One in five children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18.1 The gravity and complexity of loss and grief often brings chaos and uncertainty into the minds and lives of adults. Knowing that, the question then becomes how do we best support and equip children to weather the layers and stages of grief at their current developmental stage?
Beyond the general vulnerability and discomfort that often come with discussing heavy topics like grief, there is another obstacle: presenting the material in a way that is digestible and applicable for young minds. These books excel at that since they were written with children in mind.
General Books on Grief for Children
1. Angel Catcher for Kids: A Journal to Help You Remember the Person You Love Who Died written by Amy Eldon, illustrated by Adam McCauley
Much of the praise for this journal has been for its nonlinear approach. It is not overly structured – giving little minds just enough prompting to open their hearts and remember moments with the person they have lost. A healthy outlet to assist your child as they weather the confusing seven stages of grief and loss, this book offers a safe space for young minds to unleash and understand their feelings. With spaces for writing, drawing, coloring, and even pages where photos can be attached, this book offers a creative place for children to express their feelings and recall their memories without feeling pressured to do something the “right” way. There are no rigid rules to this journal, and that’s exactly what makes it such a great tool for young minds.
2. Ida, Always written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso
Ida, Always is inspired by a real life bear friendship, which makes this book an especially great pick for children who feel a strong connection to animals. This is a story of friendship, love, and loss between Gus and Ida, two polar bears who are the best of friends. Ida becomes terminally ill, and this book explores the emotional journey she and Gus go on as they navigate the time they have left together, knowing that an end is on the horizon. This book speaks about Ida’s death in plain and straightforward language – which is exceedingly important when discussing death with children – while also providing reassurance, comfort, and hope in the midst of very real pain and grief. It does a beautiful job of offering clarity and hope, while also acknowledging the full depth of grief and loss.
3. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
The Rabbit Listened is a book that explores grief from two angles: how to comfort and support someone dealing with loss, and how to weather your own seasons of grief. Doerrfeld uses different animals as symbols of the many ways that people often try to “instruct” or “control” our grief when we experience loss. When something sad happens in Taylor’s life all of the animals think they know the answer that will fix it and make everything better. Each of them tries to tell Taylor how to act and how to feel – but none of it seems quite right. Then along comes the rabbit, and they do something very radical: they listen. The underlying message is a powerful one that even adults often forget – that oftentimes, the best support is to listen without judgment or attempting to “fix” anything. Just being present with people in their pain and reminding them that they are not weathering this storm alone is often the best support we can offer in times of grief and loss.
4. Death Is Stupid (Ordinary Terrible Things) written and illustrated by Anastasia Higginbotham
This book approaches a layer of grieving that people often steer clear of – anger. Death Is Stupid is for the child who is angry about losing someone they love, and does not want their frustration to be met with superficial platitudes or lighthearted euphemisms. This book is a reminder that sometimes things that happen in life don’t make sense to us, they really hurt, and they make us feel angry – and that anger isn’t something that needs to be “fixed,” it is a valid feeling in response to a painful circumstance. Higginbotham does a fantastic job of approaching kids in a way that doesn’t feel infantilizing or minimizing. Instead, the message here rests on a foundation of straightforward and simple language that respects the fact that children often have a much higher capacity for understanding, feeling, and growing than society gives them credit for.
Children’s Books About the Death of a Grandparent
Losing a grandparent is a common experience for many children. These are a few books written with the intention of helping little minds understand their emotions and process their grief while dealing with the loss of a grandparent or elderly loved one.
5. Cry, Heart, But Never Break written by Glenn Ringtved illustrated by Charlotte Pardi
This book has been acclaimed as simple and profound. Four grandchildren are made aware that Death is coming to pay their grandmother a visit. In an effort to keep Death from taking her away the children offer him copious amounts of coffee, and try to entertain him as they implore him to let her stay. Death shares quite a powerful story with them about the relationship between two brothers, Sorrow and Grief, and the two sisters they fell in love with, Joy and Delight. This story segues into a poignant message about loss and grieving from Death who is both unapologetic, and gently reassuring, that life and love will endure, and our hearts can bear the grief, even if, at times, it feels as if we cannot. While grieving a loss may be an emotionally tumultuous journey, we can continue to grow stronger and learn to live more fully through the process.
6. Always Remember by Cece Meng illustrated by Jago
Without acknowledging any particular deity or religion, Always Remember focuses on an idea that exists within many belief systems: that once we are gone from this physical world we leave behind a legacy that outlives us through the memories and relationships we shared with other people throughout our time on earth. After Old Turtle takes his final breath, and the ocean gently takes his body away, his friends sit together and reflect on the many positive ways he impacted their lives. Through sharing their stories they have a revelation: Old Turtle is not truly gone because his memory and his legacy continue to live on in their hearts and minds. This book is a tale of a life fully lived, and how the memories we make with those we love will outlast and outlive us long after our physical existence is over.
7. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
This is a classic story told through the lens of woodland creatures that can help foster care, communication, and understanding in times of grief and loss. Old Badger was a dear friend, a wise confidante, and a trusted advisor for Mole, Frog, Fox, and Rabbit. When he dies they all find themselves emotionally crushed by the loss, but what they find through their shared pain is community and comfort with each other. They take turns sharing memories about their time with Badger, and are reminded of what a gift it was to know and love him. If you know a child who is grieving someone they love, and they need help finding uplifting ways to remember the person they miss, or gentle support processing their grief, this poignant and endearing story could be very helpful – as one teacher described it, “like a healing hug for a hurting heart.”
Children’s Books About the Death of a Parent
One of the hardest things to acknowledge in life is the reality that tragedies occur. Sometimes, those tragedies leave children grieving the loss of a parent far earlier than anyone ever expects. These books can be helpful in empowering children to feel their feelings deeply without shame or judgment.
8. The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Rowland Illustrated by Thea Baker
“I’m scared I’ll forget you…”
That is how this story starts, but where it leads is an idea for a tangible keepsake to help your child ensure that memories of a lost loved one don’t go unremembered. A powerful story that is told directly from the child’s point of view, it acknowledges several tricky aspects of living through grief. One of the most poignant moments is when the child is reminded that while it’s wonderful to hold on to memories, you also do not have to feel guilty for making new ones.
There is even a parent guide in the back of the book that provides information to help children process the layered and complex emotions that come with grieving the loss of someone they love, as well as suggestions on how to create your own memory box.
9. Finn’s Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbott
While Finn’s Feather is specifically about the loss of a sibling, the message is applicable to any loss in a child’s life. Finn walks outside one day and finds a white feather on his doorstep – he could not be more sure that it’s from his deceased brother, Hamish. He runs to show his mom and his teacher, but they simply hug him. He truly believes this feather was sent by his brother, and he doesn’t understand why no one seems to be as excited about it as he is. We see moments of joy, resilience, and enduring memory as Finn and his friend Lucas go on a journey to understand why Hamish sent the feather. And we soon find out that Lucas being willing to meet Finn where he is at in his season of grief, and be in that place with him, is a fantastic way to support someone you care about when they are dealing with loss.
10. I Miss You: Grief and Mental Health Books for Kids by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker
This book is approachable and easy to understand for children as early as preschool age. In simple and gentle terms, this book expresses the facts about life and death. This is one book in a series, written by a psychotherapist, that explores mental health and emotional challenges in accessible ways that empower children to understand and process difficult feelings and situations. Thomas explains in clear and concise language that death is a natural complement to life, while also making space for the reality that grief and heavy sadness are normal feelings to experience in response to losing someone you love. This book has also been successfully used by many parents to explain some of the details of loss that are a little more complicated to articulate to children, like funerals and memorial services.
Children’s Books About the Death of a Pet
For many children, the loss of a family pet will be their first experience with grief. While pets are not human, they are often viewed as an extension of our family, which means losing them feels a lot like losing a relative or a best friend (and might be especially difficult if you had to put them down). These books are centered around grieving the loss of a pet.
11. The Rough Patch by Brian Lies
Evan, the fox, and his dog are the absolute best of friends. They do everything together, from growing an incredible garden to eating ice cream – “but one day, the unthinkable happened.” Evan’s dog dies, and in the midst of his grief, Evan angrily destroys the garden they built because it reminds him of his friend and makes him sad. Amidst the weeds and thorns, a pumpkin vine manages to sneak into the garden and take root – and alongside it, hope takes root as well. Evan finally decides to step back into the world and live again, and while he acknowledges it’s not the same without his best friend, he is able to find joy again, one day at a time.
12. Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr
From the MOG series by Judith Kerr comes this profound book about sayings goodbye to those we love the most. This story opens with the Thomas family getting a new kitten, but the focus is on Mog and how she is still with them. It is about the memory and spirit of someone we love living on around us and within our hearts. The spirit of Mog sticks around, showing the new kitten what to do, and watching over her family all the while. An endearing mix of sadness, joy, grief, hope, and comfort, Goodbye MOG is a wonderful story to share with any child weathering the loss of a pet.
13. The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
The Goodbye Book is a moving story told through the lens of a pet fish who has lost his companion. This book touches upon the range of emotions children experience when they endure grief and loss. Parr reminds readers that it’s okay to not have all the answers, and that we are never truly alone to weather seasons of loss and grief because someone will be there to support us. This story is a reminder that while sadness, grief, anger, and pain are all normal emotions to experience with loss they will ease over time with remembrance and support. Todd empowers children to feel their emotions without shame, and know that things will get better and joy will come again, even if it takes time.
How Talking to a Therapist or Parenting Coach Could Help
While these books can be a beautifully beneficial tool to help you and your children endure seasons of grief and loss, please remember they are not a substitute for professional help. If your child’s grief is proving to be more than you can adequately process and support at home, or the magnitude of their grief is making it difficult for them to continue living, consider looking through an online directory to find a family therapist or parent coach in your area. There is no shame in seeking additional support, especially during particularly difficult seasons of life.