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Death is never an easy subject to start a conversation about. Children’s books about death, grief and loss can be a helpful way to explore the topic with younger bereaved children.
Bereavement counsellor Tracey McHardy has helped Funeral Guide compile a reading list of some of the best picture books with easy to understand language and engaging imagery that can help children to understand death and grief and cope with feelings of sadness after a loved one has died. These picture books about death might also be comforting for children who have not been bereaved but also have questions or anxiety about it.
Funeral Guide’s selection of picture books about death and grief for children includes titles also featured by charities CRUSE Bereavement Care, Dying Matters, Winston's Wish, Child Bereavement UK and Simon Says on their own recommended reading lists.
Most books for younger children are written to be read aloud by an adult and inspire questions, answers and conversations. These books include themes that can help youngsters understand what happens when someone dies, or prepare them for a bereavement, in ways that will not overwhelm them. Some, like Michael Rosen’s wonderful Sad Book, use words and pictures to express feelings that are sometimes too complicated to explain to other people, however old we are.
Michael Rosen's Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Easy to follow for children aged five and up, this is a book for everyone, whether they are missing someone who has died, or care about someone who has been bereaved. Michael Rosen wrote this following the death of his 18-year-old son, Eddie. Complex and often overwhelming feelings are conveyed with beautiful simplicity, accompanied by illustrations that also say as much.
Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley
Characters Bee and Bear make friendly companions on this journey through a host of activities and exercises for children to do, with the help of an adult. This keepsake book aims to help them make sense of their grief, while finding a balance between remembering and having fun.
Saying Goodbye to Hare by Carol Lee
This story has been written for an adult to share and read aloud with children aged between five and nine. Inspired by author Carol Lee’s experience of supporting her own children through their father’s illness and death, the beautifully illustrated story follows young Rabbit as his good friend Hare becomes ill and dies. As with some of the best books on death and dying, it addresses questions and feelings that younger children may have about death, with honesty and warmth.
The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic
When a little boy wakes up to find his mother has died, he feels sad, cross and worried that he will forget her. He decides if the scratch on his knee doesn’t go away, it will keep his mum closer. When Grandma visits, she helps him find some different ways to hold onto his mother’s love. This is a book that may help younger children to talk about how they are feeling after someone they love dies.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
This story is about a little girl who begins to forget about the other things she loves when someone special to her dies. Keeping her heart in a bottle will keep it safe from more hurt, she thinks, until she meets another little girl whose infectious curiosity reminds her about how she used to be. This lovely book is also available as an interactive app, narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter.
Watch a preview of the Heart and the Bottle:
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
This comforting book was first published in 1984 and is still one of the most well loved bereavement books for children. It tells the story of old Badger, who isn’t afraid that he is going to die soon, but hopes that his friends won’t be very sad when he is gone. One night, Badger has a lovely dream that he is running on no-longer tired legs towards a tunnel. In the morning, his friends find that he has died.
The woodland folk are very unhappy, but later on, they find that Badger has left them special things to remember him by. You can find this book on Little Parachutes, and help support child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish when you click through to buy from Amazon.
What Does Dead Mean? by Caroline Jay, Jenni Thomas and Unity Joy Dale
Why do people have to die – and is being dead like sleeping? This book addresses 17 big questions that children have about death, with simple, truthful answers and talking points of its own to prompt further thoughts and conversation.
The Lonely Tree by Nicholas Halliday
A young evergreen tree starts to grow in an oak forest and feels lonely, until he makes friends with a very old oak growing nearby. When winter comes, all the oak trees fall asleep, but when their leaves begin to unfurl in the spring, the ancient oak does not come back to life. The other trees explain to the evergreen that his friend has died and help him through his sadness by reminding him of old oak’s love and kindness to him.
Remembering Lucy by Sarah Helton
When Lucy died, Joe and his friends were very sad to learn that they wouldn’t see her again. Then Joe thinks about all the wonderful things Lucy did. How messy she was when she was painting, and the time she giggled through the school play when her crown kept slipping off.
Now Joe knows that remembering Lucy means he doesn't have to feel so sad.
This picture book is suitable for sharing with children aged three and up. Author Sarah Helton is a specialist in special educational needs, with a focus on loss and bereavement. This book includes a guide for teachers and support staff in schools to talk about bereavement, grief and loss.
Always and Forever by Alan Durant and Debbie Gliori
This picture book may help children understand that feelings of great sadness can eventually give way to comforting memories. Otter, Mole and Hare are so sad when their friend, Fox, dies that they can’t help but think about all the things they miss about him. This makes them feel sadder until Squirrel pays a visit and makes them laugh about some of the happy times they spent with Fox. Squirrel also suggests something they can make, in memory of Fox. This is another book that lets you support Winston’s Wish, when you buy it via Little Parachutes.
Missing Mummy by Rebecca Cobb
We said goodbye to mummy, but where did she go? This beautiful storybook explores the death and loss of a parent from a small child’s point of view and feelings, with thoughtful words and pictures.
Author and illustrator Rebecca Cobb welcomed support from leading child and family bereavement counsellor Jenni Thomas OBE, when she created this highly-praised book for very young children.
Remembering Joseph Chickadee by Nancy Peek Youngdahl
When wise and kind Joseph Chickadee passes away, other birds of the forest come together to remember him. This touching picture book discusses the concept of loss and mourning with relatable characters and charming imagery.
Nancy Peek Youngdahl has crafted a lovingly written and beautifully illustrated story that helps children understand the more complex ideas that come with losing a loved one, and how they might themselves be thankful for having known them.