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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 had a many-faceted discussion. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

2 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!

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