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The death of a loved one can be confusing for children, even older ones, and they might not understand or know how to cope with their own feelings, and the sadness of other people in their family. Books that explain death, loss, grief and sadness to children can help you talk to them about it.
We have compiled a list of some of the most useful and popular books for children about death and grief to help them cope with the loss of a grandparent, parent, sibling or other loved one. You can also find support on explaining death to a child and supporting a bereaved child in Funeral Guide's help and advice on bereavement support.
Many children who have not been bereaved also ask questions about death as they get older, and reading these books about loss can also help them understand death as well.
We have also chosen a selection of picture books for younger bereaved children if you feel that they are not old enough for the books in this list.
It is important to remember that none of these books is a substitute for talking and listening to the child. They were all written to start a conversation, rather than definitively answer any questions your child might have about death. It is a good idea to follow up the reading by spending some time answering their questions and letting them know that they can always talk to you about it.
All children’s books usually have recommended reading ages, but it is always best to check you’re happy with the content before sharing it with them.
1. Goodbye Mog – Judith Kerr
Judith Kerr’s beloved Mog, a mischievous and clumsy tabby cat, has had many adventures over the years, but none so moving as her last. The tale of Mog’s ultimately death gives a message of hope. Her family realise that they can still love her and remember her life, and the reader sees that Mog’s spirit watches over them always.
Goodbye Mog is about the death of a pet, rather than a family member. However, this can often be a useful way into larger conversations about death and dying with young children. Once they understand the death of a pet, it may be easier to talk about what happens after the death of a person.
2. Dear Grandma Bunny – Dick Bruna
Part of the Miffy series of children’s books, this story combines simple, understandable language and illustrations to describe the funeral and burial of Miffy’s grandma. It goes a long way to acknowledge the sadness felt by everyone in the family and looks at how keeping a loved one’s memory alive can help.
This book is ideal for younger children, as it gives simple information without diving too deeply into the complex emotions of grief.
3. Duck, Death and the Tulip – Wolf Erlbruch
This strange but beautiful little book is simple and powerful. The character of Death, depicted as a small cloaked skeleton, comes to visit Duck and they spend time together. When Duck stops breathing, Death carefully carries her to a river and gives her a tulip to say farewell.
Duck, Death and the Tulip treats dying in a very matter-of-fact way that may not be suitable for some children, but it is certainly a work of art. Though Death's skeleton-like appearance might seem too morbid for some children, the relationship between Death and Duck is very gentle and sweet, in a way that doesn't aim to be frightening or distressing.
4. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf – Leo Buscaglia
This metaphorical tale introduces children to the character of Freddie, a young leaf growing on a maple tree. Freddie learns about life and experiences the changing seasons until, naturally, winter comes and he painlessly falls from the life-giving tree with his fellow leaves.
Freddie’s journey gives an ideal example to children of how life and death are intertwined and part of each other. Be sure to discuss how Freddie's story relates to what happens when a person dies.
5. The Elephant in the Room – Amanda Edwards and Leslie Ponciano
Through the character of a bereaved elephant, this colourful book shows young readers how grief might affect their lives. The Elephant in the Room covers all types of loss and grief, whether it be the death of a relative, an illness in the family, or other life-changing events.
By seeing how the elephant reacts to grief and loss, this story may help children find ways to discuss their own emotions. It also provides some basic, age-appropriate strategies for coping with grief, thanks to Amanda Edwards' experience working in education and Leslie Ponciano's PhD in developmental psychology.
6. Cry Heart, But Never Break – Glenn Ringtved
Death comes for an old woman, but her four grandchildren have other ideas. They try to distract the cloaked character of Death and delay their grandmother's departure from the world.
The character of Death, who may appear sinister at first, is actually kind and gentle. He shares a story with the children that explains why death is part of life, in the same way that joy and sadness cannot exist without each other.
This book acknowledges the pain of grief while sharing the message that death is not to be feared, but an integral part of life.
7. Ghost Wings – Barbara Joosse
Set in Mexico, this tells the story of a girl who has lost her grandmother and is struggling to cope with the newly opened gap in her life. Through the Mexican rituals of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), the girl finds comfort in remembering, rather than forgetting her grandmother.
This is a touching and emotional tale that finds meaning in small acts of remembrance. It can also be an interesting way to talk about how other cultures have different ways of dealing with death, for slightly older children.
8. The Scar – Charlotte Moundlic
A deeply emotional tale, The Scar follows the story of a young boy whose mother has died. Throughout the book he desperately tries to cling to anything and everything that reminds him of his mother as he struggles to accept she is gone.
With the loving support of his grandmother he begins to understand the reality of the loss and how to cope with it. Together they find ways to remember his mother in his daily life. This book is emotionally powerful and sometimes painfully honest in its representation of grief, but it does offer ways for the reader to think about remembrance and healing.
9. Rabbityness – Jo Empson
Rabbityness deals with death a slightly less direct way. Rabbit loves playing music and painting, much to the delight of the other woodland creatures. But one day Rabbit disappears, leaving the animals grief-stricken. Gradually, they learn that though Rabbit is gone, part of him is still with them through the beautiful things he left behind.
This story provides a way of thinking about loss more generally, with wonderfully colourful and expressive illustrations.
10. Where Are You? – Laura Olivieri
Written from perspective of a young bereaved child, this book takes a look at different ideas of what death might be and what it might mean. The child comes to the conclusion that their loved one is still in their heart and will always be part of them.
An emotional but often helpful story, this allows young readers to identify with the main character and discuss their own ideas about death.