Death can be difficult to grapple with for people of any age, but it is especially challenging for children to understand.
Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that for most adults, death is not just a biological occurrence. Most adults believe there is a spiritual change at the end of life as well.
As an adult, you may attempt to share your beliefs about death and the afterlife with your children. This may be difficult, as sometimes children don’t have a sufficient vocabulary or background knowledge to understand your explanation.
On the other hand, you may feel ill-equipped talking to kids about death because you haven’t formed your own beliefs about what occurs after we die. It also can be challenging to talk about death and grief when you are devastated with complicated feelings as well.
Thankfully, authors through the ages have attempted to explain death, grief, and loss to children. Consider using one of these books for kids about death to help describe your views to your children.
Note that some of the children’s books about death are religious in nature, and others are secular.
1. Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler’s Guide to Understanding Death by Bonnie Zucker
School-aged children usually have enough background knowledge to understand the concept of death. This may not be true for a 2 or 3-year-old. Finding books for toddlers that cover death is sometimes tricky. Something Very Sad Happened is such a book.
The book is written so the adult reader can insert the appropriate pronoun and name of the person who died when sharing the book with a child.
Written by a licensed psychologist, this book discusses the feelings and emotions that come with losing someone we love.
2. God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa T. Bergren and Laura J. Bryant
Written for children from ages 3 to 7, God Gave Us Heaven describes death from a Christian context. The book tells children how Heaven is a place a person arrives at after crossing a bridge that is made by Jesus.
Besides describing Heaven, the book also explains the differences between angels and people. It says that although most of the time, older people are the ones who die, sometimes bad things happen that cause young people to leave this Earth too.
This book is a good choice for a Christian parent trying to find children's books about the death of a grandparent.
3. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
The Invisible String can be read to any child who is suffering from loss or separation, whether the separation occurs as a result of divorce, deployment, or death. This book describes how we are still connected to the people we love, even if we don’t see them.
It is worth noting that the author does mention heaven in the story, which may or may not coincide with the reader’s beliefs. Although heaven is mentioned, the author does not explicitly mention death within the text of the book.
4. Happily Ever Hereafter: A Muslim Children’s Book about Life After Death by Noor Kids
A simple Google search does not seem to identify very many books written for Islamic children on the subject of death. Happily Ever Hereafter is one such book, but it is not available for purchase on Amazon like most other titles
Happily Ever Hereafter describes death from an Islamic viewpoint. It discusses the emotions associated with death. At the same time, it outlines how making good choices on Earth will lead to a happy hereafter.
5. When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
Yes, the Fred Rogers wrote a book about the death of a pet appropriate for a preschool audience. Even though When a Pet Dies does focus on the death of animals, the gentle handling of death in this book may help your preschooler begin to understand the end of human life as well.
Mr. Rogers discusses the full range of emotions that we all may feel when we experience loss. Even though not written to address the loss of human life, it helps to introduce the concept of death in general.
6. Someone I Loved Died by Christine Harder Tangvald
Someone I Loved Died was written for children aged 4 to 8 who are dealing with grief and loss. This book, written in the Christian perspective, allows children to create a keepsake about the person they lost.
This fill-in-the-blank book allows children to share memories and images of the deceased. At the same time, it also teaches about the Biblical promise of salvation.
7. The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Rowland
Written for children aged 4 to 8, The Memory Box encourages a grief-stricken reader to collect mementos of the loved one who died. The Memory Box speaks to all the readers who are scared they will forget the little things that made their loved one special.
The book includes a parents' guide that gives readers ideas on how to help their children process loss and grief caused by the death of a loved one.
8. Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie
Bryan Mellonie’s book focuses less on the emotional side of death, but instead explains that death is a natural, biological occurrence. The book teaches children that just as plants and animals have finite life spans, so do people.
Illustrations of nature accompany the text of the book.
Lifetimes would appeal to people who prefer to view death as a natural part of the lifecycle as there are no religious undertones.
9. The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
Parents will recognize the brightly colored illustrations that accompany The Goodbye Book. The author and illustrator Todd Parr has created more than 45 books for children. This particular book is about a fish who has lost his companion.
Although the loss written about in this book is not necessarily the result of a death, the fish still goes through a wide variety of emotions. Besides feeling joyless, the fish also goes through denial and anger as a result of his loss.
10. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf tells the story of how Freddie and those around him change through the passing seasons. The allegory finishes with Freddie falling to the ground with the winter snow.
Buscaglia’s book seems to bring out strong opinions from all readers. Some view this discussion of death as heartfelt and sensitive, while others describe it as cold and depressing. Although the description of death is from a secular perspective, those in the religious communities seem to recommend it, as well.
11. Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying by Joyce C. Mills
Gentle Willow tells the story of a squirrel that is upset at the idea of losing her friend, a giant willow tree. The Gentle Willow suffers from a terminal illness, and the book helps children understand that sometimes people have a sickness that doesn’t go away.
This book is appropriate for several different audiences. It can be read to children who have a close relationship with someone who has cancer. It is also suitable to read to children with a terminal illness as well.
There are no religious references in Gentle Willow.
12. Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
This beautifully illustrated book by Nancy Tillman speaks to the unconditional love between a parent and a child. Like other books on this list, the separation between the child and the person they love may not be due to death.
Although Wherever You Are is written with a younger audience in mind, the timeless message will resonate with people of all ages.
13. Ida, Always by Caron Levis
Like many of the books on this list, Ida, Always explores the range of emotions surrounding illness and death by telling the story through the eyes of animals. The story is based on 2 real-life polar bears that lived in a zoo in New York City. When Ida dies from a terminal illness, Gus, another polar bear, has to learn to cope with the grief.
Ida, Always does not have any religious undertones or references.
14. I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas
Pat Thomas, a psychotherapist and counselor, wrote I Miss You for kids ages 4 to 7. While some books for this age group may use metaphors, allegory, or non-human characters to describe the process of death. This book, on the other hand, does not.
The illustrations in the book show children experiencing grief and sadness. The book also speaks of the regret or guilt that survivors sometimes feel for treating the deceased poorly when they were alive.
15. When I’m With Jesus: For any Child with a Loved One in Heaven by Kimberly Rae
When I'm With Jesus helps children view the transition to heaven as a happy event. The book is written in the voice of a deceased mother speaking to her child. The book has a dedication that allows the giver to personalize the book for the child.
The overall message of the book is about the joy the deceased will feel in heaven. At the same time, the author’s words will help children realize that they are still loved even after a significant person dies.
Start the Conversation with a Child
Many of the books on this list come with guides on how to speak with your children about death. Peruse these guides to help you come up with language and wording that may be of comfort to your children. The guides may also help a child learn how to offer condolences to their peers who are grieving a loss.
Not every book on this list will resonate with every child. If your child is grieving the death of a loved one, consider purchasing several different books from this list. Even if a child dislikes a book while in the early stages of the grieving process, he or she may appreciate it more as time passes.
You can also start the conversation with a friend, family member, or another loved one by sharing your end-of-life wishes. Create a free Cake profile to get started.