Picture books that answer questions about death and help ease the grief of young children.
Death - General Questions
Simon Puttock (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Pu)
Hippo and Monkey are best friends and when the wise old Hippo dies, Monkey is very sad until Chameleon helps him remember the stories he and Hippo shared. A nice, bright and simple treatment. Good for younger children. No religious content. Ages preschool –7.
Udo Weigelt (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Wei)
All the animals in the forest must deal with the death of their old friend, the bear, when he goes to sleep and never wakes up. There's some discussion among the animals about what might happen after death, and a reference to heaven - but no overtly religious content. The animals also consider how best to remember their friend. Ages preschool - 8+.
Jan Thornhill (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 306.9 Th)
A thorough book that covers nearly all of the aspects involved with the life and death cycle. Includes sections explaning the definition of life, life expectancy, the food chain, accidental death, extinction, human destruction (which includes murder), what happens after death, grieving, funeral customs, the possibility of the afterlife, and even the idea of bringing things back from the dead. Some images and concepts might be considered shocking, but still an informative, honest, and tasteful resource for those with many questions. Ages 8+.
Bryan Mellonie (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.037 Me)
A simple presentation of death as a part of life for all living things, including people. A short, beautiful definition of death. Does not deal with grief or afterlife. Ages preschool -8+.
Leo Buscaglia (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Bu)
We follow Freddie through the seasons of his life on the tree, until he learns that death is a natural part of life. No religious content. Ages preschool –7+.
Chris Raschka (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Ras)
Easy-to-read text reveals that dying is hard work, for the old and especially the young, and how good it is that so many people help when a person dies, from medical staff to clergy and friends to family members. No religious content. Ages preschool - 8+.
Doris Stickney (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 St)
A water bug rises out of the water and receives a new winged body and a wonderful new life as a dragonfly. This metaphor, with a strong base in Christian afterlife beliefs, might help a parent to comfort a young child who is confused and frightened by death. Includes a section titled “What Parents Can Say,” suggesting how to use the story with children. Ages 6-9.
Laurie Krasny Brown (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.9 Br)
A simple, clear, cartoon-like presentation of answers to important questions, including “What does alive mean?” “What does dead mean?” and “What comes after death?” Where appropriate, a range of ethnic/religious customs and beliefs is included, somehow without becoming confusing. Ages preschool -8.
Sarah Levete (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Le)
Straightforward, factual answers to questions surrounding death and the grieving process. Death is defined as “when the body stops working,” and is presented as a natural part of the life cycle. A variety of beliefs concerning afterlife is mentioned, including reincarnation. Ages 6-8+.
Mindy Avra Portnoy (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Po)
Children ask many people the title question and receive answers ranging from “They are buried in the ground and become part of the earth and nature,” to “They go to God…,” and, “They live on in their children…” Nice simple text and illustrations. Includes an “Afterword” and “Suggestions for Parents.” Author is a rabbi. Religious interpretation of afterlife is only one of the answers presented. Ages older preschool -9+.
Death of a Grandparent
Carmen Santiago Nodar (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej No)
Marita’s grandmother shares with her memories of a childhood in her native Puerto Rico, a place she calls paradise. Then Abuelita goes to “another paradise,” and Marita cherishes her memories. No religious content except the term paradise. Ages 5–8.
Virginia Kroll (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Kr)
Deals with a child’s reaction to the death of a great-grandma who had suffered with Alzheimer ’s disease. At the wake, Francie finds a way for family and friends to focus on great-grandma’s life before her illness. Church service and heaven are mentioned. Text is a bit long for preschoolers. Ages 5-8.
Cecil Castellucci (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Cas)
When her grandmother, a devoted gardener, dies, a little girl inherits her gardening gloves and feels closer to her memory. Ages 5-8.
Adjoa J. Burrowes (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Bu)
Portrays the close relationship between an African-American girl and her Grandma. When Grandma dies, the girl is desolate, but, eventually she finds comfort in her wonderful memories. No religious content. Does not include the funeral or burial. Ages preschool –8.
James Howe (Juvenile Picture Books - J 155.937 Ho)
Deals with funeral traditions in a combined Christian/Jewish family. Depicts a church funeral and sitting Shiva. Child is told that “when Grandpa died he left his body behind,” and “It’s Grandpa’s memory that lives on…” Affirms that a child can find his or her own special way of remembering a grandparent. Ages 4-8+.
Tomie de Paola (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej De)
This lovely, classic book portrays the author’s very special relationship with his grandmother and great-grandmother. When the latter dies, Tommy learns that died means she won’t be here anymore, but that, “She will come back in your memory whenever you think about her.” A falling star is a kiss from her. No religious content. Ages preschool –7+.
