A Stopwatch From Grampa
By Loretta Garbutt
Grampa’s stopwatch is a reminder to a young child of the activities they did together, but without Grampa, they’re not as much fun. As the seasons come and go, the stopwatch becomes a symbol of remembrance, and the child uses it to find the fun again in Grampa’s favorite pastimes.
Linking objects help us connect with the person who died. These can be items that once belonged to the person, something they gave us, a thing we made for them, even a picture or hat. Using this concept can help children understand that there are ways to stay connected with the person’s memory so they don’t forget.
A Terrible Thing Happened
By Margaret M. Holmes
Sherman Smith saw something “terrible”. He tried to forget about it, but it didn’t work. By keeping it in, he began to feel a lot of emotions – worry, sadness, anger. When Sherman begins to act out in school, he sees someone so that he can talk about and process what he saw.
This book is good for any child that have witnessed some kind of trauma.
By Susan Paradis
Edna the elephant is struggling with some bad memories. She tries to cover them up but feels like she is too tangled in them. Eventually someone comes along to help, but Edna isn’t ready. The person waits patiently, and eventually Edna lets her help.
This book is for children who have been affected by trauma and those who want to understand others’ experience of trauma.
Where Do They Go?
By Julia Alvarez
More a meditative poem than a book with a story line, Where Do They Go? gently addresses the emotional side of death.
The book asks questions that a child might want to know, but are a bit abstract.
When Dinosaurs Die
by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
This book is a good resource to introduce the topic of death, and addresses the thoughts and feelings that may come up.
This book takes the child though different reasons for someone’s death, as well as the feelings of grief. It categorizes other topics such as what it means to be dead or alive, as well as customs surrounding death.
The Memory Box:
A Book About Grief
By Joanna Rowland
In this book, the main character misses the person who died and is worried she’ll forget them. She starts to fill an empty box with things that will remind her of the person and asks others to share stories. She records them in a journal as well as the activities they had planned to do together. When she experiences new activities, such as riding the roller coaster for the first time, she writes about it. The box is decorated on the outside with stickers and drawings and inside is filled with items to remind her. She realizes that she won’t ever forget.
Creating a memory box is a great activity for children and teens – even adults – to do to remind us of the people who are no longer physically here.
Cry, Heart, But Never Break
By Glenn Ringtved
A gorgeous Danish picture book that tells the story of four children whose grandmother – and main caregiver – is old and dying. Death, personified, comes to the house, and the children do their best to entertain Death to keep him away from their grandmother and avoid her loss. Death tells them a story about two girls named Joy and Delight, who eventually meet what is missing from their lives – two boys named Grief and Sorrow. They marry each other and live together ever after. Through the story, Death shares with them the lessons “What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for day if there were no night?”. The book beautifully normalizes children’s grief, and in offering this tale, normalizes death as well.
In addition to young children, this book is suitable for teens and adults. Note that it specifically focuses on death at an old age, and may seem incongruous for children who have lost someone young, suddenly or through violence. That said, the intertwining of joy and sorrow stands.
By Caron Levis
Gus and Ida are two bears who live in a zoo. They do everything together: eat, play and swim. One day, Gus mentions he wishes he could see the city from the outside of the zoo. Ida explains that he doesn’t have to “see the city to feel the city.” Ida assures Gus that the city is with them “always”. When Ida becomes ill, their time together is different – yet they still share good and bad days together. Eventually Ida dies and though Gus has some rough days, he remembers that Ida is with him always – like the heartbeat of the city – when he goes to her favorite spot and thinks about all their memories.
This book is a great way to talk about memories and how to stay connected with someone who has died.
by Charlotte Moundlic
This book is about a child who is grieving his mother who died. He is overcome by and doesn’t know what to do with the whirlwind of emotions. He tries to do a lot of things to keep the memory of his mother alive, including keeping all the windows closed so that he can keep the smell of his mother from fading. One day the boy’s grandmother opens the windows and he is extremely upset, until she shows him how his mother is closer than he thinks even though she is not alive.
