It is one of life’s sad certainties that children will experience grief at some point, we’ve collected together some great literature that can help children understand bereavement.
“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.” – Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
The loss of a loved one can be painful and bewildering at any age and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier with experience. How then can we prepare children for the sad certainty of their first bereavement?
Grief can affect each of us in a different way, and everyone turns to their own coping mechanisms and rituals in times of bereavement, be it religion, community or poetry. Literature has much to offer on the subject of bereavement and children’s books are no exception.
Children’s literature has perhaps a greater responsibility than other genres to examine death and bereavement in a delicate yet sincere way that will undertake the range and depth of emotion without prescribing a single, sure-fire solution. After all, one of the most difficult things about helping a child to understand death is that none of us have any concrete answers, only beliefs and theories.
Children must be allowed to form their own understanding of bereavement, just as we have done or continue to do, and literature is perhaps the greatest resource we have for such exploration and discovery.
We’ve put together a list of great literature on the subject of bereavement for young people of all ages which you can give to or read with your child.
Goodbye Grandma by Melanie Walsh
For ages 3+
A little boy is told that his grandmother had died but he isn’t really sure what that means. Throughout this colourful, lift-the-flap book he asks his mother questions about death and bereavement: Why do people have to die? What happens when we die? How can we remember those who’ve passed away? The gentle, sensetive dialogue between parent and child explores the subject from a child’s perspective.
Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson
For ages 7+
This collection of modern day fables explores the weird and wonderful, everyday and surreal.
The Girl Who Collected Bones – Gwyneth Jenkins has a disturbing talent for unearthing bones and conjuring up the spirit of a beloved relative.
Neither Hide nor Hair – Finton Carey runs away from home. While hiding in the woods he meets a dog with whom he has an interesting conversation.
Slog’s Dad by Mark Almond
A poignant, sensitive story of grief and loss written and illustrated in a graphic novel style Slog’s Dad explores the idea of life after death.
Slog is convinced that the scruffy bloke sitting outside the pork shop is his dad come back to visit him one last time just like he promised he would just before he died. His mate Dave isn’t convinced but if it’s not him, how does this scruffy man known everything that Slog’s dad would?
Sad Book by Michael Rosen
Written with honesty, humour and finished with charming illustrations by Quentin Blake, this book explores the experience of sadness which will resonate with readers of all ages.
Writing about his own grief after the death of his son, Rosen discusses how sadness affects him and how he deals with it, this book is both very personal and universal in its sentiment.
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
The tale of a dependable, reliable and helpful badger who realises that his old age will soon lead to death. His friends learn to come to terms with his death in an enchanting tale. With full colour illustrations throughout.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Growing up in India Mary Lennox is spoilt with servants who pamper her but when she is suddenly orphaned she must go to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire Moors where the house and grounds seem full of secrets and no one is prepared to pamper her.
When she discovers a way into a secret walled garden Mary decides to try and bring it back to life, but what else will she find in this old, lifeless house?
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
In this classic children’s book, a stuffed toy rabbit comes to life through the power of a child’s love. A discarded Christmas present, the rabbit waits patiently for the day when the Boy will chose him as a playmate. He has heard that if the Boy loves him he will become a real rabbit.
He does indeed become the Boy’s favourite toy, but when the Boy becomes sick, the velveteen rabbit’s chances of becoming real dwindle.
The Savage by David Almond
After his father’s death Blue finds comfort in dreaming up stories of a wild kid who lives alone in the woods near his home. Blue escapes into this imaginary world but when the Savage pays a nighttime visit to the local bully the boundaries of what’s real and imaginary begin to blur. Blue is no longer sure where he ends and the Savage begins.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
This heartbreaking, bestselling novel is about love, loss and hope. Siobhan Dowd began the novel while suffering terminal cancer, passing away before she finished the book. Ness took up the manuscript, completing Dowd’s original story.
Conor dreams of the same monster every night, ever since his mother fell ill and began receiving treatment that doesn’t quite seem to be working. One night a visitor appears at his bedroom window, but it isn’t the monster from his nightmares. This monster is ancient, elemental, a force of nature and it wants the truth form Conor.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
This much loved children’s book about an orphaned boy who discovers he is a wizard has become a worldwide phenomenon making it very accessible to children.
While Harry’s grief is touched upon throughout this book and the whole Harry Potter series, but the Mirror of Erised chapter in particular really explores the theme of bereavement, delving into feelings of loss and how difficult it can be preserve memories but also learn to move on.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
Five years after the tragic death of his sister Rose, Jamie and his family move to the Lake District for a fresh start. The family have fallen apart, his parents are wrecked with grief, his mother has left and his sister Jasmine (Rose’s twin) has entered a troubled teenager stage of life. Yet Jamie still can’t cry over his sister’s death and his memory of Rose gets dimmer every day.
Jamie hopes to find a way to bring the family back together.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Once there was a girl whose life was filled with wonder at the world around her, but one day something happens which makes her hide her heart away in a safe place.
Suddenly the world seems an emptier place, but how will she get her heart back?
A Sky of Diamonds by Camille Gibs
When Mia’s mother dies the word changes to a dreary grey, and Mia feels angry, guilty, sad and lost. With the help of her dad, she learns how to cope with all these feelings, and together they discover their own ways to cope with bereavement, creating memory boxes, sloshing paints when they feel angry and punching holes in newspapers. Mia turns to the stars when she feels sad or lonely.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Living with a terminal illness, Hazel’s life, and the life of her parents, centre around her tumor and her treatment. Her world feels very small, with only books to escape into. But when she meets Augusts Waters at the Cancer Kid Support Group Hazel finally feels like her life has begun.
In this ambitious, bold and heartbreaking book John Green balances humour and tragedy.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
In this beautiful, heartfelt bestseller, seventeen year old Lennie Walker’s quiet world is turned upside down when her fiery older sister Bailey dies suddenly.
Having happily lived is her sister’s shadow she must now adapt to a world without her where she has suddenly been thrust onto centre stage of her own life where she must now balance two boys.
Lennie finds herself caught between one who shares her sorrow and another who takes her out of it altogether. She is torn between going forward and staying where she is, but what if the two worlds collide?
We Were Liars by Emily Lockhart
For Cadence Sinclair, Summer Fifteen is a bit of a blur. She can recall life before that summer on the private island owned by her grandparents where she has spent every summer of her life. She can remember her friendship and budding relationship with Gat. But ever since the accident that summer she has suffered memory loss and migraines, and her mother refuses to tell her what really happened.
When she does eventually return to the island everything seems different and she can tell that her family and friends are keeping something from her.
Falling Out of Time by David Gossman
This story follows two bereaved parents who set out on a journey to find their dead son. The father walks in ever-widening circles around their town and one by one, the townsfolk fall into step with him, each carrying their own sense of loss.
Discussing questions of grief and bereavement, this book is part play, part prose, pure poetry.