When my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer in November, I scoured my local library and Amazon, as well as asked on Facebook for books that might help me introduce, demystify, and hopefully comfort my little girl on the illness and impending death of her grandfather. We had no idea his cancer would progress so quickly and that we would lose him only 6 weeks later. My husband has not felt ready to read these books with Tee yet, but I’ve been reading them and discussing them with her.
I know many of us with young children are coping with similar situations, so I wanted to share some of the books that I found helpful in our circumstances. It doesn’t have to be the death of a grandparent specifically, of course. Most of these books would apply just as well to the loss of any loved one or even a pet.
If you’re in the same boat as us, please accept my condolences. I know how hard it has been for us, and it’s my sincere hope that you’ll find something here that can make it a little easier for you and your children.
Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs
by Tomie dePaola (Putnam Juvenile)
This classic story is based on Tomie dePaola’s own childhood memories of his grandmother and great-grandmother. Little Tommy has a wonderful relationship with his great-grandmother, and when she dies, he is very sad but learns to keep her close in his memory.
Badger’s Parting Gifts
by Susan Varley (HarperCollins)
When old Badger dies, all the animals are very sad, especially Mole. The animals gather to remember Badger and the lessons and gifts he has given them. This lovely book reminds me of Wind in the Willows and encourages children to hold on to and share their memories of loved ones who have died.
Thank You, Grandpa
by Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft (Dutton Children’s Books)
This beautiful story follows a little girl and her grandfather through the years as they ramble along on long walks through the woods. The granddaughter learns to say thank you and goodbye to the creatures they find on their walks. When her grandfather becomes very old and dies, she is able to say a special thank you to him.
A Place in My Heart
by Annette Aubrey, illustrated by Patrice Barton (QEB Publishing)
When Andrew’s grandfather dies, he and his parents are very sad. They have a special family dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce – Grandpa’s favourite – and talk about all of his favourite things and the things they will miss about him. They remember him through pictures and stories, and Andrew realizes that even though he still misses him, his Grandpa will always have a place in his heart.
I Miss You: A First Look at Death
by Pat Thomas, illustrated by Lesley Harker (Barron’s Educational Series)
This book provides an introduction to death as a natural part of life. The simple, matter-of-fact text explains death and normalizes common reactions to a death like sadness, regret, and guilt. The book also describes a funeral and some different beliefs about what might happen after death.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children
by Bryan Mellonie, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Bantam)
This book sensitively explains beginnings and endings in plants, animals, and people, and helps children understand that death is a natural part of life.
Little Bear’s Grandad
by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban (Little Tiger)
Little Bear loves listening to his Grandad’s stories. When Grandad is admitted to the hospital, Little Bear visits him, and it’s his turn now to tell Grandad a story. Little Bear and his mother grieve Grandad’s death together, and Little Bear promises to be just as good of a grandad as his own was.
The Invisible String
by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Geoff Stevenson (Devorss & Co.)
When twins Liza and Jeremy are afraid of being alone, their mother teaches them about the invisible string that connects all of us through anger, distance, or even death. This book isn’t specifically about death, but helps children visualize the comforting bond of love that ties us together no matter what.
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