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Five Children’s Books on Grief

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Last year, my five-year-old daughter Fiana asked, “Where’s Grandpa Jack?” Both her father and mother died when I was in her late 20s, before we got married and had children. When she asked Fianna about my father, she felt that death was such a complex and painful topic that my first impulse was to avoid the conversation.

Before my parents died, I had been exposed to little loss, so I was overwhelmed with intense emotions for years afterward. As I got older, I learned more about grief. It helped me (slowly) live with my emotions.

So I didn’t ignore Fiana’s question. I looked up how to tell her children about her death and explained to her that Grandpa Jack had passed away. Now I regularly talk to her and her sister about the loss and grief of her parents. One of her ways we’ve kept our conversation going is reading children’s books. My five favorites are:

1. dead bird By Margaret Wise Brown (ages 4-7). “The bird was dead when the children found it,” is the first line of the book. A group of friends decide to bury the bird in the woods and sing “How Adults Do When Someone Dies” to say goodbye. This book gently introduces young children to the concepts of death and mourning. I read this to Fiana over and over again. I usually just listen, but recently someone asked me, “If my dog ​​dies, can I celebrate with him?”

2. the rabbit heard By Cori Doerrfeld (ages 2-6). Taylor builds a tower of blocks, but it is knocked down. Various animals provide solace, such as a chicken that tries to get Taylor to talk, and a hyena that laughs about it. Rabbit, however, hears Taylor process many emotions. This book shows how you can support your loved ones by just being there. Both my girls love this book.

3. why am i so sad By Tracy Lambert (ages 4-8). Written by a loss counselor, this book explores the many reasons we grieve—death, divorce, changing schools, the loss of friendships—and how we express ourselves through physical activity and music. And so on, we share things kids can do to feel better. and talking with friends Finally, Lambert also shares advice for her parents, including how to talk to their kids about grief.

Four. king and dragonfly By Kacen Callender (ages 8-12). In this award-winning chapter book, 12-year-old King loses his older brother Khalid and believes Khalid has become a dragonfly in his grief. This book deals with race, sexuality, friendship and love. I was blown away by the courage the characters displayed in learning to love themselves, and I can’t wait to read this book to my children years from now.

Five. when you catch a tiger By Tae Keller (9+).When Lily was a child, she halmoni (Grandmother in Korean) told me a folktale about tigers. When Halmoni falls ill, Lily, her mother, and her older sister move in to help take care of her. Not long after they moved in, the magical tiger in Halmoni’s story came to life, forcing Lily to face the tiger while grappling with the reality of Halmoni’s declining health. when you catch a tiger is a beautiful story of illness, family, and learning to find your way.

What’s your favorite book about grief? Do you have a grieving experience you’d like me to write about?

Katie Riley is a California-based writer (and mother). Her writing focuses on women’s health, mental health and parenting and has been published in InStyle, New York Times Magazine and Elle.

PS How to write condolence words and stories about death to children.

(Photo by Tanya Yatsenko/Stocksy)

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