In recent months I have seen a sharp increase in the number of messages and emails I receive from parents asking me to recommend books to help children cope with a bereavement.
There are many stories out there which offer great comfort and encourage children to talk about their loss and how it makes them feel, but trying to find the right one for your child when you are dealing with your own grief can feel like an enormous task.
Here is a list of the 24 books which I would recommend. I hope you find it helpful, and please do share it with friends and family who you think may need it.
Most people are familiar with the series of books about Mog, written by the wonderful Judith Kerr. The very first one, Mog the Forgetful Cat, was published in 1970 and since then there have been many stories about this feisty feline and his owners, the Thomas family. But did you know that in one of the last books written about Mog, she dies? Written to help children work through feelings of grief and loss, Goodbye Mog is a touching story about the death of a much-loved pet.
Mog is old now and very tired so one day she decides that the best thing to do would be to sleep forever.
She watches over the Thomas family as they cry sad tears and lay their pet to rest in their garden. She listens as the children share fond memories of the things they did together.
This stunning picture book helps children understand their grief after a bereavement and teaches them that, although sometimes difficult, life will go on.
Fox and Wolf are the best of friends and do everything together. They laugh, they talk, they swim and explore. Life is beautiful when they are in each others company. But then one evening, as the sun sets and the stars come out, the old Wolf wraps a paw around Fox’s shoulder and tells him that tomorrow he will be starlight.
The next day Fox heads to Wolf’s den to play, excited to see if he is shiny like a star, but Wolf isn’t there. Fox searches all day but cannot find his friend so he heads up in to the mountains and pulls the stars down from the sky. He wraps them around himself like a blanket, but still Wolf does not come.
This poignant story looks at the loss of a grandparent told from a child’s point of view.
When the little boy in this story receives his Grampa’s stopwatch he is overcome with grief. Grampa is gone and he doesn’t want this little reminder of all the fun they used to have together. The stopwatch used to be their favourite thing. They timed everything! How long does it take to eat a bubblegum ice cream? How long does it take for a caterpillar to crawl up your leg? How long does it take to run to the end of the street and back?
But now there’s no more time with Grampa. Just this little stopwatch. Angry, the boy throws it in a drawer and tries to forget but everything feels different now, even school and spending time with his friends.
This beautiful book from Britta Teckentrup helps children process grief after a bereavement.
When Fox lays down in his favourite forest clearing and takes his last breath, the other animals are bereft. He was such a huge part of each of their lives and they are not sure how they will be able to move forward without him. As snow falls on Fox and covers his body, his friends gather in a circle and sit with him in silence.
After a long while, Owl speaks. He shares a story from his youth about chasing autumn leaves with Fox. Mouse goes next, remembering how much Fox liked to sit and watch the sunset. One by one each of the forest animals raises their voice to speak out about the treasured memories they have of their wonderful friend.
Most picture books about death for small children are fables – simple stories of loss with animal characters learning how to deal with their sadness. These work very well, but if you are looking for something more factual I would recommend ‘Lifetimes’ by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen, a work of non-fiction which looks at death as a natural process.
It teaches children that death is a part of life. All living things have a beginning and an end, and in between they live their lifetime. We learn that different animals, plants and trees have different life spans, some long and some short. It gently explains that most creatures live their full life, but sometimes the natural rhythm is disturbed and accident or illness takes them early.
Saying goodbye is hard, especially when you’re a child. This simple story from Todd Parr, helps children understand and process their feelings of grief when they are separated from someone they love.
Fish has lost his best friend and he knows that he won’t see him again. An unseen narrator talks to him gently about how this might make him feel.
He learns that sadness and anger are totally normal emotional responses and he may also want to quietly hide himself away. Eating and sleeping may seem impossible and he may even try to pretend that nothing has happened at all. But eventually the cloud will lift and he will cherish all the special times he had with his friend. He’ll inevitably still have up and down days but he will be able to move forward and life will start to feel good again.
Maya’s house feels different without Mum. Her Dad is trying his best but he’s a little overwhelmed and the house, the garden and Maya herself are all a little untidy. She’s very grateful for her Dad and her dog Pip but sometimes she still feels lonely and anxious. Everything about her life has changed.
But then one day her Dad gathers Maya on to his lap and tells her a story. He explains that her Mum used to feel anxious too but she kept her worries at bay by planting and growing beautiful things in the garden. On the table in front of her Maya sees multiple packets of seeds and smiles.
Maya sets to work. She pulls up the weeds, she untangles the swing and she plants her first seeds in the ground. As she toils she thinks about her Mum but the green space makes her calm and she starts to feel like she has a purpose.
Badger is old and he knows that he doesn’t have long left on this earth. He’s not afraid to die, but he is worried about how his friends will feel after he has gone. He prepares them by explaining that soon he will be going down the Long Tunnel and that he doesn’t want them to be sad.
Sure enough, one day Badger’s friends come to visit and discover that he has died. They understand that he has gone down the Long Tunnel and that he was not scared to do so, but still they are very sad that they will not see their friend again. As Autumn turns to Winter, the animals stay at home and mourn their loss.
This wonderful picture book teaches children about the unbreakable bond we have with the people closest to us, whether they are near or far.
When Liza and Jeremy are awoken by thunder they run straight to their mother for comfort. She tries to encourage them back to their own beds but it’s clear that they don’t want to leave – so she tells them about the Invisible String. At first the children are confused. What string? Why can’t they see it? Where does it go?
Their mother explains that the Invisible String is made out of love and it connects you to your favourite people, even when you can’t see them. Whenever you miss someone, your love flows through the string and tugs on their heart so they know you are thinking of them. Their love then travels right back to you.