Death is a difficult concept for anyone to grasp. When it comes to children, it is even more intangible to understand. Talking to a child to help them cope when experiencing a loss is a great start, and books can also help them understand in a way that makes sense to them. If you are also grieving from a loss, books will help you explain what’s going on in a comforting way. When looking at children’s books, it is important to look for ones that are age appropriate, as well as ones that use simple language to explain concepts, and don’t sugar-coat what is happening. By breaking down information into easy to digest material, it helps children conceptualize the message.
Looking at children and young adult literature, there are 8 titles that stand out as exceptional choices to help children understand death.
1. Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler’s Guide to Understanding Death
by Bonnie Zucker
Geared towards 2-3 year olds, this book delicately explains death in developmentally appropriate terms. It also explains why parents may be upset, and that our love for people still remains even after they pass away.
2. The Goodbye Book
by Todd Parr
Charmingly told in the perspective of a goldfish who has lost his friend, this book’s intended audience is the pre-school set and not only does it do an exemplary job of explaining death, but it also goes through all of the emotions (grief, anger, denial, etc.) one might experience when suffering a loss. One important aspect that this book touches upon, is that it is OK not to have all of the answers. It also reassures it’s younger readers that they will always have someone who can support them.
3. The Memory Box
by Joanna Rowland
Told in the perspective of a child, this book is for first graders and up. It chronicles the child in the story, creating a memory box to collect mementos and stories of the one who passed away. It talks about what it’s like to remember and grieve for one who has passed away. One good thing about this book, is the lessons learned in it can be applied to any loss, even the loss of a beloved pet.
4. My Yellow Balloon
by Tiffany Papageorge
Grief is a difficult, complex emotion to understand, and even more so in trying to explain to children. With an intended audience of Kindergartners to 3rd graders, My Yellow Balloon follows a young boy who’s favorite balloon flies far away, and the emotions he is left with. The boy breaks down and is inconsolable, but slowly, the skies clear and he learns to smile again.
5. The Invisible String
by Patrice Karst
A wonderful book that begins to address the topic of death for children of all ages. In this book, it touches upon the love that remains even when someone is gone. "People who love each other are always connected by a very special String, made of love. Even though you can't see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love." It helps children cope with their feelings of loss, and helps them know that love will never die.
6. The Funeral
by Matt James
This book, geared towards 4-7 year olds, explains the purpose of a funeral of a distant relative. While sometimes, such an event is difficult to make sense, this book examines what a funeral is, and how it can make sense to a young child. It also discusses how a funeral, while somber, can also come with it’s moments of joy in remembering a loved one.
7. When a Pet Dies
by Fred Rogers
You cannot go wrong with Mr. Rogers. In this book he provides a loving, compassionate explanation of the grief we experience when we lose a pet, and that we all grieve in our own way. Reassuring and well-written, this book is wonderful for children of all ages. Parents will enjoy reminiscing about the happy memories Mr. Rogers invokes.
8. Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
by Audrey Penn
Chester Racoon’s good friend gets in an accident, and he will not be returning - ever. Chester’s mother suggests that he and his friends make some memories. They then gather at the pond to share the memories they have of their friend and have a celebration of his life. This book not only explains death, but also explains the positive purpose behind a memorial service, and can help comfort children before attending one.
For more information or to talk with us about helping children with grief, please give us a call at (781) 595-1492. You can also visit the Support Groups page on our website for local resources.