Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Death and Grief

Our Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs read three books about death, writ­ten for chil­dren, in April of 2017. We’ve updat­ed this list with new­er books in Octo­ber, 2018. Sev­er­al of our librar­i­an mem­bers stat­ed that they receive many requests from patrons for books that help chil­dren under­stand death. Our mem­bers around the coun­try put their heads togeth­er to make rec­om­men­da­tions of books they felt are excel­lent sto­ries and dis­cus­sion starters for fam­i­lies. They are pre­sent­ed in alpha­bet­i­cal order by title. There are books sug­gest­ed for many age ranges from pic­ture books to books for teens. And, as with most good children’s books, these are good read­ing for adults as well.

After Life  

After Life: Ways We Think about Death
writ­ten by Mer­rie-Ellen Wilcox
Orca Pub­lish­ing, 2018

For ages 8 to 12 (and old­er), a look at the sci­ence and cul­ture of death, dying, and grief. Each chap­ter includes a brief telling of a death leg­end, myth or his­to­ry from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture or tra­di­tion, from Adam and Eve to Wolf and Coy­ote, and ends with a sec­tion on a com­mon theme in our think­ing about death, such as rivers and birds in the after­life, the col­ors that dif­fer­ent cul­tures use to sym­bol­ize death, and, of course, ghosts. The final chap­ter is about grief, which is both a uni­ver­sal human expe­ri­ence and unique to each per­son. The text offers sug­ges­tions for ways to think about our grief, when to ask for help and how to talk to friends who are griev­ing.

All Around Us  

All Around Us
writ­ten by Xele­na Gon­za­lez, illus by Adri­ana M. Gar­cia
Cin­co Pun­tas Press, 2017

For ages 3 to 7, a young girl and her grand­fa­ther look at the cir­cles in nature and the cycles in life. They dis­cuss the earth, plant­i­ng and har­vest­ing, and life, from birth to death. It’s a book filled with images that will stay with you for a long time.

All Three Stooges  

All Three Stooges
writ­ten by Eri­ca S. Perl
Knopf, 2018

The close friend­ship of two best friends, Noah and Dash, is heav­i­ly test­ed when Dash’s father com­mits sui­cide. Dash with­draws from Noah and Noah isn’t sure how to breach the wall. The two have always shared a love of com­e­dy and Noah tries his best because he needs his friend book. Noa, a girl in Dash and Noah’s Hebrew class, adds to the tex­ture of the sto­ry, as does an inter­wo­ven his­to­ry of famous Jew­ish come­di­ans. This book is full of humor, heart, and under­stand­ing … share this as a fam­i­ly read-aloud.

Badger's Parting Gifts  

Badger’s Part­ing Gifts
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Susan Var­ley
Harper­Collins, 1992

When Bad­ger dies, his friends are very sad. Each of them finds a gift that Bad­ger gave them and shares the sto­ry of the gift with the oth­ers, which helps them all to under­stand what made Bad­ger so spe­cial to them.

Beat the Turtle Drum  

Beat the Tur­tle Drum
writ­ten by Con­stance Greene
Viking Pen­guin, 1976

Two sis­ters, one gre­gar­i­ous and one more intro­spec­tive, are best friends, explor­ing life togeth­er. One of them is horse-crazy and the oth­er tries to under­stand what it is about a horse that makes her sis­ter so entranced. Then one day, there’s an acci­dent, and life changes dra­mat­i­cal­ly for this fam­i­ly. 

