Reading is a natural part of children’s lives; reading helps them understand and learn. Reading is also a time to gather together and be close. Don’t assume an adolescent child does not want to be read to or would not appreciate even some of the younger aged books. Many of the books listed below can be appropriate for all ages. If your teen prefers to read themselves, get a copy and read along with them for later discussion.
For Pre-school and Early Elementary School Children
Brown, Laurie Krasny and Marc Brown. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. This book explains death in a way that pre-school children can understand. You can see sample pages from this book on the Internet. Go to www.amazon.com. Under Search, put Books in the first box and When Dinosaurs Die in the second box. The search will take you to the title. Click on the title to go to the page for the book. Toward the bottom of the page, under Explore This Book, click on Search Inside. (Of course, you can look at the sample pages without ordering the book.)
Bunting, E. The Happy Funeral. New York: Harper and Row.This is an exceptionally interesting book about a little girl who participates in the rituals of her grandfather’s funeral.
Clifton, Lucille (1988). Everett Anderson’s Goodbye. Reading Rainbow.An African-American boy copes with the death of his father.
Grollman, Earl A. (1990). Talking About Death. Boston: Beacon Press. This is a most practical guide for parents and other adults who are faced with explaining death to a child while at the same time often struggling with their own feelings about death. It addresses many questions children may ask and provides suggestions for responding, keeping in mind the developmental age of the child and the unique circumstances of the individual loss. It provides read-along passages for children whose parents who may need some help finding the words to express their responses. This book would be most helpful if read by parents first, before using the read along passages, as the author is sensitive to the grief process of the adults as they help their children cope with their own thoughts and feelings about death. Earl A. Grollman has written many excellent books about death.
Hickman, M.W. (1984). Last Week My Brother Anthony Died. Abington Press.A poignant, touching story told through the eyes of a girl whose infant brother died of congenital heart disease. The family minister is sensitive and helpful and the story ends on an upbeat note.
Mellonie, Bryan and Robert Ingpen (1983). Lifetimes. Bantum Books.This is a simply written and informative book about the life cycles of all living things. It tells about beginnings (birth) and endings (death) with living in between as natural and inevitable. It is a beautiful book for parents and young children to read and discuss together. It describes different lifetimes for different living things as well as lifetimes that are shortened due to unusual circumstances.
Parker, Marjorie Blain. Illustrator: Janet Wilson (2002). Jasper’s Day. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.This is a beautiful book about a terminally ill dog who has been part of a
loving family. As the dog’s pain becomes less amenable to medication, the
family makes a difficult decision and plans how they will spend Jasper’s
last day before bringing him to the vet.The unity of the family and its relationship to the pet who has given them such pleasure is told poignantly but straightforwardly as they are brought
together at the final goodbye.
Powell, E. Sandy (1990). Geranium Morning. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.This is a rather confusing story about a little boy whose father dies in a car accident while going to buy geraniums to grow on his porch. While the boy is dealing with his loss, he befriends a girl whose mother is dying. After some initial difficulties they become good friends and help each other to deal with loss.I found this story to be contrived and complicated. The language was far more sophisticated than one would expect from children ages 10-11. The story’s only saving grace was the message that we need the help of others in dealing with loss.
Shook-Hazen, B. (1985). Why Did Grandpa Die? Racine, WI: Western Publishing Co.A little girl’s reaction to the death of her grandfather makes for a compelling story. There is age appropriate confusion, bewilderment and boredom with the mourning rituals. This book is good because there is a consistent honesty in the child’s feelings.
Tiffault, B. (1992). A Quilt for Elizabeth. Omaha, NE: Centering Corporation.This is a beautiful story about a little girl whose father gets sick and dies. After a while the girl and her grandmother decide to make a quilt from her father’s garments. This book is highly recommended because it deals with the loss and mourning in a highly creative manner.
Vigna, Judith (1991). Saying Goodbye to Daddy. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Co.This is an excellent book about a kindergarten girl whose father dies in a car accident. She has a difficult time coming to terms with the loss. She uses denial and avoidance to diminish the pain of the loss. However, the reality of the funeral confronts her with what she is missing. Her mother and grandfather are there to help her with the confusion and denial. Because she goes through a range of emotions, this books is highly recommended.
For Elementary School Children
Bonadonna, Chad (2008). Good Grief: A Child’s Grieving Process. xlibris.com.The author, a boy writing from personal experience, captures the grieving process of a 10-year-old boy whose father has died. He highlights the feelings most children express during this time. This is a thoughtful and sensitive book that parents, teachers, and therapists can use to help a grieving child to feel that they are not alone in dealing with the death of a parent.
Carrick, C. (1976). The Accident. New York: Houghton Mifflin, Clarion Books.The story is about a little boy’s reaction to his dog being run over by a truck. The boy’s feelings are captured accurately with much emphasis on the anger at the truck driver, parents and himself. The story is limited in scope and time frame (only one day). However, it focuses accurately on the boy’s reactions and it portrays the adults as helpful.
Claudy, A.F. (1984). Dusty Was My Friend. Human Sciences Press.This is a beautiful, well-told story of an eight-year-old boy whose ten-year-old friend died in a car accident. This is an excellent book for anyone who has lost a close friend.