This is perfect for normalizing the emotion what come with grief in children who are struggling with the how to handle a death.
Always and Forever
by Alan Durant
In Always and Forever, a group of animals are dealing with the death of their friend Mr. Fox. They struggle with thinking about how they will be able to deal with life without him. Their friend Squirrel comes along and helps them connect with their memories of Mr. Fox, and reminds them that he is with them always through those memories.
This book is great to talk about memories and how they help stay connected with someone who has died.
Life Is Like the Wind
By Shona Ines
This story is a good introduction to death and great for explaining death to young children. This story also introduces theories that people have that people believe about what happens to a loved one after they die.
This book is great for a child who has had a loved one die, or just an introductory book about death in general.
Goodbye Little Dude
by Rebecca Trotsky
This book is about a young boy named Jonathan who is dealing with cancer. On his way home from treatment, he comes across a little turtle who is lost. Jonathan adopts the turtle, names him Little Dude, and makes him a class pet so that his friends can take care of him when he goes to treatment. As Little Dude gets stronger, Jonathan gets weaker. After Jonathan’s death, his classmates have LIttle Dude to remember him by.
This book is for children who have lost a classmate through a terminal illness.
Moody Cow Mediates
By Kerry Lee MacLean
Peter, aka “Moody Cow,” has a rough day from start to finish. His day started with a bad dream, and with frustrating things happening in-between, he gets so mad that he throws a ball through his window! His mother sends him to his grandfather, who validates Moody Cow’s anger, and teaches him how to meditate so that he can settle his mind.
This book teaches children how to meditate and settle their minds when they are frustrated.
The Invisible String
by Patrice Karst
When twins Liza and Jeremy are awakened by a storm, they find their mother and ask if they can stay close to her. She assures them that she would always be close to them even when they weren’t together, and tells them about the “invisible string” that connects them. They ask her a series of questions about different places they might be, and she assures them that anywhere they are, they are still connected to those that they love though the invisible string – even family members who have died.
This book teaches children that they will always be connected to their family and friends, even those who have died.
by CHarlotte Agell
The saying, “misery loves company,” is tossed in favor of an I’m okay with your sadness approach. The pink hippo, Elba, carries a huge block (which represents sadness) and doesn’t participate in fun activities. Along comes Norris, a happy-go-lucky green alligator who doesn’t take on Elba’s sadness and does not judge her for it. Norris continues to invite Elba to gradually do activities together, from sitting on her block at first, to having a picnic in the rain, until at last, Elba – still dragging her block (albeit getting smaller) – goes to visit the ocean with Norris.
This book can help normalize grief for young children. Somewhat older children will appreciate learning that grief does not need to be fixed. Through the image of the block, this book highlights that sadness can stay with us and grief is a lifelong journey that will change, but may continue to be present.
By Caroline Wright
A child sees his mother’s health fading. He experiences the presence of his mother’s love – from her dying days to her death – which is illustrated by a sweet looking creature. The creature keeps the child company through his grief, not trying to make them happy, just being present.
While the text and illustrations are uncomplicated, the theme can be unsettling for younger children. This book could be useful in guided discussion – an adult with a child or used in a group setting. The sweet illustrations and simple text can be used to guide the discussion, such as: What do you think is happening to the mother? What are the dad and child doing in the picture? What is cremation? What are some ways people use cremated remains? What are activities you do now that you did with your person? Draw a picture of what your “comfort creature” looks like to you.
Wish You Were Here:
A Fix-It Friends Book
By Nicole C. Kear
Sometimes, children want to help their friends who are grieving but don’t know how. Veronica has problems of her own – a really smart brother, a baby sister, grandparents who are babysitting and a younger cousin who will be visiting while her parents are away. While she’s busy dealing with all the commotion at home, as a member of the Fix-It club, she’s compelled to help her friend whose pet has died. Does grief need to be fixed? How can we be a good friend to someone dealing with grief?
