As parents or other caregivers, we often work tirelessly to protect children from pain and harm. Unfortunately, in situations like death, children still sense that something is amiss, and our attempts to hide details from them may only cause anxiety and further distress later on. Therefore, may books exist to either directly or indirectly tackle the topic of death and feelings of grief with your child.
Why It’s Important To Discuss Death With Children
As children develop, they learn from their caregivers and other adults how to react in many situations. Although they do not always possess the vocabulary to accurately convey just how they feel, they can work through their emotions in a healthier way if they understand some of the reasoning behind their feelings. In cases of death, they may not fully understand the emotions that consume them as they process the loss, but they can understand that they feel certain emotions as a result of their brain trying to process.
Furthermore, children need to understand the basics of death for several reasons. First and foremost, they must know how to define death and understand why it happens so that they can not spend their entire lives living in constant fear. Second, children need us to help them understand that it is OK to move on after a loss. They need to see that we do mourn those who we loved after they pass, but that eventually we can resume our normal lives without feeling guilty or sad. Finally, talking as a family about such a grave subject can bond your family closer together. This is important in times of grief that children feel close to their parents and other family members so that they feel safe to express their feelings.
About Our List
This list touches on titles that deal with different types of loss, different points in the grieving process, and different levels of explanation depending on the age of the child. While hundreds of books about death exist, these are top rated books that are well proven to help children through loss and allow them to understand death in the best way possible.
Here are 12 of the best children’s books about death:
Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb
“Some time ago, we said good-bye to Mommy. I am not sure where she has gone.”
This straightforward, honest story explores the numerous and complex emotions a child may experience during the grieving process. From anger to guilt to sadness to bewilderment, Missing Mommy covers the whole span of emotions. In the end, the story ends with a positive message―recognition that we’re never alone, even in our most difficult moments.
This is a great choice for anyone trying to help a very young child wrap their brain around death, especially the passing of a beloved family member.
I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm
Elfie the dachshund is always with her special boy until one morning when Elfie doesn’t wake up.
I’ll Always Love You follows a family, and a young child in particular, as they grieve and bury their beloved family dog. With simple text and beautiful watercolor illustrations, this book best suits preschool aged children who potentially experience their first loss with a pet.
The Memory Box by Joanna Rowland
“I’m scared I’ll forget you…”
One of the most difficult parts of death for children to wrap their brain around is remembrance. Young children may worry that their loved one will forget them or that they will eventually forget the loved one who passed. In The Memory Box, Joanna Rowland creates a story around a child who builds a box to place mementos and written memories in so that they don’t forget the one who died. It’s a 2017 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner, and a must-have for any family as they cope with death.
In addition to a delightful story, this book includes a parent guide to help adults manage children who are coping with loss as well as a how-to guide for building your own memory box.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Childhood can feel absolutely magical at times, especially when special adults encourage a child to see the special aspects of everything. But what happens when that special adult dies?
In The Heart and the Bottle, New York Times bestseller Oliver Jeffers helps us find the joy after loss while still honoring the loved one we lost. It’s a poignant, touching tale that speaks to the heart of children and adults alike. By urging us to not put our hearts in a bottle but instead continue to find the magic in the world around us, Jeffers helps us navigate the grieving process with children so that they can find light again after loss.
Always By My Side by Susan Kerner
Coping with the death of a parent is difficult at any age, but it’s especially troublesome for young children. Always By My Side provides comfort through rhyme, and the story helps children see that a parent’s love lasts forever―even after death.
A great reminder that our parents live on through us, and that we can find little signs of our loved one’s presence in our lives even after their death. This is one of the best children’s books about death for elementary school children who may experience the devastating early loss of a parent.
The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside
Seven-year-old Rick can always be found with his beloved dog, Koko. They play, wrestle, swim, and chase each other constantly. When Koko passes, though, Rick is devastated. Thankfully, he travels to a magical paradise for pets who die and finds Koko again.
