Books that Teach Children about Death

Death is a natural part of life, but it is hard for parents or caregivers to discuss this delicate subject with their children. Sadness, fear and betrayal are just a few of the many overwhelming emotions felt by children who have lost a loved one. Fortunately, as parents, there is much we can do to help our children through the healing process.

One such strategy is reading with your kids age-appropriate books that discuss death in honest and sincere terms. These books can serve as a discussion starter and help you better communicate what it means to die and to grieve. Here is an age-by-age list of the best books for sensitive times.  

Ages 4 to 8

A Pillow for My Mom, by Charissa Sgouros Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books, 1998. A young girl sews a special pillow for her bedridden, terminally ill mother. The mother’s death is never stated specifically but is implied when the girl talks of how she treasures the pillow as a loving memory.   

After the Funeral, by Jane Loretta Winsch, Paulist Press, 1995. An introspective look at the healing process and how children and their families move forward toward acceptance and understanding. 

Annie and the Old One, Miska Miles, Scott Foresman, 1985. Annie, a young Native American, naively tries to prevent her beloved grandmother from dying. “The Old One,” however, appeases Annie’s fear by explaining the life cycle and the belief that all living things must someday return to the earth.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: 20th Anniversary Edition, Leo Buscaglia, Henry Holt and Company Inc., 2002. A classic tale of Freddie and his companion leaves experiencing the changing of seasons and learning that death is a part of life.

Grandma’s Scrapbook, by Josephine Nobisso, Gingerbread House, 2000. Discusses the importance of preserving memories and the healing powers of keeping a scrapbook.

Help Me Say Good-bye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies, by Janis Silverman, Fairview Press, 1999. An art therapy book with sensitive exercises for children who have recently lost a loved one.

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, by Tommie dePaola, Puffin, 2000, (Ages 4 to 8). A touching account of how a young boy copes with the loss of his beloved grandmother by describing his memories of her to others.

Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss, by Michaelene Mundy, Abbey Press, 1998. A life-affirming guide that tells children what they need to know after a loss: They are safe; life is good; and the hurt will heal over time.    

Sadako, by Eleanor Coerr, Putnam Publishing Group Juvenile, 1993. The stirring, life-affirming story of a young girl’s fight with leukemia.  

Waiting for the Whales, by Sheryl McFarlane, Philomel Books, 1993. The story of a gentle old man whose life and habits resemble the changing seasons around him. His favorite ritual, one that he will pass on to his daughter and infant grandchild, involves watching the whales swim by his seaside home during the summer months.    

Waiting to Sing, Howard Kaplan, DK Publishing, 2000. A musical family goes silent after the mother dies, until one day when the surviving father and son share a moment of mourning not through words, but through music. 

When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasny, Little Brown and Company, 1998. Featuring characters from the popular book “Dinosaur Divorce,” this installment gives an honest, age-appropriate explanation of death and the ensuing healing process.    

When Your Pet Dies, by Diane Pomerance, Polaire Publications, 2001. A touching look at the unmistakably strong bond between pets and their owners. FYI: The books lush, colorful illustrations were done by a 13-year-old girl.

Ages 9 to 12

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, HarperTrophy, 2003, (Ages 9 to 12). Winner of the prestigious Newbery Award, this 144-page novel follows the relationship of a fifth-grader who wants nothing more than to be the fastest boy in his school and a tomboy who helps him to see what is really important in life   

Carolina Autumn, by Carol Lynch Williams, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 2000 (Ages 9 to 12). The emotional story of ninth-grader Carolina McKinny, who, along with her mother, is struggling to cope with the accidental death of her father and older sister.

What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? By Elizabeth Verdick, Free Spirit Publishing, 1999, (Ages 9 to 12). Simple, insightful and straight from the heart, this book addresses what death means and how children can cope with the sadness.

For Adults

Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Loved One: A Guide for Grownups, by William C. Kroen, Free Spirit Publishing, 1996. Sound, compassionate advice for adults helping a child cope with death.

More Resrouces

Gone But Not Forgotten
Expert strategies for helping your child understand and cope with the loss of a loved one.