 

Bridge to Terabithia

 

Bridge to Ter­abithia
writ­ten by Kather­ine Pater­son
Harper­Collins, 1977

Jess Aarons has been prac­tic­ing all sum­mer so he can be the fastest run­ner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, out­paces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchant­ed land called Ter­abithia. One morn­ing, Leslie goes to Ter­abithia with­out Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his fam­i­ly and the strength that Leslie has giv­en him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole  

Care and Feed­ing of a Pet Black Hole
writ­ten by Michelle Cuevas
Dial Books, 2017

When Stel­la Rodriguez vis­its NASA to con­tribute to the Gold­en Record, a black hole fol­lows her home. Mean­ing to become a pet, it swal­lows up every­thing it touch­es (as a black hole would). That’s con­ve­nient for get­ting rid of gifts she doesn’t love … and for things that remind her painful­ly of her father who has recent­ly died. When the black hole eats her, her broth­er, and her dog, she comes to a real­iza­tion about grief. At turns fun­ny and touch­ing, this is a good empa­thy-build­ing book for ages 8 to 12.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground  

Clay­ton Bird Goes Under­ground
writ­ten by Rita Williams-Gar­cia, illus by  Frank Mor­ri­son
Amis­tad, 2017

Clay­ton res­onates with his grandfather’s music, the blues. Although Clay­ton is young, Cool Papa Byrd lets him play his blues harp (har­mon­i­ca) when he and the Blues­men per­form. Clay­ton emu­lates his grand­fa­ther, loves him com­plete­ly, wants des­per­ate­ly to under­stand the blues. But Clayton’s moth­er har­bors resent­ments about her dad and his always being on the road when she was grow­ing up. When Cool Papa Bird dies unex­pect­ed­ly, Clay­ton knows he must play the blues … and his moth­er for­bids him. Clay­ton runs away from home, try­ing to find the Blues­men so he can join them on tour. Things don’t go quite as planned and sud­den­ly life, and the blues, take on new mean­ings.

Cry Heart, But Never Break  

Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break
writ­ten by Glenn Ringvedt, illus by Char­lotte Par­di
Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2016

This is one of the books we read for Chap­ter & Verse. Peo­ple felt it tells the sto­ry of death quite sen­si­tive­ly. Aware their grand­moth­er is grave­ly ill, four sib­lings make a pact to keep death from tak­ing her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gen­tly, nat­u­ral­ly. And he comes with enough time to share a sto­ry with the chil­dren that helps them to real­ize the val­ue of loss to life and the impor­tance of being able to say good­bye.

Death is Stupid  

Death is Stu­pid
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anas­ta­sia Hig­gin­both­am
Fem­i­nist Press at CUNY, 2016

In a starred review, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly wrote, “It’s [an] exact mix of true-to-life humor and unflinch­ing hon­esty that makes Higginbotham’s book work so well, and many of the plain­spo­ken sen­ti­ments she includes, as well as sev­er­al includ­ed ideas for how to remem­ber and hon­or those who have depart­ed, may be eye-open­ing for read­ers fac­ing grief them­selves.” If your child, ages 4 and up, will ben­e­fit from direct respons­es, share this book with them. 

 

Dog Heav­en
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Cyn­thia Rylant
Blue Sky Press, 1995

Specif­i­cal­ly writ­ten for very young chil­dren who are griev­ing the loss of a dog, Rylant por­trays heav­en as a place where dogs are free to roam and play and God is a kind­ly man dis­pens­ing dog bis­cuits. The details are plen­ti­ful, cre­at­ing a lov­ing pic­ture of a rest­ful place. There is a com­pan­ion vol­ume, Cat Heav­en.

Duck, Death and the Tulip  

Duck, Death and the Tulip
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wold Erl­bruch
Gecko Press, 2016

When Death appears behind Duck one sum­mer day, Duck is alarmed. Has Death come to claim Duck? But they spend the sum­mer togeth­er, grow­ing com­fort­able with each oth­er, offer­ing advice and ges­tures of friend­ship. When it is time for Duck to die, Death shows great respect, send­ing Duck afloat down a riv­er with a red tulip on its breast. The art and the sto­ry work beau­ti­ful­ly togeth­er in this book for ages 10 and up. 

Fall of Freddy the Leaf  

Fall of Fred­dy the Leaf: a Sto­ry of Life for All Ages
writ­ten by Leo Buscaglia
Stack, Inc., 1982

This sto­ry tells about death through the metaphor of leaves on trees. Fred­die and his com­pan­ion leaves change with the pass­ing sea­sons, final­ly falling to the ground with winter’s snow, an alle­go­ry that illus­trates the del­i­cate bal­ance between life and death.

