When we want to convey a difficult or abstract concept to our kids, whether it be empathy, racism, anxiety, or bullying, we often turn to children’s books for help. These books can help us introduce topics and ideas we otherwise struggle to put into our own words, and that is especially true when we have to help our kids grapple with the serious illness or death of a loved one. These are the books we hope to never have to buy, but they are there for us if we need them.
I recently asked our Offspring Facebook group which children’s books about grief helped them and their young kids through a difficult time. Here’s what they recommended.
Cry, Heart, But Never Break
This one was recommended a couple of times as a profound and beautiful book about grief and loss. Written by Glenn Ringtved and illustrated by Charlotte Pardi. From the Goodreads description:
Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gently, naturally. And he comes with enough time to share a story with the children that helps them to realize the value of loss to life and the importance of being able to say goodbye.
The Invisible String
This was another one recommended by multiple parents in the group, who described it as both helpful and lovely. Written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Geoff Stevenson. Goodreads says:
In this heartwarming story, Karst delivers a very simple approach to overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation from parents, written with an imaginative flair that children can easily identify with and remember.
Lifetimes: A Beautiful Way to Explain Life and Death to Children
This book simply and poignantly explains how every living thing has its own special lifetime. By Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. Goodreads says:
Lifetimes is a moving book for children of all ages, even parents too. It lets us explain life and death in a sensitive, caring, beautiful way. Lifetimes tells us about beginnings. And about endings. And about living in between. With large, wonderful illustrations, it tells about plants. About animals. About people. It tells that dying is as much a part of living as being born. It helps us to remember. It helps us to understand.
A Hug from Heaven
When a child is missing a loved one, this book might bring them comfort. Written by Anna Whiston-Donaldson and illustrated by Andrea Alemanno. Goodreads says:
Written as a simple poem of love from the person who died, this book reminds children – and adults alike – that it is okay to hurt, to live a positive life, and to find special ways to honor the ones we love. New York Times bestselling author Anna Whiston-Donaldson delivers a simple and comforting message: love is stronger than death, and hugs from heaven are waiting for you.
Ida, Always is a good choice for a child who is coping with the terminal illness of a loved one. Written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Goodreads says:
Gus lives in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city, and he spends his days with Ida. Ida is right there. Always.
Then one sad day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick, and she isn’t going to get better. The friends help each other face the difficult news with whispers, sniffles, cuddles, and even laughs. Slowly Gus realizes that even after Ida is gone, she will still be with him—through the sounds of their city, and the memories that live in their favorite spots.
The Goodbye Book
This book, told from the perspective of a fish who has lost his companion, is a reassuring story for kids who are experiencing their own loss. Written by Todd Parr. Goodreads says:
Todd Parr tells a moving and wholly accessible story about saying goodbye. Touching upon the host of emotions children experience, Todd reminds readers that it’s okay not to know all the answers, and that someone will always be there to support them. An invaluable resource for life’s toughest moments.
This book was recommended by a group member who read it to her children after her grandfather passed. It’s a lyrically told story with beautiful illustrations. Written by Cece Meng and illustrated by Jago. Its Goodreads description says:
After Old Turtle swims his last swim and breathes his last breath, and the waves gently take him away, his friends lovingly remember how he impacted each and every one of them. As the sea animals think back on how much better Old Turtle made their lives and their world, they realize that he is not truly gone, because his memory and legacy will last forever.
If your child is specifically dealing with the serious illness or death of a grandparent, this may be the right choice for them. Written by Benji Davies. Goodreads says:
This new book by Benji Davies deals with the emotional topic of losing a grandparent. Subtly told, this beautifully illustrated book tackles a difficult subject with great sensitivity and depth.
Whistler’s Last Song
While this book is specifically about the death of a child, it is a good option for introducing and explaining the concept of death in general, and it addresses the variety of emotions a person might feel as they grieve. Written by Adam Herro and illustrated by Mark Doublin. Goodreads says:
Set deep in the forest, “Whistler’s Last Song” tells the story of the Leaf family’s son, Whistler, who was born with a hole in his tummy. Each time the winds blow across his belly, it creates a peaceful melody for the whole forest to hear. As time goes on, the heavy winds against Whistler’s tummy cause his stem to tear more and more from the tree where he lives with his family. As Whistler’s last night approaches, the animals of the forest gather around the tree to voice their questions about death and dying to the wise Papa Oak. The love and support Papa Oak provides brings peace to both the animals and reader alike.
The Kissing Hand
This book isn’t specifically about grief or death but rather about separation anxiety and creating a connection with a loved one even when you can’t be together. A parent in our group says she read this book to her kids when her father was ill as a tangible way for them to say goodbye to him when they saw him. Written by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. Goodreads says:
School is starting in the forest, but Chester Raccoon does not want to go. To help ease Chester’s fears, Mrs. Raccoon shares a family secret called the Kissing Hand to give him the reassurance of her love any time his world feels a little scary. Since its first publication in 1993, this heartwarming book has become a children’s classic that has touched the lives of millions of children and their parents, especially at times of separation, whether starting school, entering daycare, or going to camp.
What other books helped you explain death to your children or were a comfort to them through their loss and grief? You can leave more ideas in the comments for parents who need them.