By Karen Williams
Grief can have a lasting effect on anyone, regardless of age. Like all of us, young children feel devastated if they lose someone precious to their heart. With the confusion of not understanding what’s going on, they can be left without any idea of how to cope. Fortunately, there are many literary resources available for parents to help kids heal and manage their grief.
Picture books about grief and loss are a powerful way to help younger children understand the grieving process. Here are a few titles that may help them on their journey of coping with their feelings. These selections also encourage young readers to hang on to their dear memories of the departed to comfort them when they need it.
Jenny Mei is Sad by Tracy Subisak
Just as the title says, Jenny Mei is sad but tries her best to continue her everyday life. When a classroom activity reminds her of her sadness, though, she lashes out in anger. Luckily, her friend knows what Jenny is going through and tries her best to be supportive. Inspired by the author’s experience of losing her mother to lung cancer, this tale highlights the complex feelings a person can experience while grieving. Also, it reminds us of the considerate people in our lives that can help us cope and recover.
But I Don’t Want To Say GOODBYE! by Ta’Shay Mason
When her father dies, a little girl thinks about how to say goodbye to him. As her mother makes funeral arrangements to celebrate his life, the daughter, Moony, is also coming up with a creative way to honor her father. But I Don’t Want To Say GOODBYE! is a touching story that may help young readers understand how other people cope with loss.
This gentle story focuses on the many emotions that emerge during loss. We follow a young boy’s experiences as he attempts to sort out the emotions he feels after his mother dies. This colorful picture book validates children’s complex feelings about grief and loss.
Tess’s Tree by Jess M. Brallier
Tess loves playing around her favorite tree. But when a storm damages the tree, it must be cut down. Tess prepares a celebration of the tree’s life that brings many more people around to share their own memories of it. This story showcases a creative way to honor life and those we love.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
A boy struggles with grief heavily after his pet cat, Barney, dies. As he’s unable to enjoy most of the things he used to do, his mother charges him with finding 10 good things about Barney to remember. He comes up with 9, but has trouble with the last one, until his father provides the answer. This story highlights the importance of grief as a natural and necessary process towards healing. It also encourages readers to remember the good times and to cherish them.
When My Daddy Died, I…. by K.J. Reider
Based on the author’s own experience with his father’s passing, this story showcases the memories K.J. had with his best friend (his father) and his hopes that others will cherish the good times with his father like he does. Sometimes, sharing stories about the departed can lead to solid healing for everyone involved, and this story underscores that lesson.
Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng
Sometimes feelings of grief and loss can occur even if you never personally knew the departed. Such is the case with this story. A girl who never knew her grandmother wishes she could see her. Then, a magical golden ladder appears with her grandmother, and the two embark on a mystical journey together.
The Day My Dad Turned Invisible by Sean R. Simmons
Death can be a confusing experience for everyone, especially young ones. In this story, we follow a child’s first experience with loss as he learns his father passed away while he was in school. He then asks his family questions to better understand the whole idea of death and how to handle the situation in his own way. This story takes an inquisitive approach to death, grief, and loss, showing the reader that we can find answers.
Grandpa’s Stories by Joseph Coelho
In this book, a girl reflects on a year of spending time with her grandpa throughout the seasons. When she has to say goodbye, she decides to write her grandfather’s stories in a notebook he gave her, which she keeps close as she grows older. This story, an honest and accurate depiction of loss, shows us an excellent way to keep our loved ones with us through meaningful keepsakes and stories.
Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt
This light-hearted and humorous story takes a look at the stages of grief from a bug’s point of view. The bug suddenly gets sucked into a vacuum and is trapped in the bag. We follow the bug as it goes through the five stages of grief (denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance) as it understands its fate. This picture book shows a different perspective of the mourning process, related to coming to terms with one’s mortality.
Blackberry Stew by Isabell Monk
Hope’s grandfather has passed away, but she doesn’t want to go to his funeral, fearful of never seeing him again. Her aunt tells Hope that she can still see her grandpa through her memories, focusing on their time picking blackberries together to make stew. With her new insights, Hope bravely prepares for the funeral. This story provides comfort to children who have lost a beloved family member and reminds them they can always rely on their memories to soothe them.
Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton
Everett struggles to cope with his father’s passing. Set in poem form, this book shows the complicated process of dealing with loss and explains that each part of grief is a natural element in mourning. We’re also reminded that the stages of grief don’t always follow a set order, and sometimes repeat themselves as well.
Have you found any of these stories helpful in explaining grief and loss to young children? Please share your experience in the comments or by messaging us.