Hey, Al  

Hey, Al
writ­ten by Arthur Yorkins, illus by Richard Egiel­s­ki
Gold­en Books, 1986

Al, a jan­i­tor, and his faith­ful dog, Eddie, live in a sin­gle room on the West Side. They eat togeth­er, they work togeth­er, they do every­thing togeth­er. So what’s the prob­lem? Life is hard. When a mys­te­ri­ous bird offers to lead them to par­adise, they agree. They’re soon liv­ing a life of lux­u­ry. But things aren’t as green as they seem.

My Father's Arms Are a Boat  

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat
writ­ten by Stein Erik Lunde, illus by Oyvind Torseter 
trans­lat­ed by Kari Dick­son
Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2013

It’s qui­eter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feel­ing the warmth and close­ness of his father, he begins to ask ques­tions about the birds, the fox­es, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go out­side under the star­ry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assur­ances calm his wor­ried son. 

The Heart and the Bottle  

The Heart and the Bot­tle
writ­ten and illus by Oliv­er Jef­fers
Philomel Books, 2010

There is a won­der and mag­ic to child­hood. We don’t real­ize it at the time, of course … yet the adults in our lives do. They encour­age us to see things in the stars, to find joy in col­ors and laugh­ter as we play.

But what hap­pens when that spe­cial some­one who encour­ages such won­der and mag­ic is no longer around? We can hide, we can place our heart in a bot­tle and grow up … or we can find anoth­er spe­cial some­one who under­stands the mag­ic. And we can encour­age them to see things in the stars, find joy among col­ors and laugh­ter as they play. This is a book that address­es loss, painful emo­tions, and find­ing one’s way back.

Ida, Always  

Ida, Always
writ­ten Car­ol Levis, illus by Charles San­toso
Atheneum, 2016

In this pic­ture book, two polar bears are best friends and they know they will always be. But then Ida gets sick and it’s clear that she is dying, and Gus real­izes he will be alone. They talk and cud­dle and share their love for each oth­er. Gus real­izes that Ida will be with him always, even after she has died. It’s a gor­geous book with an equal­ly beau­ti­ful sto­ry to tell.

Lifetimes  

Life­times: The Beau­ti­ful Way to Explain Death to Chil­dren 
writ­ten by Bryan Mel­lonie, illus by Robert Ing­pen
Ban­tam, 1983

For ages 5 to 8, this book was rec­om­mend­ed by sev­er­al child psy­chol­o­gists because it looks at the life cycles of plants, ani­mals, and humans in an under­stat­ed but com­fort­ing way, accom­pa­nied by sooth­ing illus­tra­tions.

Memory Tree  

Mem­o­ry Tree
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Brit­ta Teck­en­trup
Orchard Books, 2014

Fox lies down in his beloved for­est and takes his last breath. As ani­mal friends gath­er around him, they share their favorite sto­ries about the ways Fox was impor­tant in their lives. As they speak, a tree grows behind them, a mem­o­ry tree, that will pro­vide for and pro­tect them, just as their friend Fox did. A pic­ture book for ages 5 and up.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book  

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
writ­ten by Michael Rosen, illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2005

Some­times sad is very big. It’s every­where. All over me.” Sad things hap­pen to every­one, and some­times peo­ple feel sad for no rea­son at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is think­ing about his son, Eddie, who died sud­den­ly at the age of eigh­teen. In this book the author writes about his sad­ness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it—like telling him­self that every­one has sad stuff (not just him) and try­ing every day to do some­thing he can be proud to have done.

