books to help children with grief & death

books to help children with grief & death

“Ya, just like the Lifetimes book… it’s just the way it is.” Ella, 5

I’m a believer in speaking openly to our children about death and the grief people are feeling (without making it their own grief). Learning skills to cope with death and grief at an early age is something that can help kids understand and get through challenging times, and they will be better equipped to cope emotionally down the road as adults. Death is all around us so there is no use trying to hide it. These books will help your kids (and adults, too!) not only accept death but almost embrace it as a fact of life, creating emotionally intelligent people.

LIFETIMES, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen  This book beautifully explains how there is a beginning and end to everything in life – from animals and plants to people. How all things living have their own special lifetime.  A great way to help kids accept and embrace death as a part of life.

I remember my 3 and 5 year old kids watching the documentary, ‘March of the Penguins”; and, before our losses, I may have shielded them from the scenes where animals eat other animals (esp if it was their favourite animal) but I let them watch it and I remember we talked about how the seal needs to eat and then talked about what animals eat seals. My 5 year old turned to me and said “Ya, just like the Lifetimes book… it’s just the way it is.”

TEAR SOUP – A Recipe for Healing After Loss, by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen  Comfort and insight into grief through the making of soup. You never really know who died in the book, as it focuses on the family coping after the fact. At the back, the book outlines how to help those around you cope, whether it’s a child, adult, male or female, or multiple people grieving, and, also shares an extensive grief support resource list.

ETHAN’S BUTTERFLIES, by Christine Jonas Simpson  This book is child loss specific – a full term baby elephant dies in its mother’s womb before being born. It talks about the grief and sadness that children feel, touching on common issues that kids can feel, for example, that someone’s death or sadness is their fault. My two children slept with it for a while, it brought them so much comfort. 

WE WERE GONNA HAVE A BABY, BUT WE HAD AN ANGEL INSTEAD, by Pat Schwiebert  Another child loss specific book. This book is written from the perspective of the child that was excited to have a baby sibling in the house. Written by the same author as Tear Soup, again at the back it lists helpful ways to help your children cope.

These next four books are lighter in their story lines (may take some discussion between adult and child to help communicate the messages), however, carry great messages of life, love and loss and how children and friends cope:

THE HEART AND THE BOTTLE, by Oliver Jeffers  A fantastic author who has written many award winning children’s books. The girl in the story loses her grandfather one day and decides to put her heart away in a bottle, bottling up her feelings, only to feel the negative effects. It is a heart warming book that shows there is always hope.

THE MEMORY TREE, by Britta Teckentrup  One of my favourites. Such a beautiful story about a fox. A great book to help kids learn to embrace death as part of our circle of life. The book illustrates how important it is to honour and remember those that have died, and how doing so in this story, gives fox new life. No coincidence that the author chose a fox as they represent a connection between the spiritual world and physical world. 

MAKING A FRIEND, by Alison McGhee  A great book to help kids understand that what you love is always with you. The boy creates a snowman and it melts and disappears, leaving him very sad. The boy finds ways to keep the snowman’s spirit alive and with him. This skill and insight is very helpful and comforting for kids, after someone dies, and is great way to illustrate that there are ways to keep someone with you after they are gone.

WHEREVER YOU ARE MY LOVE WILL FIND YOU, by Nancy Tillman  This book illustrates how you can carry someone’s love with you even when they are no longer with you. (A great book to give someone if you know you are dying.) “And if someday  you’re lonely, or someday you’re sad, or you strike out at baseball, or think you’ve been bad… just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair. That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.” 

Most generations were taught to never talk about death and to therefore, fear death. Teach kids to have an open heart and provide an environment where it’s ok to talk about death and difficult feelings. The more we talk about life and death to children, and how they feel, the easier it is for them to understand and manage their feelings, and to grow and find beauty from difficult times.