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.
It’s an unfortunate fact that I get a lot of messages from parents and teachers seeking children’s book about bereavement. This wonderful story by Alan Durant is the one I recommend most often as it is warm and reassuring.
Otter, Mole, Fox and Hare all live together in a wonderful treehouse. They are a busy little family, with Fox acting as a kind of father figure to the group. Life is good, until one day Fox falls ill and goes out in to the woods on his own. His friends find him under an old oak tree, still and cold, and know that he has gone forever. They bury him in his favourite place and then fall in to a deep sadness. Without Fox they can find no reason to smile.
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.
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.
This sensitively-written story traces a young girl’s journey as she works through her grief after losing her mum.
A smiling visit to hospital is followed by a phone call in the early hours. A little girl learns that her mother has passed away. Struggling to understand, she moves through the next few weeks in a blur of tears and flowers. At the funeral she overhears snippets of grown up conversations about cancer and she also hears people talking about her. She feels lost and afraid and her grief follows her round like a dark cloud. She worries that nothing will ever be the same and she feels angry all the time.
But then one day, as she and her father are looking through her Mum’s things, she finds her Mum’s favourite jumper. She wraps it around herself and inhales its special smell. She wears it every day.
Have you heard of the immortal jellyfish? Known as the ‘turritopsis dohrnii’, it technically never really dies. When it starts to decay its cells reaggregate in to polyps, from which new baby jellyfish emerge. Fascinating! You can read more here. This book takes this philosophy of reincarnation and uses it to help children process grief after loss.
As this story begins we see a small boy and his Grandpa drawing jellyfish together. As they sketch, the Grandpa talks about the special immortal jellyfish and its ability to live on forever. They discuss immortality, leaving the boy a little confused. He wants to live forever too. If the jellyfish can do it, then why can’t he?
Not long after, the Grandpa passes away. The boy is devastated and finds refuge in sleep after a day of crying hot tears. What follows is a magical dream sequence which helps him to cope with his grief.