A few weeks ago, a woman came into the store where I work and asked me if I could recommend any books for her 4-year-old daughter about grieving. The little girl’s grandmother was very ill, and her mother wanted her to be prepared for when the worst eventually happened. We had very few books on hand that would help a small child deal with death, and worse still, they weren’t listed as books that could deal with death. I found one of my sources below, and that helped me find an appropriate book for my customer that left her relieved because she really had no idea how to begin to prepare her daughter for what was coming.
The list below will be, I hope, a good start for anyone in need of a book to deal with loss and can lead you to other appropriate books. I’ve separated out my selections by type and then by age appropriateness. For picture books, I’ve focused on helping parents find the right book to help their children under the age of 8 who deal with the loss of a parent or grandparent. For those 8 and up, I’ve focused more on the subject of losing a friend. These are books they can take home when they find themselves alone and unsure of what to do next. The list is a small sampling of books available on this subject, and most of my selections were located at the Port Washington Library. All were available throughout the Nassau Library System.
Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs
by Tomie dePaola
G.P Putnam’s and Sons, 1973
Parents who are concerned about how to prepare their young children for the death of a grandparent will want to read this classic story of loss. Tommy wakes up one day and discovers that his “Nana Upstairs” is no longer with them. He learns what it means to lose a loved one and that they will always live with us in our memories.
Pearl’s Marigolds for Grandpa by Jane Breskin Zalben
Simon & Schuster, 1997
Parents will find an excellent way to help children deal with the passing of a loved one in Pearl’s Marigolds for Grandpa. When Pearl loses her grandfather, she chooses to focus on all the good memories of him and continues doing the things she learned from him. Like gardening. She loves gardening and plants marigolds in loving memory using skills her grandfather taught her. In the back of the book, the author provides different customs from around the world for mourning loved ones.
Rabbityness. by Jo Empson
Child’s Play, 2012.
For children, the loss of someone close creates a void in their lives. Rabbityness is the tale of a larger-than-life rabbit who fills everyone’s life with color and music. When Rabbit disappears, his friends must deal with the emptiness left in the wake of this event. Parents will be able to guide their children through this very tough time by helping them recognize what was so special about the person they lost. This will help inspire kids to discover what makes each of them special, so they can fill the void.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story Of Life For All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
SLACK Incorporated, 1982
Leo Buscaglia introduces us to a leaf named Freddie. Readers will follow Freddie through the changing seasons and learn, along with Freddie, the passage of time and what it means to lose one’s friends. Parents will find a wonderful analogy to explain to children what aging and death is, so they can learn to cope with the permanent loss of a loved one.
A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes, Cary Pillo (Illustrator)
Magination Press, 2000.
Traumatic events are all over the news. But what do you do when your child witnesses or experienced tragedy firsthand? Holmes and Pillo have crafted a story of one such child who saw the most “terrible thing” and how he met someone he could talk to about it. Encouraging children to discuss their thoughts, fears, and concerns is a great step toward helping them feel better. At the end of the book, the creators provide parents with tools and resources to help them speak to their children and guide them through understanding their emotions.
Missing Mommy: A Book About Bereavement
by Rebecca Cobb
Henry Holt and Company, 2013
Told from a child’s point of view, parents will find this story a great resource to teach children that the conflicting thoughts and emotions they feel, with the loss of a parent, are normal. A Book About Bereavement offers a positive outlook on life and reinforcement for children that they are not alone. That they still have family and friends who love and care for them very much.
The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic,
Olivier Tallec (Illustrator)
Candlewick Press, 2011
A child can become overwhelmed with emotions when dealing with the loss of a parent. Anger at being “abandoned,” confusion about who will take care of them now, and how things will be taken care of. The Scar will help children experience these emotions through the eyes of another. Moundlic and Tallec do a wonderful job capturing the fear a child experiences in forgetting smells and the sound of a parent’s voice. This story ultimately leaves young readers with the lesson that one’s parents will always live on in their hearts, and this is what will help them deal with their pain and confusion.
Bridge to Terabithia. Screenplay by Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson. Book by Katherine Paterson
Walt Disney Video, 2007. 96 min.
Based on the Newbery award-winning novel by Katherine Paterson of the same name, this film offers a magical look at friendship and loss through Jess’ eyes. Losing a close friend suddenly, without warning, can be very scary and heartbreaking. Bridge to Terabithia guides you through this hard time of confusion, shock, even anger with a message of strength that offers a way to deal with tragic loss. Along with Jess, you’ll learn how you can honor your friendship and the memory of the one you lost.
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Tuck Everlasting. Screenplay by Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart. Book by Natalie Babbitt.
Walt Disney Video, 2002. 90 min.
Do you ever think about living forever? It sure is scary to think about life coming to an end. But it’s also normal. In Tuck Everlasting, based on Natalie Babbitt’s modern classic, fear of death is turned on its ear. This is a timeless tale that takes Winnie and her new friend Jesse, a boy who’s so full of life, on an adventure that could lead to everlasting life. But what’s really scarier: not living anymore or living and never getting to do what you want? This story explores the value of life and also what it means to no longer be alive. And there’s something else this story shows us ¾ that being sad, as bad as that feels, makes us aware of just how alive we are.
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The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Audio CD)
Hachette Audio, 2015.
How do you make sense of anything when your best friend is suddenly taken from you? Suzy is having a very hard time with this. Plus her parent’s are going through a divorce. Things are really tough, but more than anything, Suzy wants to know what happened to her friend. So she turns to science to look for clues. Benjamin’s story explores how Suzy deals with her loss and her emotions. It also shows how important it is to focus on the life of someone who’s gone instead of how they left us.
Our Dad Died: The True Story of Three Kids Whose Lives Changed by Amy Dennison
Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 2003.
Grieving can be a lonely experience for a kid. And adults might not get that. Or they might be too busy to notice the sadness. Inside the pages of Our Dad Died, you’ll find journal entries written by three kids who lost their father. You’ll read all their thoughts and everything they felt. Written by children, for children, you’ll learn that what you’re feeling is normal and that you aren’t alone. Comments and notes at the end of each chapter can help you and your parents share and express emotions.
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