When a little one in your life must say goodbye to a relative or to a pet, processing the emotions that come along with the death of a loved one can be a challenge. Authors and illustrators take on this sensitive subject in a myriad of ways, leaving grievers with plenty of options that reflect many experiences. These 10 picture books explore everything from the practical side of death to the stark range of emotions those left behind may feel. If you’re having trouble finding the words, let these stories speak for your heart on the difficult subjects of death and grief.
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved
Four children experience the imminent death of their grandmother when Death, personified, visits. With cozy, watercolor illustrations and an acknowledgment that children may still not fully understand death and its purpose, Cry, Heart, But Never Break is an honest, if mythical, option for older children.
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
Boats for Papa will break and mend your heart with a story of a young beaver coping with his father’s death. With beautiful illustrations that whisper “hope,” the story follows Buckley and his love of making boats. An excellent metaphor for the love that grievers continue to feel, Boats for Papa is appropriate for all ages, but will best be understood by children who are at least 5.
Where Do They Go? by Julia Alvarez
In verse, Where Do They Go? asks where those who have passed end up, suggesting a variety of ways the dead can participate in the lives of the living. The picture book provides comforting possibilities for a kind of life after death without a religious message. Sabra Field provides bold and simplistic illustrations to accompany the poem, which is appropriate for grievers as young as two.
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown
In a piece where the blunt side of death meets humanity’s response, the author of Goodnight Moon explores the events that occur after a group of children find a deceased bird on the ground. Brown takes a nihilistic view, which, though not traditionally comforting, might find a special place in young readers who struggle to find meaning in death. Christian Robinson provides basic illustrations with an urban backdrop.
The Forever Dog by Bill Cochran
When his dog becomes ill, Mike has little time to say goodbye, and finds his grief challenging as it manifests in anger. A lengthier selection with friendly illustrations that are slightly reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, this book is an appropriate choice for older children. Though the book focuses on the loss of a pet, children may benefit from this book after any kind of loss.
Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb
With childlike illustrations and simple language that imitates the speaking patterns of a child, Missing Mommy tells the story of a young child whose mother has passed away. For children specifically grieving the loss of a parent, this book provides the knowledge that they are not alone. Author Rebecca Cobb provides hope in both her words and in bright illustrations.
The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen
Focusing on the process of death for the dying individual rather than the grief loved ones experience, The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye is a serene look at a cat’s last days in her body. Paired with lovely illustrations, Yolen’s poetic words float across the page, helping to familiarize the reader with death. This picture book is especially appropriate for children worrying about a loved one who is dying and what will happen to them.
When Aunt Mattie Got Her Wings by Petra Mathers
Lottie has gotten word that her beloved Aunt Mattie is near the end of her life. Before long, Aunt Mattie passes away, leaving Lottie and her friend Herbie. When Aunt Mattie Got Her Wings is a great practical look at death, helping children to understand some of the more mundane things about handling the end of a loved one’s life, such as why a parent might be visiting a sick loved one at the hospital unexpectedly. Touching and sweet, this picture book is excellent for children who are ages 5 and up.
The Pond by Nicola Davies
Dad has promised to build a pond with lily pads and more in the backyard. But when he passes away before the pond can become a reality, a lonely hole sits in the land reminding the remaining family of three of their loss. As the family travels through their grief journey, they learn about themselves and each other. Paired with a genius metaphor, this picture book explains not only how grief feels, but what to do with it.
The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic
The morning after Mom dies, the narrator of this strikingly illustrated story explains to the reader what life is like without her. With a focus on the emotional trouble a child can feel after losing a parent, The Scar will helpfully reflect the child’s experience.