Mental Health: Grief

Ann Jacobus and Nan­cy Bo Flood, authors and edu­ca­tors, devel­oped this list of mid­dle grade nov­els and pic­ture books with grief and loss as a focus. They are main­tain­ing it, so if you have sug­ges­tions, please let us know in the com­ments. Ann and Nan­cy are avail­able for work­shops on this impor­tant top­ic for librar­i­ans, edu­ca­tors, and men­tal health orga­ni­za­tions. Ann Jacobus. Nan­cy Bo Flood.


King and the Drag­on­flies
writ­ten by Kacen Cal­len­der
Scholas­tic Press, 2020
(12-year-old queer char­ac­ter, grief, racism, domes­tic violence)

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his broth­er Khalid has turned into a drag­on­fly. When Khalid unex­pect­ed­ly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for anoth­er to live down by the bay­ou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still vis­its in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to him­self as he watch­es grief trans­form his family.

It would be eas­i­er if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friend­ship, after over­hear­ing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want any­one to think you’re gay too, do you?”

But when Sandy goes miss­ing, spark­ing a town-wide search, and King finds his for­mer best friend hid­ing in a tent in his back­yard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abu­sive father, and the two begin an adven­ture as they build their own pri­vate par­adise down by the bay­ou and among the drag­on­flies. As King’s friend­ship with Sandy is reignit­ed, he’s forced to con­front ques­tions about him­self and the real­i­ty of his broth­er’s death.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
writ­ten by Michael Rosen
illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2005
(grief, depres­sion) 

Some­times I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and cov­ers me up.

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 of. Expres­sive­ly illus­trat­ed by the extra­or­di­nary Quentin Blake, this is a very per­son­al sto­ry that speaks to every­one, from chil­dren to par­ents to grand­par­ents, teach­ers to grief coun­selors. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel deeply sad, the truth of this book will sure­ly touch you.

The Boy and the Goril­la
writ­ten by Jack­ie Azúa Kramer
illus­trat­ed by Cindy Der­by
Can­dlewick Press, 2020
(grief, depres­sion) 

On the day of his mother’s funer­al, a young boy con­jures the very vis­i­tor he needs to see: a goril­la. Wise and gen­tle, the goril­la stays on to answer the heart-heavy ques­tions the boy hes­i­tates to ask his father: Where did his moth­er go? Will she come back home? Will we all die?

Yet with the gorilla’s friend­ship, the boy slow­ly begins to dis­cov­er moments of com­fort in tend­ing flow­ers, play­ing catch, and climb­ing trees. Most of all, the goril­la knows that it helps to sim­ply talk about the loss — espe­cial­ly with those who share your grief and who may feel alone, too.

Author Jack­ie Azúa Kramer’s qui­et­ly thought­ful text and illus­tra­tor Cindy Derby’s beau­ti­ful impres­sion­is­tic art­work depict how this ten­der rela­tion­ship leads the boy to open up to his father and find a path for­ward. Told entire­ly in dia­logue, this direct and deeply affect­ing pic­ture book will inspire con­ver­sa­tions about grief, empa­thy, and heal­ing beyond the final hope-filled scene.

Walk­ing Grand­ma Home: a sto­ry of grief, hope, and heal­ing
writ­ten by Nan­cy Bo Flood
illus­trat­ed by Ellen Shi
Zon­derkidz, 2023
(ill­ness, grief) 

This pic­ture book from a child psy­chol­o­gist and coun­selor uses a touch­ing and relat­able sto­ry about a young boy’s grief to help chil­dren 4 – 8 under­stand what it means to lose a loved one and how to process their own emo­tions of fear, grief, and joy­ful remembrance.

When Grand­ma tells Lee she will soon be “going home,” Lee is con­fused. Isn’t Grand­ma already home? But as Grand­ma’s health gets worse and her death approach­es, Lee learns what it means to “walk Grand­ma home” to heav­en, while also reflect­ing on his good mem­o­ries and deal­ing with his grief along­side his extend­ed family.

Ida, Always
writ­ten by Caron Levis
illus­trat­ed by Charles San­toso
Atheneum, 2016
(loss, grief)

A beau­ti­ful, hon­est por­trait of loss and deep friend­ship told through the sto­ry of two icon­ic polar bears.

Gus lives in a big park in the mid­dle of an even big­ger city, and he spends his days with Ida. Ida is right there. Always.

Then one sad day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick, and she isn’t going to get bet­ter. The friends help each oth­er face the dif­fi­cult news with whis­pers, snif­fles, cud­dles, and even laughs. Slow­ly Gus real­izes that even after Ida is gone, she will still be with him — through the sounds of their city, and the mem­o­ries that live in their favorite spots.

Ida, Always is an exquis­ite­ly told sto­ry of two best friends — inspired by a real bear friend­ship — and a gen­tle, mov­ing, need­ed reminder that loved ones lost will stay in our hearts, always.

Grandpa’s Win­dow
writ­ten by Dr. Lau­ra Gehl
illus­trat­ed by Udayano Lugo
(loss, grief)

Every win­dow at the hos­pi­tal faces dull, gray build­ings — except the one in Grand­pa’s room. Grand­pa can see the ocean every day! When Daria vis­its, she and Grand­pa look out at the beach, hop­ing they will build sand­cas­tles and fly kites togeth­er again.

This touch­ing explo­ration of a child’s expe­ri­ence of loss offers an unex­pect­ed end­ing, encour­ag­ing cre­ativ­i­ty and self-expres­sion in the midst of grief.

Grand­pa’s Win­dow address­es the griev­ing process, both as a fam­i­ly mem­ber approach­es the end of life as well as after death. The book includes a note for adults by Dr. Sharie Coombes, child and fam­i­ly psy­chother­a­pist, about how to sup­port chil­dren who are griev­ing the loss of a loved one.

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