Books that explain death and loss to kids

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I wasn’t really cruising for a kid’s book about death and/or loss when I found City Dog, Country Frog at our library — honestly, Jasper’s just so into dogs and frogs and any kind of animal that all it took was a quick glance at the cover and I was sold. I really had no idea what the content of the book was until our first read-through.

The book begins innocently enough: the first page you’re greeted with is (very beautifully, might I add) illustrated with a dog, some flowers, and the word “Spring.” You’re introduced to City Dog, who meets his new friend, Country Frog. As you move through the seasons, Country Frog becomes steadily unhealthier, but it wasn’t until we hit “Winter” that I, and consequently Jasper (who now mimics my first sad “oooh” every time we get to the page) realized what was going to happen to the friendship between the dog and frog. While I think this book is perfect for the 4-6 crowd, younger and older kids (and adults) alike will probably also love it.

Reading this book got me wondering about other books about death and loss that would fall into the offbeat spectrum, so I found a few more for interested parties.

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) This book by Laurie Kransy Brown is like the opposite of City Dog, Country Frog — there’s not a sunshiny sweet story here whatsoever. Instead, point-blank questions such as “Why does someone die?” are answered in a non-sentimental, secular manner. The illustrations are bright, so there’s nothing to be gloomy about, and the tone is much more inviting than intimidating.
Recommended Age(s): definitely at least 5 to 8 or 9. There’s a lot of information presented in a less-than-flowery (but not negative) manner that younger kids might not grasp.

Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying
This book by Joyce Mills is written for children who have an illness they may not survive, and is also perfect for a child who has a friend or classmate in that situation. The main character, Amanda, and her friend Little Tree find out their friend, Gentle Willow, is sick. So, Amanda calls upon the Tree Wizards to help Willow out, but they can’t do anything about the illness. Amanda and Little Tree go through a whole gamut of emotion (anger, confusion, sadness, etc.), and Amanda ultimately ends up comforting her friend and helping her face death.
Recommended Age(s): 5-9

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages
This book has been around since 1982, and is a well-loved classic about death and loss. The author, Dr. Buscaglia, is perhaps better know for his other forays into literature, but the story of Freddie the leaf is more than solid. The changes in leaves on trees is used to help explain the phases of life — each leaf leaves its tree differently, but they all ultimately fall off.
Recommended Age(s): 4-9 (younger kids will appreciate the illustrations.)

What books have you found dealing with death and loss?

Comments on Books that explain death and loss to kids

  1. A Story for Hippo by Simon Puttock.
    I cry every time I read or recommend this book. It covers the idea that although someone dies, they live on in our hearts.

  2. I encountered a children’s book called ‘I Remember Miss Perry,’ about the death of a teacher. I didn’t know what it was about when I picked it up, so was rather surprised when the beloved teacher in the story suddenly dies. It might be a helpful book for the older elementary age crowd, but I can only associate my shock response with it, so I’m not really sure.

  3. Glenda Millard’s junior series starting with “The Naming of Tishkin Silk” is fabulous. The first deals with the death of a sibling and mama’s subsequent grief, the next is alzheimers and an elderly relative, the next is fostering and the latest is about refugees. They are beautifully written and illustrated.

  4. “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst. It’s about the death of a pet, but that can be just as important as the death of a person.

    I’ve also recommended “Bridge to Terabithia” for a mom whose son’s best friend was killed in a car accident. (Better for older kids — deals with way more hard concepts than just death.)

  5. Thanks for these tips. Books are a good way to go. My son is two months old and I am already dreading talks about death more than any other part of parenting if I’m completely honest.

  6. “We Were Gonna Have a Baby But We Had an Angel Instead” by Pat Schweibert deals with unexpected late-term pregnancy loss. It explains loss to children who were about to become big brothers and sisters in a frank but gentle way. Although the title includes “angel” in it, the book is not overtly Christian- no mention of Heaven, the afterlife, Jesus, God or faith. The word “angel” is really more of a euphemism than anything else. You can see the illustrations- which do show an angel in them from time to time- and hear the story in its entirety in this youtube video:

    Also, I love “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst, which is the story of a little boy whose cat has died. Heads up, though- the tenth good thing is that Barney helps the flowers grow in the place where the family buries him, which could be upsetting for kids imagining what happens to a person they loved now that they’re gone.