Graeber, C. (1982). Mustard. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co.This is an excellent book about the aging and death of a cat. The book has no shortcomings and is highly recommended because of its realism and sensitivity.
Hesse, K. (1993). Poppy’s Chair. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.This is an excellent story about a little girl who tries to come to grips with the death of her grandfather. She is afraid to touch the grandfather’s picture, sleep in his bed, or sit in his chair. The element of fear, an important element of mourning, is handled in a thoughtful manner.
Lowden-Golightly, S. (1993). Emily’s Sadhappy Season. Omaha, NE: Centering Corporation. This is an excellent story about a little girl’s reaction to the sudden death of her father from a heart attack. The story is well told and it covers the whole gamut of feelings that the child would experience in response to the loss. It shows how the mother then tries to take the father’s place with limited success. The story is realistic and the emotional responses are honest and sincere. These qualities are seldom seen in children’s stories about painful subjects. At the end of the story there are some helpful tips for children grieving the death of a parent. This book is highly recommended for children ages 6-10.
Smith, D. B. A Taste of Blackberries. Boston: Thomas Crowell Company.The story of a little boy whose best friend dies and his struggles to come to terms with the loss. The story is about the events leading up to the death, the loss and the funeral. At the end, with the help of adults, there is some resolution of the loss.
Stalfelt, Pernilla (2002). The Death Book. Toronto: Groundwood Books.This book attempts to address the many questions children have, and perhaps have never even thought to ask, about death. It covers different customs, past and present, as well as myths about death in colorful cartoon form. From having wives and servants buried with the dead, through burial on a burning boat, wearing black at funerals, to God and reincarnation, just to name a few, it requires a great deal of discussion and adult involvement to prevent more fear about the topic than it supposedly intends to allay. The book begs the question of how much detail does a young child need about death? It is geared in form to a child of 6-10, but the content may be more advanced.
Thomas, J. R. (1988). Saying Goodbye to Grandma. New York: Clarion Books.A seven-year-old girl attends her grandmother’s funeral. The main strength of this book is that the children continue to be children in spite of the solemnity of the occasion. The story is nicely told and demonstrates that this kind of book can be charming and realistic at the same time.
For Older Elementary and Middle School Children
Coleman, Paul (1995). Where the Balloons Go. Omaha, NE: Centering Corporation.This is a touching story about a little boy and his grandmother who send balloons into the sky and then wonder what happens to them. Toward the end the grandmother dies suddenly and the boy continues this activity alone. While the story is well told, there is very little about the grandmother’s death and the boy’s subsequent reactions. Sending the balloons becomes an end in itself while the loss is treated as a secondary issue. Perhaps dealing with the feelings about the loss was just too painful.
Henkes, Kevin (1997). Sun & Spoon. New York: Greenwillow Books.This thoughtful, well-written book describes how a ten-year-old boy deals with the death of his grandmother in a constructive way.
Hermes, P. (1982). You Shouldn’t Have to Say Goodbye. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.This is a touching story of a young girl’s struggle to deal with her mother’s imminent death and of their interactions with each other. There are some tender moments between the parents and the child as the story builds step-by-step to the inevitable end.
Lorenzen, K. (1983). Lanky Longlegs. New York: Atheneum. A Margaret K. McElderry Book.This outstanding book was translated from Norwegian after winning numerous prizes and becoming part of a TV show. It is about a girl whose little brother dies and whose dog has pups. The book’s strength is that basic questions about life and death are handled in the course of daily living. The characters are interesting and they experience a range of feelings about each other. Even though this book is about the death of a sibling, it would be good reading for children who experience any kind of loss.
Paterson, K. (1979). Bridge to Terabithia. New York: Harper and Row.A well-told novel about two ten-year-olds, a boy and a girl, who become friends and build a fort in a tree together. While the boy is visiting Washington, the girl returns to the tree house. She falls in a creek, is knocked unconscious, and dies. It is only at the end of the book that the boy deals with her death. The reaction to the death is accurate but too brief.
For Middle School Children
Blume, Judy (1987). Tiger Eyes. Scarsdale, NY: Bradbury Press.This is an excellent book about loss. It is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl whose father is shot in a store robbery. The story describes the attempt by her, the mother, and the younger brother to cope with the loss in the course of a year. (Also for high school students.)
Greene, C. (1976). Beat the turtle drum. New York: Viking Press.This is a beautiful story about the love and friendship between two sisters. When the younger one dies after falling out of a tree, the older one (thirteen years old) talks about her feelings in a very honest, sincere and realistic manner. An excellent book for children who have lost a sibling.
For High School Students
Schotter, R. (1979). A Matter of Time. New York: Collins Press.This is a very moving, beautifully written book about a high school girl, an only child, who is coping with her mother’s illness and anticipated death.
Green, John. (2012). The Fault in Our Stars. Moving story of a young cancer patient, Hazel who meets another cancer survivor and falls in love only to have cancer take its toll on the relationship.
Schweibert, Patricia. (1999). Tear Soup. Granny mixes up some tear soup while she grieves and finds a recipe for healing.
O Donahue, John. (2008) To Bless The Space Between Us. Read our review here.