Bereavement Books for Young Children
Particularly during these times of Coronavirus, children of all ages and circumstances find themselves being exposed to the concept of death. Despite our best efforts to protect our daughter from the brutal reality of the pandemic with a simple “A lot of people have coughs darling, so we’re staying at home for a while until they’re all better” line, she somehow caught on quickly and would be discussing “coronavirus” with me at every opportunity. Fast forward a few weeks and I’d catch her playing out stories with her toys, where something would die. Fast forward further, and she now even has an imaginary friend called Scarlet, who has come to live with us because her mummy and daddy have both died.
So whilst she is very fortunately not in a position where the real death of someone close to her has occurred, the recurring theme of death in her play shows that it is certainly a topic that is very much on her mind.
Other children are not so fortunate, and have the heartbreaking reality of dealing with the loss of someone very close to them over this time. A time when already separated from many of those who are a comfort to them, and without the distractions of “normal” life to help them cope.
With Tiegan, I decided to take the opportunity to read some stories to her to illustrate the concept of death in a way that might make it easier for her to understand, and to give her a route through which to talk about it. We have barely scratched the surface of the huge range of bereavement books for young children that are available, but of the ones we have read, we have some favourites to share with you. I’ll be honest that illustrations go a long way with me – the designer in me is a sucker for a beautiful page! I should also point out that these are books aimed at the age suited to my daughter (recently turned 4). I wouldn’t suggest these for children much older as, whilst the content is still relevant, the picture book format would perhaps seem a little young for them.
So, in no particular order, here are our favourite bereavement books for young children:
I’m sure almost every parent would agree that you can’t go wrong with anything written by Julia Donaldson – and this is no exception. The Paper Dolls is a beautifully illustrated story about the strength of connection between ourselves and others and the fact that, even when apart, that bond cannot ever really be broken. It also introduces the concept of the circle of life and generational legacy.
This stunning book will bring a tear to the driest of eyes. I wish I’d read it through first without Tiegan as I couldn’t stop my voice cracking on the last page! Describing the special bond between a little girl and her Grandad, we learn that through the power of our memories, those special to us will always be with us in everything that we do, and whenever we need them.
I absolutely love the illustrations in Benji Davies’ books; we have a couple of his others which we have really enjoyed (The Storm Whale and Grandma’s Bird). This is a lovely book which is poignant in two ways; firstly, like many of the others, reminding us that those we love will always be with us. Secondly, by introducing the concept of heaven (but non-religious), giving reassurance that our loved one is safe and happy.
by Christine Pym for Usborne
This Usborne book is slightly different. Rather than a story it’s a non-fiction book answering questions about death from many different topic angles. It starts by explaining the concept of life and why all living things have to die, and continues through themes such as talking about death, what happens when someone dies, the feelings of grief, and ways to treasure happy memories. It’s a lift-the-flap format and uses animals throughout the examples, with lots of beautiful, friendly illustrations. By enabling children to choose the topics that interest them, it also guides adults to know what areas they might need to focus on further.
We plan to keep reading more books across this topic so this article will be a work in progress! For now, however, the above beautiful books are certainly excellent places to start.