Mick Harte Was Here  

Mick Harte Was Here
writ­ten by Bar­bara Park
Ran­dom House, 1995

I don’t want to make you cry. I just want to tell you about Mick. But I thought you should know right up front that he’s not here any­more. I just thought that would be fair.” Phoebe’s broth­er, Mick, was one of the fun­ni­est, coolest kids you’d ever meet—the kid who made you laugh until your stom­ach hurt, even if you were mad at him. He was the kid you’d want to be friends with. So how can he be gone? And how will Phoebe’s fam­i­ly sur­vive with­out him?

Missing May  

Miss­ing May
writ­ten by Cyn­thia Rylant
Orchard Books, Scholas­tic, 1992

When May dies sud­den­ly while gar­den­ing, Sum­mer assumes she’ll nev­er see her beloved aunt again. But then Summer’s Uncle Ob claims that May is on her way back–she has sent a sign from the spir­it world.

Sum­mer isn’t sure she believes in the spir­it world, but her quirky class­mate Cle­tus Underwood–who befriends Ob dur­ing his time of mourning—does. So at Cle­tus’ sug­ges­tion, Ob and Sum­mer (with Cle­tus in tow) set off in search of Miri­am B. Young, Small Medi­um at Large, whom they hope will explain May’s depar­ture and con­firm her pos­si­ble return.

Missing Mommy  

Miss­ing Mom­my: a Book about Bereave­ment
writ­ten by Rebec­ca Cobb
Hen­ry Holt, 2013

Writ­ten from a young boy’s point of view, with words and draw­ings appro­pri­ate for some­one his age, this is a straight­for­ward sto­ry that explores the many emo­tions a bereaved child may expe­ri­ence, from anger and guilt to sad­ness and bewil­der­ment. Ulti­mate­ly, Miss­ing Mom­my focus­es on the positive―the recog­ni­tion that the child is not alone but still part of a fam­i­ly that loves and sup­ports him.

A Monster Calls  

A Mon­ster Calls
writ­ten by Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea from Siob­han Dowd
Can­dlewick Press, 2011

At sev­en min­utes past mid­night, thir­teen-year-old Conor wakes to find a mon­ster out­side his bed­room win­dow. But it isn’t the mon­ster Conor’s been expect­ing, the one from the night­mare he’s had near­ly every night since his moth­er start­ed her treat­ments. The mon­ster in his back­yard is dif­fer­ent. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants some­thing from Conor. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-win­ning author Siob­han Dowd—whose pre­ma­ture death from can­cer pre­vent­ed her from writ­ing it herself—Patrick Ness has spun a haunt­ing and dark­ly fun­ny nov­el of mis­chief, loss, and mon­sters both real and imag­ined.

My Father's Words  

My Father’s Words
writ­ten by Patri­cia MacLach­lan
Kather­ine Tegen Books / Harper­Collins, 2018

In the midst of a lov­ing fam­i­ly, Finn and Fiona are secure in their par­ents’ love and car­ing. When their father meets with an acci­dent, they must learn how to cope with­out him. A friend sug­gests they work at an ani­mal res­cue shel­ter, which may be their way out of the sor­row. A car­ing, gen­tle book. 

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs  

Nana Upstairs & Nana Down­stairs
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Tomie de Pao­la
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997

Tom­my is four years old, and he loves vis­it­ing the home of his grand­moth­er, Nana Down­stairs, and his great-grand­moth­er, Nana Upstairs. But one day Tommy’s moth­er tells him Nana Upstairs won’t be there any­more, and Tom­my must strug­gle with say­ing good­bye to some­one he loves. This is a qui­et sto­ry about a lov­ing fam­i­ly.

The Next Place  

The Next Place
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by War­ren Han­son
Wald­man House Press, 2002

Sev­er­al librar­i­ans rec­om­mend­ed this book as one that brings com­fort after loss. With words and paint­ings, it depicts a jour­ney of light and hope to a place where earth­ly hurts are left behind.

