Use these titles to help you better explain difficult topics such as death, illness, and grief to your child.
By Christie Burnett
This is the book list parents hope they will never need, but it’s an important one nonetheless. These books are valuable resources for talking to children about love, illness, death, and the stages of grief — all of which are abstract concepts that can be difficult for children, especially young ones, to grasp.
The seven titles on this list can also offer support and comfort to children experiencing the overwhelming emotions of losing someone in their own life.
1. In his signature simple style, Todd Parr explores the range of emotions and responses when we experience loss in The Goodbye Book. Parr guides young readers through the feelings most commonly felt when struggling with a goodbye, with the reassurance that with time things will get better, and a reminder that they are always loved.
2. Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman is a beautiful, heartfelt exploration of the unconditional love that a parent has for a child, even when they cannot be together. While death is not explicitly mentioned, this book is a lovely resource for offering reassurance to children who have experienced the loss of a parent.
3. I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm explores the love between humans and their pets through the story shared by a young narrator about his dog, Elfie, and their life together. The book shows the boy caring for Elfie as she ages and his family’s grief when she dies of old age. The boy is sad that Elfie is gone but consoles himself that his dog always knew how much she was loved.
4. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a comforting story about two siblings who learn that everyone has an invisible string connecting them to everyone they love — anywhere, anytime — through separation, anger, and even death. “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.”
5. Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola shares a tender story of love and care for an elderly relative through the eyes of a young boy named Tommy. We see Tommy helping his grandmother care for his 94-year-old great-grandmother, and the close bond he shares with both women. When his great-grandmother (and later his grandmother) dies, the story shows Tommy’s reactions to the deaths of these beloved family members.
6. Ida, Always by Caron Levis shares the beautiful story of two city zoo polar bears, Gus and Ida, and their feelings when Ida becomes sick with an illness that cannot be healed and later dies. It beautifully explores the turbulent range of emotions felt when a loved one becomes terminally ill, with a focus on making the most of the time we have left with sick loved ones. This is one of the most poignant books about love and loss I have read.
7. I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas explains what we know about death and grief in a simple, factual manner. It outlines reasons why people die, introduces what a funeral is, and explores the difficult feelings and emotions of saying goodbye and missing someone very much.
I am such a huge fan of using books to open or continue discussion with kids about difficult topics. Given how overwhelming and confusing the experience of death can be for a child, each of these thoughtfully composed books deserves a place on our home bookshelves.
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BONUS: Longfellow And The Deep Hidden Woods. Longfellow, the bravest and noblest wiener dog in the world.
As our story begins, Longfellow is a puppy learning how to be a good friend to his human companions, old Henry and Henry’s nurse Miss O’weeza Tuffy. By the end, Longfellow has grown old himself, but he is still ready for one final adventure.
What happens in between is an unforgettable and heartwarming tale that throws a tender light on the difficult truths of loss and longing as well as on our greatest hopes.