There are few topics more difficult to discuss with a child than death and grief. I mean, we struggle to grasp these things as adults, so it can feel next to impossible putting these concepts into words a little kid can understand. Which is why I feel very grateful for these authors, who found the words for me. It turns out, there are several thoughtful, comforting
children's books about grief to help kids cope and understand their feelings.
We are living through such an unbelievably grim and heartbreaking period in history right now. We're just moving through a lot of darkness, and the desire to shield our children from all of the darkness can be very, very strong. But kids are so incredibly aware. They pick up on things in ways we don't even realize.
My own son started asking me very intense questions about death recently. And I'll be honest, I so, so badly wanted to lie to him. I did not want to puncture his little bubble of innocence with how hard and sad the world can truly be. But I of course know that would be the wrong thing to do. One of the hardest jobs of parenting is teaching our kids about pain and loss. But along with these rough life lessons, we get the opportunity to teach them about perseverance, about learning how to cope, and about finding a bit of comfort and grace in even the toughest of times.
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'I Miss You: A First Look at Death' by Pat Thomas & Leslie Harker
Written by a psychotherapist and counselor, this book talks about death and grief in a very straightforward, but gentle manner, explaining that everything lives, and everything dies. It asks the reader questions throughout. Things like, "What about you? Do you know someone who has died?" thus giving kids the opportunity to talk through their own thoughts or feelings with a parent or caregiver.
'Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You' by Nancy Tillman
I can never get through this book without tearing up. The illustrations are gorgeous — whimsical images of a child frolicking with animals while being followed by glimmers of stardust. The story lets the reader know that no matter where they are, or what they are doing, they will be followed by a trail of love, and those they hold dearest will always be with them. It's simple, reassuring, and uplifting.
'The Invisible String' by Patrice Karst & Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
This book is a favorite of not just educators and social workers, but parents as well. It's not directly about grief, but is more generally about the anxiety and sadness of separation. It offers a reassuring, soothing message about feeling connected to loved ones, even when we can't see them. When two children become worried about being apart from their mother, she reassures them that no matter where they are, they are connected by an invisible string. This string is "made of love. 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."
'City Dog, Country Frog' by Mo Willems & Jon J. Muth
From the reliably wonderful Mo Willems, this is another book that always leaves me teary. I feel like this is a good one for really little children. This book deals with death in a very quiet, subtle way. It's about a friendly lab who moves from the city to the country and befriends a frog. They play together each season, though the frog is older, and each visit is a bit less energetic. Until one season, the frog is no longer there. The dog is sad and lonely for a bit, but then meets a new friend — a chipmunk. It's a very simple circle-of-life story with few words, but a lot emotional impact.
'Where Are You Now' by Tyler Clark Burke
This beautifully illustrated book offers a warm, poetic look at the circle of life. Using nature as the frame, it shows children that when something no longer exists in one form, we can still find it in the world around us — snowflakes melt, but can later be seen as mist; the sun sets, but its shine can later be spotted upon the moon. Both soothing and very pretty, this book is a very gentle introduction to loss.
'The Memory Box: A Book About Grief' by Joanna Rowland
This book explores death and grief head-on. It follows a little girl (with some truly lovely, gorgeous illustrations) as she visits a cemetery, and thinks about the loved one she has lost. She is worried she will forget the person, and so creates a memory box filled with objects, photos, and notes that remind her of them. The book touches on the many emotions people experience when grieving, then offers a hopeful end, with the child carrying the memory of the person with her as she goes on to make new memories. The book also comes with a helpful parents guide in the back, offering suggestions on how to answer tough questions, as well as how to help a child make their own memory box.
'The Goodbye Book' by Todd Parr
I think this is such a great book for little ones. The illustrations are so simple, but convey so much, and even manage to bring a bit of humor and light to such a difficult topic. Featuring bright, primary-color drawings of a little fish in a bowl, the fish shows us the way we might feel when we miss someone. "You might feel very sad. You might not feel like talking to anyone. But eventually you'll start to feel better." The book shows how grief is a process, and while it can be very hard at first — with some good days and some bad days — with time comes healing.
'Ida, Always' by Caron Levis & Charles Santoso
Poignant and deeply moving, this book is unique in that it shows us what it can be like to prepare for the death of a loved one who is ill. It's told through the story of two polar bears, Ida and Gus. Ida and Gus are best friends at the city zoo. But then one day Ida gets sick. Gus spends as much time as he can with Ida, helping to care for her. Then one day Ida is gone. Gus is incredibly sad and lonely. But over time, he realizes that the memories of Ida are all around him — in their favorite playtime spots and in the sounds of the city.
'Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler's Guide to Understanding Death' by Bonnie Zucker & Kim Fleming
This one is intended for very small children, and offers a gentle, but very honest guide for talking through death and grief. In the book, a child talks about how his grandmother has died, but each time "Grandma" is mentioned, it's highlighted in red, offering parents a chance to substitute the name of an appropriate person. The child talks about how his Grandma's body does not work anymore, and how he can no longer talk to her. It describes how one might feel angry or sad, and explains that Mommy might have these very same feelings, because she misses Grandma too. But the author reminds us that the child can still share stories about Grandma and remember her: "You can still love her, and she will always love you." This is another book that offers an extensive, helpful guide for parents at the back.
'Death Is Stupid' by Anastasia Higgenbotham
This book veers away from sweet sentiments and memory boxes, and gives voice to some of the more frustrating and difficult emotions children might grapple with when someone dies. Using unique collage illustrations, a boy talks about the "stupid" things adults say to him after his grandma's death. Things like "she's only sleeping" or "don't cry." This is a bold book, with a focus on realism. It features pictures of the boy touching his grandmother's hand in the casket, as well as a picture of his father sobbing uncontrollably at the funeral. Sounds intense, I know, but it will probably be tougher for parents to read than children. Many children will likely appreciate the book's brash honesty. In the end, the author reminds us how to hold someone close, even after they are gone (wear what they wore, play games they played) and it even comes with an activities section for the child.
'The Dead Bird' by Margaret Wise Brown & Christian Robinson
This frank, touching tale is exactly what you might expect from the beloved author of
Goodnight Moon. When children in a park happen upon a dead bird, they are filled with curiosity. They talk about how the bird is now cold and stiff, which is what happens when something dies. They decide to give the bird a proper burial, and sing songs to honor its life. Featuring new, bold artwork from Robinson ( Last Stop on Market Street) this book manages to be both charming as well as candid.