Margaret Wild (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Wil)
Because Old Pig knows that her time to die is near, she puts her affairs in order and takes a slow walk with Granddaughter to savor the beauty for one last time. The grandmother pig's death is gently implied. No religious content. Ages 3-8+.
Malika Doray (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Do)
Beautiful, comforting book. Very simple text and illustrations. Religious content is not specific to any one faith tradition. Suitable for use with very young child. Ages preschool -5, possibly older.
Uma Krishnaswami (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Kri)
When Grandma comes down with a "bad case of sadness" one year after Grandpa's death, Daysha collects objects that will remind her grandmother of Daysha's grandfather. Ages 4-8+.
Mem Fox (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Fo)
Very simple text traces the close relationship between Sophie and Grandpa, from before her birth (“Once there was no Sophie”) until after Grandpa’s passing (“there was emptiness and sadness for a while”) and on to the birth of Sophie’s own child. Emphasis is on closeness within a family, in this case African-American, and the cyclical nature of life and death. No religious content. One illustration shows Grandpa in his casket with many friends and loved ones around. Ages 5-8.
T.A. Barron (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Ba)
A grieving boy asks, “Where is Grandpa?” The answer is “Heaven,” but where is that? Heaven “means different things to different people and it’s hard to explain.” The basic message is that deceased loved ones live on in all the places where we remember them. Nice comforting story. No mention of God. Only vague religious overtones- may not be appropriate for those seeking a more definite religion-based image of heaven. Ages 5-9+.
Melanie Joy Pastor (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Pa)
When a brother and sister learn of their grandfather's death from their mother, they talk about all the things they enjoyed doing with Poppy, and together they draw strength from their shared happy memories. Ages 5-9+.
Death of a Parent
Cornelia Spelman (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Sp)
Deals with many issues: fears surrounding death (death is not sleep, etc.); keeping feelings inside; cruelty of other kids; usefulness of counseling/therapy. Ends on a positive note. No religious content. Ages 5-7.
Lucille Clifton (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Cl)
A very clear presentation of the five stages of grief, as experienced by an African-American boy whose Daddy has died. No religious content. Ages 4-7+.
Elizabeth Weitzman (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 We)
Simple text- deals clearly with concepts of grief, fear, etc. Explains what the child may experience, emotionally and practically. Suggests talking to a minister or rabbi, but presents no actual religious content. Ages 5-9.
Eleanor Schick (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.
A child remembers the day she learned her Mama was sick, and all the difficult days that followed. The book stresses that Mama lives on in the girl’s heart; does not deal with concept of an afterlife. Ends on a positive note; she will feel better in time. Ages 5-9.
Julie Kaplow (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Kap)
With the help of her neighbor Mrs. Cooper, Samantha Jane is able to talk about how sad she is since her father died, and then she begins to feel better. Includes a note to parents at the end of the book, covering common reactions to the death of a parent and suggested coping techniques. No religious content. Ages 4-8.
Charlotte Moundlic (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Mou)
When his mother dies, a little boy is angry at his loss but does everything he can to hold onto the memory of her scent, her voice, and the special things she did for him, even as he tries to help his father and grandmother cope. Ages 5 and up.
Death of an Adult Family Friend or Relative
Susan Varley (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Va)
This is a lovely book about the death of an elderly friend. Death is portrayed as a joyful release from a sick or injured body. Badger’s mourning animal friends find happiness in remembering the things they shared with and learned from their departed friend. No specific religious content; Badger goes down a “Long Tunnel.” There is a suggestion of some kind of afterlife. Ages 5-8.
Susi Gregg Fowler (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Fo)
Child narrator deals with the terminal illness of his uncle. Good book to help a child adjust to the sometimes frightening changes that occur with a loved one’s grave illness and how to stay connected to a seriously ill loved one. No religious content. Ages 5-8+
Nancy White Carlstrom (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Ca)
When her best friend, an old lady named Miss Lilly, passes away, Sara learns that the memory of a loved one never dies. Very positive approach. No religious content. Ages preschool -8+.
Pat Brisson (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Br)
When his teacher, Miss Perry, is killed in a car accident, Stevie and his elementary school classmates take turns sharing memories of her, especially her fondest wish for each day. Very positive approach. Ages preschool -8+.
Death of a Sibling
Aariane R. Jackson (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Ja)
The nine-year-old author details the feelings of guilt, anger and loneliness she experienced as her older sister became ill and eventually died, after the two girls had quarreled. The family is African-American; both girls are adopted. Includes helpful section titled: “For Parents, Professionals and Other Caring Adults.” Some religious content, but idea of heaven is not stressed. Pulls some content from Lifetimes: the Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children [See section on Death- General Questions]- the two books could be used together. Ages 5-9.