Ocean Meets Sky  

Ocean Meets Sky
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ter­ry Fan and Eric Fan
Simon & Schus­ter, 2018

In a tour-de-force of illus­tra­tion and sto­ry­telling, the Fan Broth­ers share the sto­ry of Finn, who planned an ocean voy­age with his beloved grand­fa­ther. After grandfather’s death, Finn builds a boat to take that voy­age on what would have been his grandfather’s 90th birth­day. With this ges­ture of hon­or and respect, sail­ing to the place where the ocean meets the sky, Finn finds com­fort, sail­ing through pages of won­der until his moth­er calls him home.

The Rough Patch  

Rough Patch
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Lies
Green­wil­low Books, 2018

Evan, a fox, and his dog share many adven­tures, includ­ing gar­den­ing and the coun­ty fair. When his dog dies, Evan is incon­solable. He neglects his gar­den and it becomes over­grown and weedy. In a cor­ner of the gar­den, a giant pump­kin begins grow­ing and soon it becomes clear it must be entered in the coun­ty fair. Evan returns to one of his favorite places, meet­ing up with friends, old and new.

The Scar  

The Scar
writ­ten by Char­lotte Moundlic, illus by Olivi­er Tal­lec
Can­dlewick Press, 2011

When the boy in this sto­ry wakes to find that his moth­er has died, he is over­whelmed with sad­ness, anger, and fear that he will for­get her. He shuts all the win­dows to keep in his mother’s famil­iar smell and scratch­es open the cut on his knee to remem­ber her com­fort­ing voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad any­more, and when Grand­ma vis­its and throws open the win­dows, it’s more than the boy can take–until his grand­moth­er shows him anoth­er way to feel that his mom’s love is near. 

Something Very Sorry  

Some­thing Very Sor­ry
writ­ten by Arno Bohlmei­jer
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1996

For ages 12 and up, this is the true sto­ry of a young girl’s strug­gle to come to terms with a tragedy. This sober nar­ra­tion reveals the pri­vate voice of a girl as she copes with the after­math of a car acci­dent: her mother’s death, the injuries of her father and sis­ter, and her own grief, anger, and fear of the future. It’s a poignant sto­ry of a dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion.

A Summer to Die  

A Sum­mer to Die
writ­ten by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1977

Meg isn’t thrilled when she gets stuck shar­ing a bed­room with her old­er sis­ter Mol­ly. The two of them couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent, and it’s hard for Meg to hide her resent­ment of Molly’s beau­ty and easy pop­u­lar­i­ty. But Molly’s con­stant grouch­i­ness, chang­ing appear­ance, and oth­er com­plaints are not just part of being moody. The day Mol­ly is rushed to the hos­pi­tal, Meg has to accept that there is some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong with her sis­ter. That’s the day Meg’s world changes for­ev­er. Is it too late for Meg to show how she real­ly feels?

Tear Soup  

Tear Soup: a Recipe for Heal­ing After Loss
writ­ten by Pat Schweib­ert and Chuck DeK­lyen
illus by Tay­lor Bills
Grief Watch, 2005

An inspi­ra­tional book of wis­dom about liv­ing and grow­ing with grief. After expe­ri­enc­ing loss, tears are a part of life, some­times for months and some­times for years. This book is meant to bring com­fort for ages 12 through adult. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed by edu­ca­tors, librar­i­ans, and par­ents for griev­ing chil­dren.

The Thing About Jellyfish  

The Thing About Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten by Ali Ben­jamin
Lit­tle, Brown, 2015

Every­one says that it was an acci­dent, that some­times things “just hap­pen.” But Suzy won’t believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drown­ing acci­dent, Suzy is con­vinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jel­ly­fish sting. Retreat­ing into a silent world of imag­i­na­tion, she crafts a plan to prove her theory—even if it means trav­el­ing the globe, alone. Suzy’s aching­ly heart­felt jour­ney explores life, death, the aston­ish­ing won­der of the universe—and the poten­tial for love and hope right next door.

