Book Recommendations

The Memory Box:
A Book About Grief

By Joanna Rowland

Ages 5-9

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.

Never That Far

By Carol Lynch Williams

Ages 9-11

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 Princess and
The Warrior

by Duncan Tonatiuh

Ages 11-14

Can people who love each other stay together forever, even after death? This book recreates the legend passed down for generations about the formation of two volcanos southeast of Mexico City. Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl mean in Nahuatl 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 similarity to 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.

A Stopwatch From Grampa

By Loretta Garbutt

Ages 4-8

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.

Lasting Love

By Caroline Wright

Ages 7-9

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. 

Bone & Bread

By Saleema Nawaz

Ages 14-19

Set in Montreal, the novel is narrated by an older sister whose younger sister dies after struggling with an eating disorder for many years. The book moves from the present to the past and back again, bringing to life the people in their lives and the tragedies they have endured. Their father dies suddenly when they are young and then their mother dies when they are teens. The narrator touches on the quirkiness of their mother, their ties to Indian culture via their father and uncle, and the complicated relationship between the sisters and the oldest sister’s son. This book can be used with older teens and young adults to discuss complicated relationships, eating disorders or multiple losses. The book offers cultural diversity, which is not easy to find in books related to grief.

The Phone Booth
In Mr. Hirota's Garden

By Heather Smith

Ages 8-13

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.  

The Girl With More Than
One Heart

By Laura GEringer Bass

Ages 10-14

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.

Maybe Tomorrow?

by CHarlotte Agell

Ages 6-10

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.

A Terrible Thing Happened

By Margaret M. Holmes

Ages 4-6

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.

Where Do They Go?

By Julia Alvarez

Ages 5-11

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

Ages 5-11

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.

Ida, Always

By Caron Levis

Ages 5-11

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.

Edna

By Susan Paradis

Ages 4-11

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.

The Scar

by Charlotte Moundlic

Ages 5-11

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.

Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss

By Pat Schwiebert

Ages 11-18

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.

Death Is Stupid

By Anastasia Higginbotham

Ages 7-13

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.

Always and Forever

by Alan Durant

Ages 5-8

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.

Bird

By Zetta Elliott

Ages 11-18

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.

Life Is Like the Wind

By Shona Ines

Ages 5-8

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

Ages 5-11

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.

My Many Colored Days

By Dr. Seuss

Ages 5-18

My Many Colored Days takes the reader through different moods and emotions on different days, and associates a color with each emotion.

This book is great to validate different feelings a child might feel when someone dies, even if they don’t quite understand why they might be feeling that way on any given day.

Moody Cow Mediates

By Kerry Lee MacLean

Ages 5-11

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

Ages 5-13

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.

You’ve Got Dragons

By Kathryn Cave

Ages 11-18

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.

Liplap’s Wish

By Jonathan London

Ages 7-13

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

Ages 7-13

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.

Wish You Were Here:
A Fix-It Friends Book

By Nicole C. Kear

Ages 7-10

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.