Janice Cohn (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Co)
Really nice, gentle treatment of a child’s reaction to her mother’s miscarriage. Parents and grandmother answer her questions and reassure her. Includes a good “Introduction for Parents.” Ages 5-7+ (younger if adult shortens the text while reading).
Patricia Polin Johnson (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Jo)
Follows Morgan through the anticipation of becoming a big sister, to the news that the baby has died, and beyond. She learns that a friend’s family also lost an infant. A central concept is saying goodbye; in this case the vehicle is a balloon release. Includes definite religious content. Morgan is assured she will see the baby someday in heaven. Includes sections with suggestions about helping siblings, how to use the book, and questions for discussion. Ages 5-8.
Wendie Old (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Ol)
Very nice treatment of issues surrounding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome from a preschool or early grades perspective. Stacy receives reassurance and information when she fears her resentment of the baby caused the death. Includes “A Note for Parents,” containing information about SIDS and suggestions of how to help siblings. No religious content. Ages preschool –7.
Death of a Peer/Schoolmate
Audrey Penn (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Pen)
After his mother explains why his classmate is not returning to school, she teaches Chester Raccoon how to make a memory. Ages 5-10.
Janice Cohn (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Co)
An older title, this is included because it is suitable for a younger child, and because it deals with accidental death. Presents the surviving friend’s fears, confusion and anger, and portrays a very supportive group of parents and teachers who help her cope. Text is a bit wordy in places. Includes a clear explanation of a funeral and burial. No mention of afterlife; the friend lives on in others’ memories. Includes an Introduction for parents. Ages 4-7+
Mary Bahr (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Bah)
The young male narrator’s best friend has died. We share his memories and the ways he and his classmates cope with their loss. Includes the creation of a memory box they fill with special items. A gentle but straight forward treatment. No religious content. Ages 5-9.
Eve Bunting (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Bu)
Based on a true story, this is a beautiful tale of friendship, loss and the return of hope. The narrator is a young girl whose best friend, a boy, suffers and dies from a heart defect. She is helped through her grief by family support and by the school’s creation of a memorial pond (Rudi loved ponds). There is a rather vague suggestion of reincarnation; families should judge whether they find this disturbing before using this book. No mention of heaven or other religious content. Ages 5-9.
Death of a Pet
Cynthia Rylant (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Ry)
Absolute reassurance for a child who has lost a beloved pet; dog heaven is a wonderful place. Pets sometimes secretly revisit their families to check that everything is OK, and owners are eventually reunited with their pets. Extremely strong religious theme throughout: God, heaven, angels, etc. Not too much text; simple illustrations. Ages 3-6; or for somewhat older children who need this reassurance.
Robert Burleigh (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Bur)
A father teaches his young son about death and remembrance as he buries their beloved dog who has died of old age. Ages 4-9+.
Robie H. Harris (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Ha)
At first the narrator, a very young child, denies his mouse has died and then he expresses anger and sadness in very simple direct terms. A gentle sweet story, validating a very young child’s feelings. (At one point he says, “And I hate all this dying stuff. Let’s bury Mousie NOW!”). Includes a backyard burial. No religious content or mention of afterlife. Ages preschool-7.
Marianne Johnston (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 Jo)
Nice, simple, treatment of how pets die and how it makes the children feel. Covers the decision to “put a pet to sleep.” Ages 4-8.
Barbara Walsh (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Wal)
A little girl tells about her special pet, Sammy, "the best hound dog in the whole world," and how, after he becomes sick and dies, she comes to know the truth of her mother's words, that Sammy's spirit is everywhere. Ages 5-10.
Corinne Demas (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej De)
Narrated in first person by the little girl who loved Lulu. She reviews the dog’s life from puppyhood to end. Nice portrayal of the child’s initial fear about death and the process through which she mourns and recovers. Includes backyard burial. No religious content. Could cause a problem for some families- the girl mourns until she gets a new puppy. Ages 3-7.
Marge Eaton Heegaard (Juvenile Nonfiction - J 155.937 He)
Designed for child to draw and color on pages. Focus of this book is on child’s feelings. No religious content. Ages 5-12.
Jane Yolen (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Yol)
A cat whose kitten days are far behind her says goodbye to her human family, and the animals and places that have made her life special, before leaving this life behind. Ages 4-8.
Emma Chichester Clark (Juvenile Picture Books - Ej Ch)
Comforting story of an old dog who wakes up one morning in heaven. From heaven, the dog can watch over her earthly family, and she sends her little boy nice dreams so he knows how wonderful dog heaven is. Then she sends him a dream of a puppy, so he knows it is OK to get a new dog. There is a strong religious theme, but God is implied rather than mentioned. Minimal text. Ages 3-7.