Owning pets can help children have compassion for others and learn responsibility in caring for them. The death of a pet can help children understand the cycle of life – and death – and how grief doesn’t have to be fixed. This book is a good segue to that discussion. Having caring friends can help the journey to healing.
Death Is Stupid
By Anastasia Higginbotham
Death Is Stupid tells the story of a boy who lost his ‘Gramma’. It takes the reader through some unhelpful things that someone might say to a child, and validates fears, concerns, and emotions surrounding the death of a loved one.
This book is for children freshly experiencing the death of a loved one.
By Jonathan London
Liplap is coping with his grandmother’s death. He fashions a snow bunny that reminds him of this grandmother, but still gets sad thinking about the fact that his grandma is not around anymore. Liplap’s mother tells him an “old rabbit’s tale” that when rabbits die, they become stars. Liplap wished that his grandma was one of the stars that looked as white as her fur. Once he makes his wish, he believes the star is his grandma.
This book is great for children who are struggling to feel connected to a loved one who has died.
Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
by Audrey Penn
Chester Raccoon’s friend Skiddel Squirrel dies in an accident. Chester and his friend are trying to make sense of it, and cope with what that means for them. They find comfort in different memories of Skiddel.
This book is great to help children in memory making of a loved one who has died.
The Phone Booth
In Mr. Hirota's Garden
By Heather Smith
In this picture book based on a true story, a tsunami floods Makio’s village in Japan, causing the death of many people. Makio’s neighbor, Mr. Hirota, sets up a phone booth with an unconnected black rotary telephone that he uses to “talk” to the person who died. Makio then starts to make “calls” to his father, who “was snatched by the ocean.”
Unlike many other grief related books, this book addresses the situation of communal grief while focusing on personal loss. The concept of grieving for one’s person during a time when others are also grieving can be useful during periods of natural disasters, war, or a pandemic. The book highlights the healing practice of talking to the person who died, which some children find challenging to do and could benefit from being normalized as a coping skill.
Benny and Penny in How To Say Goodbye
by Geoffrey Hayes
Penny grieves for her friend, Little Red, who died and works with Melina to find just the right place to bury Little Red’s body and shares memories, goodbye words and a song. Her brother, Benny, doesn’t want anything to do with the funeral until he is filled with sadness, too, and regret. Penny offers Benny consolation, “You can be nice to him now.” The three decorate the site with things Little Red liked.
Younger children can enjoy reading simple language with illustrations of adorable animals in the woods, where the life cycle is subtly explored, through fallen leaves and reference to animals that have died. The book can help explore feelings and help prepare children for human funerals. Help younger children identify things the person liked to keep connected with their memories. Due to brain development, most children’s memories fade over time, especially memories that occurred before the age of five. Sharing stories of the person can help build the memory banks of younger children.
By Nicola Davies
Sometimes, the dreams that someone leaves undone can be a source of grief, too. In this beautifully illustrated book, a child tries to make the hole in the back yard into the pond their father never completed before he died, but their brother and mother are not having any of it. After winter, spring brings rain, a duck, tadpoles, and frogs to the watery hole. Now the three of them work together to finish it, adding a liner, fish, and a waterlily plant that blooms golden. It becomes a place to connect with their dad and with each other.
The impressionist illustrations, with lots of blues and greens, shows the transformations and cycles of life in the pond. This book touches on various feelings, such as when a child is angry at the person who died, even for dying. It also highlights the changes that happen after a death – changes in feelings, relationships, even homes.
Do Fish Sleep?
By Jens Raschke & Jens Rassmus
My Father's Words
By Patricia MacLachlan
You've Got Dragons
By Kathryn Cave
This story uses dragons as a metaphor for worries and fears. It allows children to know that everyone at different points in their life has dragons that seem impossible to vanquish. The more one tries to ignore their dragons, the harder it is to get rid of them, but if the dragons are acknowledged, then they eventually go away on their own.