  7. Wow thank you for this list and the suggestions – I don’t have kids yet I’m 23 but have never experienced a death in my family!!! It cant be too far and its most likely when I do have kids, I’m definitely bookmarking this page! Thank you

  8. You know, I don’t know of any books — and we lost our father when I was 8 (my sister was 5, and my brother was 3 months).

    I don’t know that a book could make it better, but I think understanding it a bit better would have been a great comfort.

  9. I was SO happy to see The Fall of Freddie the Leaf on this list. My favorite aunt (who was more like a mother to me) bought it for me when I was very young to help me comprehend a relative’s death. She died a few years ago of cancer and I read this book again. It really has a soft spot in my heart.

  10. The American Psychological Association has a wing of its publishing house devoted entirely to books for helping children deal with tough issues, called Magination Press. Some of them are not so great — I recall seeing one in the catalog about a soccer-playing kitten with feline herpes — but they have books for almost every instance, usually written by child psychologists.

  11. Its very very old, But I’ve always loved “The Man Who Gave Himself Away” by Gordon Sheppard

    Its about a man who knows he’s going to die so he gives himself away. I wish I could remember the particulars.

  12. The Next Place by Warren Hanson
    I was 19 weeks pregnant when I gave premature birth to my daughter. I love books, and after her death I found solace in this children’s book. It’s a beautiful, secular book which poetically portrays ‘what happens’ after death. I carry this book with me whenever I leave home. It is beautifully illustrated and easy to understand. It really helped me through the loss of my daughter.
    To preview the words of the book, here’s a website:

  13. Bridge to Terabithia was the first book I remember reading that dealt with death, and I still love the story to this day. I was in 5th grade, and would say it’s definitely a book for kids ages 10+, but the relationships and magic, the pain and the beauty in it…they touched me deeply, and helped me to understand death in a way no one had ever taught.

    Here is Katherine Paterson’s website and link to the book:

    • To this day, Bridge to Terabithia makes me bawl at the end. It is definitely for older elementary age, but it has a good message about honoring those who have passed.

  14. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch was the first book I remember that dealt with death. It follows a mother and her son as he grows from infant to father to caregiver of his dying mother. It still makes me cry every time.

    I am currently in school to become a teacher and recently heard Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola during my observations and teared right up. I’d recommend it, particularly for children losing a grandparent.

    • Yes! Love You Forever! Just thinking of that book makes me tear up.

      Elisabeth Kubler Ross (who wrote several books on death/dying/grief) wrote a children’s book called Remember the Secret that my mother used to read to us when we were kids. It had a vaguely religious slant (at one point the children are referred to as “God’s gift,” for example), but was non-denominational. I know my mother loved its message, but all I really remember is how pretty I found the pictures at the time.

  15. Always My Brother by Jean Reagan is a book about the death of a sibling. It’s a great book with a comforting, but real ending, not a sappy “it’s all better now” vibe.
    I wouldn’t give a book about death to someone who had just lost a sibling, parent, grandparent, etc., but I think it would be very good for a kid who was a step away from the loss. For example, if someone in the community died, a friend’s sibling, or a schoolmate, this would be a great way to introduce your kids to death and how the survivors might be feeling.

  16. Just wanted to add ‘tear soup’ here. I don’t know if I can say the best age range. I read it to my nieces who are 7-10 and they got something out of it, even though there might be more abstract concepts they didn’t get. The book has been really useful for me as well as an adult. My favorite page is the one where there are different sized pots all lined up with different labels for different tear soup needs. It was a great way to ask the kiddos when their great grandpa died how they were feeling. “what size pot does your tear soup need?” They weren’t very close to him, but they said they felt very sad for great grandma who was so sad. Plus there’s a super cute dog mirroring the main characters emotions throughout. Love this book.

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