Life and Death (Picture Books About Loss)
Coping with death is never easy, no matter how old you are. However, children may have particular difficulties in coming to understand that a friend, family member, or beloved pet has passed out of this world and won’t be returning. Straightforward and compassionate discussion with a parent or guardian is often the best way to help a child through the mourning process.
When more than that is called for, stories may offer assistance. Stories about people and personalities like our own, dealing with some of the same hardships we suffer, can help children gain a better understanding of life and death. They can also provide a framework to assist discussion of highly emotional topics (e.g., parents can ask children what they think a story’s character is feeling, and if they think the character will feel differently as time passes). Here are some exceptional picture books for children on the subject.
Some Helpful Stories
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems and Jon J. Muth
When City Dog comes out to the country one spring, he makes a new friend. Throughout the seasons he and Country Frog enjoy the outdoors and play games. But come winter, Country Frog is nowhere to be found. Although City Dog meets someone new the next spring, he will never forget his first country friend. Vivid watercolors and an understated, ambiguous message make this title a great read, even if the audience is not currently coping with loss.
Emma’s Question by Catherine Urdahl
Young Emma is upset when her grandmother becomes ill and goes into the hospital. She has so many questions about whether or not she’ll get to do all the fun things that she and Grandma have planned ... but there is really just one large question, and she doesn’t know if she can ask it. When she finally does, Grandma’s answer is reassuring yet realistic. An excellent book to help families talk about the realities of life and death.
Bear’s Last Journey by Udo Weigelt
The news that “Bear is sick!” makes its way through the forest, and young Fox has trouble understanding the concept that Bear may not return from this final journey. His courage in asking Bear about death is rewarded with honesty. When his old friend is gone, the other animals help him to honor Bear’s memory.
Desser, the Best Ever Cat by Maggie Smith
A young girl tells the story of Desser, the charming tuxedo cat that her father took in before she herself was even born. A series of scrapbook photos shows her parents getting married, her arrival as a newborn, and her growing up with trusty companion Desser always at her side. As the beloved family pet reaches his twilight years, the girl expresses her fears and sadness about his inevitable death. After he is gone, he is celebrated and remembered as the girl tells her new kitten stories about the Best Ever Cat.
Goodbye Mousie by Robie H. Harris and Jan Ormerod
“When I woke up this morning, I tickled Mousie’s tummy. But Mousie didn’t wake up...” Beginning straightforwardly, this title follows a young boy as his parents help him through his own stages of grief: confusion, anger, sadness, and acceptance.
Sammy in the Sky by Barbara Walsh and Jamie Wyeth
With more detail given about the illness and death of the family dog Sammy, this title may be better suited for children over five years old. As with all of these titles, the pet is remembered and honored in a respectful, loving way.
More Stories, and Nonfiction
With such a universal and emotionally difficult subject, it’s no surprise that there is a wealth of books to help ease the mourning process. Here is a selection -- some are stories, but many are nonfiction books that discuss the issue in a frank and compassionate manner.
Chris Gray is an Extra Help Librarian. He can’t think about losing his loved ones and friends without feeling sad, but he knows that he should enjoy life with them while he can.