The Rainbow Bridge perfectly conveys that incredible bond between humans and their pets while also helping us process the heavy load a pet’s death places on our heart. This valuable fable is a wonderful choice for anyone who cherishes their family pet as a family member.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Jess and Leslie quickly become the best of friends and spend their days in the woods behind Leslie’s house. One dreadful morning, though, Leslie goes out to their magical land of Terabithia without her best friend Jess, and meets her tragic demise. With his families love and the strength from Leslie that still lives within his heart, Jess finds the power to handle his grief and process his best friend’s death, a death that came far too soon.
With over 40 years of print, this Newbery Medal winner and ALA Notable Children’s Book is not only a masterpiece of children’s literature, but also one of the best pre-teen novels about death and moving on.
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert
This modern-day fable shares the story of Grandy, a woman who just suffered a terrible loss. To cope, Grandy cooks up her special “tear soup.” With a blend of unique ingredients and a dash of sound advice, Grandy helps us all as we mourn the loss of someone we love.
If you’re looking for the best kids’ book about death for an older child, this is the one to buy! It validates the emotions we feel with grief, and words everything in a way that children can easily relate. Some people even recommend leaving this one out on the coffee table after the death of a family member, as it helps those who aren’t immediate family just as much as those who are grieving.
With 56 full-color pages including Grand’s Cooking Tips, this winner of the 2001 Theologos Award is a must-have for any family trying to process death.
A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith
Jamie isn’t afraid of anything and is always ready to stand beside his best friends. But what happens when something terrible happens to Jamie and he’s forever gone?
A Taste of Blackberries follows a child dealing with the sudden loss of his best friend. There are so many unanswered questions, and so many problems to face now that Jamie’s gone. Doris Buchanan Smith broke into taboo territory with this novel, but we’re incredibly glad she did. There aren’t many novels that put the sudden loss of a young person into such a relatable perspective, and none that make such an incredible read for this age group.
Whether processing the loss of a cousin or a classmate, A Taste of Blackberries is one of the best children’s books about death for the middle school age group.
37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon
Fifteen-year-old Ellis might be wrapping up her sophomore year, but not in the same way as her peers. Her mother makes the difficult decision to pull Ellis’ father off of life support, yet her friends don’t even seem to notice let alone understand how Ellis feels.
Teenagers in particular struggle when they cope with loss. 37 Things I Love not only puts the reader straight into that emotional journey, but also paints the entire picture of dealing with the world around you, too. We experience difficult family dynamics, volatile friendships, and all the complicated coming of age identity struggles that any teen faces. It’s no wonder that this novel is an award-winning work.
This is a must-read for any teen who feels alone in their struggle, especially one coping with the death of a parent or other close family member.
Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
One of 2016’s most acclaimed young adult novels, Goodbye Days explores one question: What would you do if you could just spend one final day with a loved one after they died?
Unfortunately for Carver Briggs, his final text message to his best friends potentially led directly to their untimely death. Carver can’t stop blaming himself, and he fears the worst for his future now that his best friends have passed. Will Carver make peace with these losses, or will his attempts to say goodbye simply bring him one step closer to a complete breakdown?
A great lesson and a great way to learn the complexities of survivor’s guilt, this is a great young adult novel to help process grief and explore loss in such a relatable way. Who knows, it may also encourage your young drivers to think twice before texting while behind the wheel.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Best For Ages: 12+
Lexile Level: HL550L
Length: 320 Pages (Chapter Book)
Focus Topic: Suicide
Formats Available: Print, eBook, Audiobook
Available From: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, Audible
Clay Jensen finds a strange package on his porch. He soon discovers that the box is filled with cassette tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah, who committed suicide two weeks prior. Through the tapes, Clay not only experiences Hannah’s pain, but he learns something about himself that he never wanted to know.
Unfortunately, suicide occurs far too frequently with teens and young adults. Currently, suicide is the third leading cause of death among the 15-24 age group. This not only makes knowing the signs, but talking about the subject with your teen, incredibly important. What better way to talk about this subject than to read a book together?
This addictive, gripping international bestseller is quickly becoming a modern classic! I highly recommend this book to any family with teenage children.
What do you think of our list?
It’s hard to know when death will happen, but sometimes it’s best to be prepared at any time. These books can not only help your family process a loss, but could also help introduce the topic before tragedy even strikes.