This book is great for helping older children address their worries and fears, and helps teach coping skills.
One Wave At A Time
By Holly Thompson
Kai experiences many different feelings after his father’s death. The feelings come in like waves – they come and go and come back again – on different days and at different times. He also notices the impact of the death on his mother and sibling. With patience from his family and the support of a grief group, he learns to accept these feelings and also remember his father’s songs.
The vivid illustrations and the lyrical words give poignancy to the topic of loss and grief. The story also illustrates a few ways to cope by remembering and honoring the person who died.
By Diane de Anda
The moon shone orange the night Mariela and her father ate a mango. It was the last time she saw him. Mariela is worried and sad, and even gets sick. During her father’s detention and subsequent deportation, Mariela greatly misses him but finds a connection by looking at the moon and wondering if he is seeing it, too.
Forced separation – be it from incarceration, deportation, war, natural disaster, or migration – can be difficult for young children. While there is the hope of seeing their missing ones again sometime in the future, the feelings associated with a forced separation can be similar to the grief experienced after a death, including hopelessness and despair. With skillful discussion around this topic, children can explore their feelings around loss and find meaningful ways to stay connected.
Never That Far
By Carol Lynch Williams
In this book, Libby’s grandfather – who has died – visits her and sends her on a hunt to discover the family’s secret. After a death, do spirits visit us? Libby’s father doesn’t think so and this creates friction between Libby and him. Libby seeks to uncover what her dad refuses to believe.
Whether you believe or not, it’s a good place for a conversation about what happens after death and how we can keep memories alive when the person is no longer physically present.
The Girl With More Than One Heart
By Laura GEringer Bass
Briana has enough on her mind with the struggles of middle school relationships and a younger brother on the autism spectrum. When her favorite parent dies, she takes on more responsibility for her brother while their mother struggles with her own grief. Briana finds herself hearing her father’s voice, which guides her as she deals with all that’s being asked of her.
Adults grieve, too, and while that grief may look different, it can have a profound effect on children. Having guided discussions can help pre-teens and young teens understand how death can change a family and how grief will look different for each member. For young people, grief can be complicated with role changes at home, the relationships with their peers, and school work. This book offers fertile grounds for discussions in small groups or classroom.
The Princess and the Warrior
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Can people who love each other stay together forever, even after death? This book recreates a legend passed down for generations about the formation of two volcanos southeast of Mexico City. In the Nahuatl language, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl mean White (Sleeping) Woman and Smoky Mountain, and represent the promise that el Popo, a warrior, made to Izta, the princess, to always be by her side.
Readers may find similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; however, the illustrations and setting place this book squarely in ancient Mexico, where storytelling has taken place for thousands of years. Discussion can center around making and keeping promises, even after the death of someone we love.
by Andrea Wang and pictures by Jason Chin
The main character finds herself in a ditch, foraging for watercress with her immigrant family. What if she’s seen by schoolmates? She’s already teased for having to wear hand-me-down clothes and getting free furniture that others have put out curbside for trash pickup. Now dinner is served with this free food they picked from the roadside ditch! When she refuses to eat it, her mother shares her own history of hunger and the reasons they moved to the United States.
Embarrassment, anger, sadness, shame, and appreciation are expressed in this endearing book. Children of immigrants with a history of loss and grief often experience these feelings, not only from death but other losses that accompany them on their journeys to the U.S. The author, in a post-script, implores families to share their stories so their children learn empathy and pride in who they are based on where their families have come from. This Caldecott Honoree book is rich with opportunities to discuss ambiguous loss, death, and finding connections while trying to fit in.
