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
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
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
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.
written by Caron Levis
illustrated by Charles Santoso
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.
written by Dr. Laura Gehl
illustrated by Udayano Lugo
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.