Mother and Baby

The best books for helping children cope with bereavement

Section: Toys & Education

When somebody dies, it can be really difficult to navigate discussions of grief and death with our children. We may fear upsetting or frightening them or losing control of our own emotions in front of them. In fact, child psychologists agree that it’s healthier to be open about bereavement and death, than to hide everything away.

One of the most constructive ways to open up this kind of conversation, and to demystify death, is through picture books. Fortunately, there are lots of beautiful stories, new and old, about loss, grief and the process of life and death.

Here are some that many other parents have found helpful.

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Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varly, £6.00, Amazon

One of the most celebrated picture books about grief, this discusses death and bereavement explicitly, but through animal characters. Badger is old, and will die soon. He isn’t afraid, but he worries about how his friends will cope. At first they are distraught, but gradually they come to remember all the things Badger taught them, and realise that he lives on in their memories. For many children a story about bereaved animals is more acceptable than human characters, while teaching the same comforting message.
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Goodbye Grandma by Melanie Walsh, £7.99, Amazon

This colourful, lift-the-flap book is aimed at toddlers, though pre-schoolers may find it reassuring, too. A little boy hears that his grandma has died, but he doesn’t really understand death means. He asks his mum important questions about death and bereavement – such as ‘where do we go when we die?’ - and gets clear answers. A good starting point for tricky conversations.
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Goodbye Mousie by Robie H. Harris and Jan Omerod, £10.64, Amazon

One morning a boy finds that his pet, Mousie, won't wake up. At first the boy can’t believe it. He gets angry, and then sad. But by talking about Mousie, burying Mousie in a special box, and saying good-bye helps he begins to come to terms with the loss. This book explores a range of normal feelings, and healthy ways of dealing with death, in simple child-friendly terms. It also contains good advice from Child Bereavement UK.
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The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup, £6.00, Amazon

When Fox lies down and dies in the forest, his friends gather around him and one by one the special moments that they shared with Fox. As they do so, a tree begins to grow, becoming stronger and taller with each memory, sheltering and protecting all the animals, the way Fox did when he was alive. A gentle, soothing picture book about celebrating loved ones and feeling their presence even after they have gone.
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Granpa by John Burningham, £4.66, Amazon 

This is a classic story about a devoted grandfather, and his special bond with his granddaughter. Unlike many other books about loss it infers his death rather than discussing it head on – with a page showing Granpa’s empty armchair and the little girl looking sad. It may sound counter-intuitive, but for some children this visual may make for a more organic discussion than a direct description of a grandparent’s death.
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 I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker, £7.99, Amazon

This book is by a psychotherapist and counsellor, so it’s great if you’re feeling overwhelmed yourself and want clear pointers on guiding your child through their grief. It focuses on helping bereaved children to express their feelings, and promotes positive interaction among children, parents, and teachers. The advice to parents at the end of the story, on managing your child’s loss alongside your own, is also really constructive.
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 Where Do They Go? by Julia Alvarez and Sabra Field, £13.42, Amazon

“When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? … Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, ‘You’re perfect, just as you are’?”  This poignant book doesn’t sugar coat loss, or offer certainty when – frankly – there is none. Instead, via poetry and beautiful illustrations, it meditates on the questions we all ask about loss. This would be a good fit for a sophisticated child who isn’t engaged by some of the more euphemistic books on this list, and finds solace in knowing they aren’t alone in their confusion.
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Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr, £5.99, Amazon

Judith Kerr’s clumsy cat Mog is already a much-loved character, making this book the perfect way to explain a pet’s death to children – especially if they are already a fan of the Mog books. With sensitivity and humour, it tackles the sadness of losing a pet and offers a reassuring conclusion.

Written by Francesca Hornak

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