16 Books for Toddlers About Death, Grief & Illness

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Death is a complex topic for all of us, no matter our age, religion, or education level. There are no clear answers, and it’s up to us to create our own meaning and understanding. When faced with feelings of grief and loss of a loved one’s death or illness, these feelings become even more challenging. 

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If death is a tough topic for adults, you can only imagine just how difficult it is for young children. Toddlers, in particular, don’t always have the understanding or experience to recognize what death or illness means. They might notice the loss of a loved one, but they might not know the long-term implications or significance. 

How do you cover death, grief, and illness in terms a little one understands? It’s helpful to put things in a perspective they understand. These 12 books for toddlers about death, grief, and illness simplify this process, making it easier to talk to kids about death.

Books for Toddlers About the Death of a Parent or Grandparent

The death of a parent or grandparent is incredibly heartbreaking, even when kids are too young to truly understand. Helping them understand the situation in a way that’s age-appropriate and gentle is key. This is easier said than done, so these children’s books about death assist with explaining big topics for small readers. 

1. Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

Though Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You, never explicitly uses the word “death,” it explores the profound ties that bond a parent and child.

Even when separated, the parent’s love is still there. After the death of a loved one, explaining that this connection lives on is an essential way for children to process grief. 

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2. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

In The Invisible String, two young siblings discover they have an invisible string that connects them to everyone they love.

Though they can’t see it themselves, they always feel it with their hearts. This is deeply symbolic of the connection between parents, grandparents, and children, even when separated by death. 

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3. I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas

It’s not easy to share big topics with children, especially when they’re as profound as death and grief. Pat Thomas explains these complex concepts in terms children understand in I Miss You: A First Look at Death.

By explaining what a funeral is, why we have to say goodbye, and so on, it opens the door for a larger discussion. 

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4. Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

The touching story Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs follows little Tommy as he cares for his elderly grandmother and great-grandmother. When they both pass, we experience his reactions and how he processes this pain by keeping their memory close to his heart. 

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ยป MORE: It's stressful to handle a loved one's legal and financial affairs when they're gone. Follow this checklist for guidance.

 

Books for Toddlers About the Death of a Sibling

The death of a sibling is especially hard for toddlers. No matter the age difference, they lost a lifelong friend. When paired with grief and loss activities, these books for toddlers about the death of a sibling are a powerful learning tool. 

5. A Birthday Present for Daniel by Juliet Rothman

A Birthday Present for Daniel is designed for young readers. Following the story of Ellen after she loses his brother, this sensitive book shares how his death changes her family, her relationship with herself, and others. 

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6. We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead by Pat Schwiebert

A miscarriage or stillbirth is hard for any family. For young toddlers expecting a little brother or sister, this is a difficult concept to understand.

The young boy in We Were Gonna Have a Baby explains how excited he was for his new sibling but also focuses on the new angel instead. 

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7. Where’s Jess? by Marvin Johnson

When a family loses a sibling, there are a lot of questions raised about death. What happens to your body and where do souls go? Where's Jess? attempts to answer these questions in terms that a young one understands.

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8. My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge

While not specifically about the death of a sibling, My Yellow Balloon is a beautiful book about loss. About a little boy who loses a yellow balloon from a carnival, he grieves this loss over time.

Ultimately, he comes to terms with the fact that though his balloon might be far from him, he still feels its place within him. This story leaves a lot of room for conversations about grief, remembrance, and loss. 

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Books for Toddlers About the Death of a Pet

The death of a pet is never easy. While a lot of parents and families shy away from talking about these deaths, it’s important for toddlers to expose themselves to the cycle of life. Through these conversations, they learn important coping strategies for the real world and beyond. 

9. The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

There aren’t many books about loss that are told from a fish’s point of view, but The Goodbye Book does just that.

Colorfully illustrated, this book discusses the death of a fish from the perspective of his companion. Todd Parr captures the feelings and emotions around death in simple terms. 

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10. The Rainbow Bridge by Judith Kristen

While The Rainbow Bridge is great for all ages, it’s especially powerful for young children. The rainbow bridge is a common symbol in narratives about the death of a beloved pet.

In this book, a dog passes after a long, happy life. After death, he comforts his family from the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, where he continues to find joy and happiness. 

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11. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

Anyone who has lost a beloved pet will find this story moving in some way. In Badger’s Parting Gifts, Badger’s friends experience grief after the death of their friend.

They find comfort in sharing their favorite memories, and this is the gift that lives on forever. 

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12. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

What exactly happens to dogs when they go to Heaven? Similar to Disney’s classic film, these dogs in Dog Heaven find tons of biscuits, endless fields for running, and eternal happiness. This type of bright imagery is a source of peace for grieving families. 

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Books for Toddlers About Serious Illness

Serious illness often strikes when we least expect it. For little kids, these types of illnesses and problems don’t always add up.

How does a family explain these complex medical conditions to a toddler’s ears? These books break things down in simple terms. 

13. The Unstoppable Maggie McGee by Juliet Clare Bell

This illustrated children’s book shares the story of Maggie McGee and Sol, a 7-year-old girl and her bird sidekick. Though Maggie might be in the hospital, that doesn’t stop her from imagining the most magical adventures. 

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14. Hi, My Name Is Jack by Christina Beall-Sullivan

In Hi, My Name Is Jack, Jack has a younger sister who is always in and out of the hospital. Though he doesn’t fully understand what she’s going through, he struggles with feelings around her condition. This opens the door for conversations around health, anger, and fear. 

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15. Ida, Always by Caron Levis

This honest portrait of both loss and friendship paints a picture of two friends, Ida and Gus. When Gus learns that Ida is sick and won’t be getting better, he goes to Ida for support.

Together, they share memories, express their feelings, and even find a bit of laughter in Ida, Always

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16. Sadie and Ori and the Blue Blanket by Jamie Korngold

Sadie, Ori, and their grandmother are inseparable. Unfortunately, as their grandmother ages, they begin to face new challenges. Perfect for toddlers facing aging grandparents and loved ones, Sadie and Ori and the Blue Blanket expresses this topic with grace. 

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Big Topics in Small Stories

Though these books above are designed for young children ages 2 to 5, that doesn’t make them any less powerful. They make the perfect gift for a child who lost a parent or conversation starter. Because talking about death and illness isn’t always easy, these books present the topic in a light that young children understand. 

Though they might not answer every question, they’re yet another way that stories bond us together. It’s in sharing these fictional tales that young children find the strength to create their own stories.

It’s tempting to push these difficult conversations off until later, but don’t underestimate the power of storytelling. Young children understand more than we give them credit for. 

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