Books for Helping Children Through Bereavement

Our guest blogger today is Mrs. Beverly Keegan, Librarian at Millcreek Elementry School, Bucks County Pennsylvania . A teacher for over thirteen years and a school librarian for the past nine years, Mrs. Keegan suggests books which  may help a grieving child. She writes:

The loss of a loved one is difficult for anyone, but it can be especially confusing for young people. There are many ways to help children better understand death, but perhaps the least threatening approach is to expose them to a character feeling their same emotions in a fictional book.  Reading a book either independently or together can be a good way to start a conversation about tough feelings.  Below, I have created a list of books that might be helpful for various types of grief.  I tried to choose more titles that would be most likely found in a school or library setting.

Loss of a Pet: 
Cat Heaven or Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (all ages):  Beautiful verse and vibrant illustrations highlight the possible afterlife of both of our most beloved animal friends.

I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm (grades K-2):  A boy loses his longtime companion in this beautiful picture book.

The 10th Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (all ages):  A tender picture book that deals with the loss of the main character’s cat. 

Loss of a Mother or Loss of a Teacher:
Remembering Mrs. Rossi by Amy Hest (grades 3-6):  Annie deals with the sudden death of her mother, who was also a popular 6th grade teacher.

Loss of a Parent:

Everett Anderson’s Goodbye (grades K-3) by Lucille Clifton: A boy struggles with the death of his father.

The Memory String (grades 2-4) by Eve Bunting:  A girl grieves for her mother while trying to accept a new stepmother.  She remembers her mom by counting a string of memory beads. 

Loss of a Friend:
If Nathan Were Here (grades 1-3) by Mary Bahr:  A young boy deals with the loss of his best friend.  It is simple, yet poignant.

Water Bugs and Dragonflies (grades 1-3):  a simple animal fable about loss.

Loss of a Sibling:
Kira-Kira (grades 5 and up)—This Newbery Award winner tackles the tough subject of a sister who becomes terminally ill.  As her illness worsens, Katie does her best to remember Lynn’s “kira-kira,” which means her bright, shining ways.

Getting Near to Baby (grades 4 and up):   In this Newbery medal winner, two sisters move into their aunt’s house.  As, the story unfolds, the reader discovers that their infant sister has died.  The book deals with the girls’ confusion about their mother’s feelings and their own sense of loss. 

Loss of a Relative:
Missing May (grades 4 and up):  In this Newbery Award winner, Summer loses her Aunt May.  It is a story of how to start to live again after a sharp loss.

Each Little Bird That Sings (grades 4 and up):  The main character is used to death, as her family owns the town funeral parlor.  However, when her own dear uncle dies, she gets a whole new perspective on sorrow.

For adults and children:
Tear Soup: A parable about a woman who has lost an unnamed loved one.  She mixes up a batch of tear soup, made of memories and experiences.   This beautiful book could be applied to many different types of grief.

Mrs. Keegan has her own blog and website at
©2010 Two Peds in a Pod

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1 Comment

  • Reply Brian Brangan May 31, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Dr. Lai,
    I skimmed the list of recommended books on death & noted two glaring omissions that Olivia and I found to be invaluable when we lost our dog after a long illness [we were able to prepare the girls for what was coming] and again last year when my Dad died pretty suddenly-
    “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” by Leo Buscaglia [not religious, everything is born lives and eventually dies as related through the life of a leaf].

    I can’t find the other one – the title will pop into my head in a half hour or so. “Leaf” is the best that I’ve read on the subject.

    I did notice another book on the shelf worth recommending – kind of obscure – “How to Behave and Why” by Munro Leaf. Based on our recent conversations, the efficacy could be called into question, however, it is only in semi-regular rotation.

    Methinks it is moving up into the “top 5” for awhile.

    Brian Brangan

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