Find solace in healing words.
This tender subject is too often avoided -- that is, until it is unavoidable. When children have questions about death and grief, let's do our best to answer them honestly and compassionately. Here are a few beautiful books to help your family begin a conversation about death, grief, and the cycles of life.
You may also want to explore our collection of Chapter Books about Death and Grief.
Wondering how to approach a conversation about death and grief?
Visit the Child Development Institute's thoughtful article "How to Talk to Kids About Death." Along with a brief assessment of the developmental stages of understanding death, the guidelines in this article are helpful for anyone approaching the topic from a theoretical perspective.
If you are reaching out to a child who has experienced the loss of a loved one, look for insight at the Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children and Families, especially in this article: "How to Help a Grieving Child."
As always, while reading any of the books below, make time to ask:
How do you think the character is feeling (in various parts of the book)?
How do you think you feel if you were in that situation?
What did you think of this book?
What questions do you have?
What are some of the ways people might feel when someone dies? How are you feeling?
How can you help friends when they are sad?
Who are some people you can talk to if you are having a hard day?
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfield
This deeply moving story is a powerful tool for helping young children understand how to support a friend who is sad. It is a perfect meditation on loss, friendship, and the power of listening.
Always Remember by Cece Meng
This poetic tale illustrates the role of memory in keeping our loved ones alive. The sea creatures are recalling their favorite moments with Old Turtle, and find comfort in the fact that he's not truly gone, as long as they have these memories.
Angel Catcher for Kids: A Journal to Help You Remember the Person You Loved Who Died by Amy Eldon
The simple prompts in this well-loved journal may help younger children explore and record their memories of their lost loved one.
Cry Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved
This simple, beautifully-told story from award-winning Danish author Glenn Ringtved, features death as a gentle houseguest. He then tells four children a story to help them understand grief, loss, and the importance of saying goodbye.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: a story of Life for all Ages by Leo Buscaglia
This classic story is perfect, both simple and comforting. A little leaf named Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter's snow.
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Our hearts are connected by an invisible string, even when we can't see each other. This sweet book will reassure young children coping with separation or loss.
Ida, Always by Caron Levis
Based on two, beloved polar bears from the New York City Zoo, this book explores the loss of a good friend with great tenderness.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryon Mellonie
"All around us, everywhere, beginnings and endings are going on all the time. With living in between." This is a book to fall in love with, a book to read even when death is not a major topic around the house.
The Next Place by Warren Hanson
This simple non-denominational poem beautifully expresses the release, relief, and freedom death might bring.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
This book is on the secular end of the spectrum. The writing is beautiful, the story is simple, and both children and adults will find comfort in its pages.
Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney
This gracefully adapted fable features a water bug that changed into a dragonfly in order to explain death to a five-year-old. This book is more traditionally religious than The Next Place (see above). Children may be interested in the metaphor of the dragonfly larva, who live below the surface of the water, and their transformation into adult dragonflies, to illustrate the notion of someone going beyond our sight to a marvelous place.
Please share your recommendations in the comments below.
We realize the topics of death and grief are deeply entwined with personal spiritual beliefs, so feel free to share whatever speaks to you and your family. There are likely many others just like you who will be grateful for an additional resource.
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The recommendations we offer are based solely on our mission to empower parents to raise children who care and contribute.