Children's Books about Death, Loss, and Grieving
Many children must face the terminal illness and death of pets, grandparents, other friends and family members, and more. Even children who aren’t directly dealing with loss or grieving often still have questions about the concepts.
Our children's book experts put together a list of picture books on the topic. It’s always a good idea—especially for sensitive emotional issues such as these—to read through a book yourself before you read it to a child to make sure you’re comfortable, but we believe these sensitive and straightforward portrayals can help kids of many ages.
Illness or Death of a Grandparent
Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan
Julia’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease, and she doesn’t recognize her anymore. A straightforward and important book about a painful subject that explains the disease clearly.
Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glenn Ringtved
Translated from the Danish, this book has a personified version of Death that comes to take away the grandmother of four brothers and sisters. Death is gentle, not scary, and explains his role in the world.
Stones for Grandpa by Renee Londner
After his grandfather has been dead for a year, a Jewish boy joins his family in the custom of unveiling his grandpa's tombstone and remembering his life.
Death of a Pet
The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen
When a sick, older cat knows her life is drawing to a close, she goes around saying goodbye to her favorite people, their dog, and other animals out in nature before lying down to die under a rosebush alone. Both sweet and direct.
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst
A classic story about a boy mourning the death of his cat and the ways his parents help him process his grief.
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
A story, told from a cat’s perspective, about the life cycle of a pet. A big cat welcomes a little one into a family, teaches it how to behave, and eventually grows old and dies—and then the little cat steps into that role when the family brings home another new kitten.
The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
Parr's bold line drawings lend themselves well to this simple, straightforward book about an orange fish saying goodbye to a green fish, and the way kids might feel when they say goodbye too.
Serious & Meaningful
Where Do They Go? by Julia Alvarez
Open-ended questions and abstract illustrations lead children gently into a deep discussion of death and its aftermath. “When somebody dies, / where do they go? Who can I ask? / Does anyone know?”
I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson
When Stevie’s beloved teacher is killed in a car crash, he and his classmates talk about her impact on their lives and process her death with the help of a grief counselor and their parents.
Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb
Told from the point of view of a boy whose mother has died, this book shows him move through a range of emotions—confusion, jealousy, guilt, and sadness. At the end, he talks with his father about remembering her.
Lighthearted & Whimsical
Sally Goes to Heaven by Stephen Huneck
What happens in a dog’s version of heaven? Meatballs grow on bushes and piles of dirty socks abound in this silly and comforting story about a black Lab that wakes up in heaven and eventually expects to meet her family there.
Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt
This story about (you guessed it) a bug that finds itself trapped in a vacuum bag shows the five stages of grief—denial, bargaining, anger, despair, acceptance—and offers a laugh during a difficult time.
Stories of Animals & Nature
The Dandelion’s Tale by Kevin Sheehan
A subtle story about the life cycle. When Dandelion dies, her friend Sparrow finds hope in the 10 new dandelion pods and tells her story to keep her memory alive.
Tess’s Tree by Jess M. Brailler
When a 175-year-old tree is cut down, nine-year-old Tess is devastated. She holds a funeral for the tree and meets many other people who also loved her tree.
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown
A more straightforward story about what happens to animals after they die, told through the eyes of a group of children who find a dead bird in a city park and decide to give it a funeral.
Allegorical & Lyrical
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
After a little girl loses a man who’s close to her—most likely a father or grandfather, but it isn’t specified—she carries hear heart in a bottle around her neck. An oblique allegory about grief that may work well for kids who approach death from a more subtle angle.
Making a Friend by Alison McGhee
An allegorical story about a boy building a snowman, which quickly melts. But it persists in a different form via frost and rain and all the water in the world, and then the boy builds another the next winter. Kids may or may not realize this story is about loss, but it provides a supportive framework.
Gentle Willow: A Story for Children about Dying by Joyce Mills
Wise tree wizards talk to a squirrel and a tree about the tree’s impending death, and eventually help them both move toward accepting it.
When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
A straightforward explanation about what it means to be alive or dead, different cultural customs, and ways to remember people who have died.
I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas
Written by a therapist, this book lays out the facts about both the physical realities and emotional complexities of death with candid, true-to-life examples.
Death Is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham
An explanation of the feelings many young people experience when someone dies, plus an explanation of ways to celebrate love and life.
Thanks to several library staff members for the suggestions: Liz Lipari, Peggy Salwen, Clarissa Cooke, Elizabeth Covington, Leah Labrecque, Karen McGoohan, Lauren Younger, Jenny Rosenoff.
Do you have suggestions for children's books on loss and grieving? Let us know in the comments.
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!