Tuck Everlasting  

Tuck Ever­last­ing
writ­ten by Natal­ie Bab­bitt
Rine­hart and Win­ston, 1999

The Tuck fam­i­ly is con­front­ed with an ago­niz­ing sit­u­a­tion when they dis­cov­er that a ten-year-old girl and a mali­cious stranger now share their secret about a spring whose water pre­vents one from ever grow­ing old­er. A clas­sic sto­ry, this book is much dis­cussed in homes and class­rooms, from ages 10 and up through adult. It’s a sto­ry so well told that you can’t help con­sid­er­ing the big ques­tions.

What is Goodbye?  

What is Good­bye?
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes, illus by Raúl Colón
Dis­ney-Hype­r­i­on, 2004

This is the book I rec­om­mend most often for chil­dren ages 9 through adult. Jer­i­lyn and Jesse have lost their beloved old­er broth­er. Each of them deals with Jaron’s death dif­fer­ent­ly. Jer­i­lyn tries to keep it in and hold it togeth­er; Jesse acts out. But after a year of anger, pain, and guilt, they come to under­stand that it’s time to move on. It’s time for a new fam­i­ly picture—with one piece miss­ing, yet whole again. Through the alter­nat­ing voic­es of a broth­er and sis­ter, Nik­ki Grimes elo­quent­ly por­trays the griev­ing process in this gem of a book that is hon­est, pow­er­ful, and ulti­mate­ly hope­ful.

When Dinosaurs Die  

When Dinosaurs Die: a Guide to Under­stand­ing Death
writ­ten by Lau­rie Kras­ny Brown, illus by Marc Brown
Lit­tle Brown, 1998

No one can real­ly under­stand death, but to chil­dren, the pass­ing away of a loved one can be espe­cial­ly per­plex­ing and trou­ble­some. This is true whether the loss is a class­mate, friend, fam­i­ly mem­ber, or pet. In this book, wis­dom is shared by dinosaurs, pro­vid­ing answers to kids’ most-often-asked ques­tions, explor­ing the feel­ings we may have regard­ing the death of a loved one, and the ways to remem­ber some­one after he or she has died.

Whirligig  

Whirligig
writ­ten by Paul Fleis­chman
Hen­ry Holt, 1998

When Brent Bish­op is out­raged at a high school par­ty, he dri­ves away hurt, furi­ous, and out of con­trol. He dri­ves reck­less­ly, deter­mined to kill him­self, but kills a girl instead, a high school senior with a bright future. Filled with guilt, Brent wants to make resti­tu­tion. The girl’s moth­er asks him to cre­ate whirligigs and set them up in the four cor­ners of the Unit­ed States. We fol­low Brent on his jour­ney, meet­ing the peo­ple whose lives he affects and who change his life.

8 Responses to Death and Grief

  1. Ramona July 8, 2017 at 11:07 pm #

    Great list. I would add Badger’s Part­ing Gifts by Susan Var­ley.

    • Vicki Palmquist July 10, 2017 at 7:45 am #

      Thank you for the sug­ges­tion, Ramona. I’ve added that book to the list. You’re right, it belongs there!

  2. Carolyn October 5, 2018 at 8:26 am #

    And Eri­ca Perl’s ALL THREE STOOGES. Heart­break­ing but also humor­ous.

    • acornvlp October 5, 2018 at 8:34 am #

      Thanks for your rec­om­men­da­tion, Car­olyn. We’ll add that title short­ly.

  3. Joanne Linden October 5, 2018 at 4:49 pm #

    Won­der­ful list! Thank you

    • Vicki Palmquist October 6, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

      You’re wel­come, Joanne.

  4. Carmela McCain Simmons October 7, 2018 at 3:48 pm #

    May I rec­om­mend New­bery Medal win­ning author Patri­cia MacLaughlin’s 2018 mid­dle grade nov­el My Father’s Words be added to this list?

    • Vicki Palmquist October 7, 2018 at 5:17 pm #

      Thank you for the sug­ges­tion, Carmela, for Ms. MacLachlan’s brand new book. We’ve added the book to the arti­cle … and I appre­ci­ate the heads-up. I’ve checked the book out of the library.

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