When You Trap a Tiger
By Tae Keller
By Hervé Bouchard
A graphic novel-style autobiography about the day the author’s father died of a sudden heart attack. He walks the reader through the seemingly normal afternoon when he and his brother were walking home from school, only to find the neighborhood standing outside their door, and their father – already dead – being entered into an ambulance. He expresses many common parts of the experience of sudden loss for children: How adults explain things (and don’t); the small details that get stuck in their memories; how unbelievable the whole thing seems; and how small a child can feel in the face of death. The writing is minimal, the illustrations are beautiful, and the story of Harvey’s loss comes gently, but clearly through.
This book is good for children 10+, as well as teens and adults who want to better understand one inner experience of a child who faced sudden loss.
By Zetta Elliott
Mehkai, nicknamed Bird by his grandfather, is coping with his grandfather’s death when he loses his older brother to a drug overdose. As he struggles to make sense of his life, he finds a sanctuary in drawing. Bird allows children who might be dealing with tough home lives to connect with and relate to this character.
This book is best for children who have lost a loved one to addiction.
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss
By Pat Schwiebert
Tear Soup tells the story of Grandy, who experiences the death of her husband and makes tear soup as a coping mechanism.
This book will help older children understand the grief process and normalize whatever emotions they’re feeling.
The Line Tender
By Kate Allen
It’s been six years since Lucy’s mother died, and Lucy has been forced to rely on neighbors and her best friend, Fred, while her father spends most of his time at work. This year, Lucy and Fred spend the summer working on a school project about sea animals. They also spend time buying records or art supplies, riding their bikes, exploring the town and the beach. Now in her early teens, Lucy’s detects changes in her feelings about Fred and their evolving friendship. After an accident, Lucy works to complete the Field Guide, focusing on the Great White sharks that are appearing on the beach. She uses her mother’s scientific reports and contacts her mother’s colleagues, while learning more about the sharks that intrigued Fred. In her grief, Lucy is left figuring out what her relationship with Fred was really about, and learning more about her mother’s life and work.
While grief can be isolating, this book reminds us about the importance of friends and neighbors in supporting each other after a loss and finding meaning and forgiveness in everyday interactions.
Santiago's Road Home
By Alexandra Diaz
After the death of his mother, Santiago is shipped off to live with different relatives. Despite making himself useful (for example, babysitting cousins), he is under-appreciated and often mistreated. At eleven years old, he makes choices that lead him to team up with a young woman and her child to cross the border to the US. After the killing of the Coyote who would lead them across, Santiago finds himself taking the lead in finding the way. Once across, the three are separated and held in detention. Here, Santiago manages to survive daily injustices, makes friends, learns to read and write. The question remains, can he keep hope alive that he’ll be able to stay in the US with no family to claim him.
This book is useful for having discussions around loss, grief, separation, and immigration. It also is a powerful reminder that family can be formed in different ways, as long as there is love, trust, and commitment to each other.
Older Teens & Young Adults
And Then The Gray Heaven
By R.E. Katz
Imagine not being able to visit a loved one in the hospital or participate in their funeral planning? While many people have experienced this during the coronavirus pandemic, these experiences can and do happen to those in relationships not officially recognized by others. Having lived in foster care for years, Jules creates a home with their partner, someone who accepts them fully for who they are. Now their partner has been injured. While Jules’ partner lies unresponsive, the hospital only allows family to visit. After the death, Jules receives a portion of the cremains and makes a pilgrimage to all the museum exhibits their partner helped design. Jules grieves and learns to create their own way in life with friends and neighbors who care.
Teens in the LGBTQIA+ community and others might relate to the question of access and having a say in the care and funeral arrangements after a death. Guided discussions around disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss can be rich and helpful to youth.
Bone & Bread
By Saleema Nawaz
Notes On Grief
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The accomplished American and Nigerian writer describes her personal grief journey following her father’s death. She writes about her close relationship with her father, his experiences and accomplishments, and the toll of mourning while separated from kin because of travel restrictions imposed due to Covid. The author reflects on having a dual culture and dual language, giving the reader an insight into mourning rituals in a different part of the world. However, she also illustrates through her exquisite words the universality of grief after the death of someone close to us.