When children lose anyone to death, it’s important to help them process their grief. Whether it’s a beloved family member (mom, dad, grandparent), friend, or pet, read these picture books about grief and death to help children understand what is going on, that their feelings are valid, and that they’re not alone.
How else can books about grief help?
They can prepare children to understand what it might be like to experience a loss.
They can help normalize the range of emotions when experiencing grief from the death of a loved one.
They can give us empathy for others who are going through the grieving process. (I also wrote about helping a grieving child process with writing and art here.)
Most of the children’s picture books about grief and death are secular, but I’ve indicated if any share a religious perspective.
You’ll find general books about death as well as books more specifically about the loss of a relative and the loss of a pet.
Best Grief Books for Kids (From This List)
When my husband’s best friend died about 12 years ago, leaving behind a daughter, I searched for good books but only found books about the loss of a pet. So I’m very glad to see that there now exist many more books to read about the loss of a parent.
Books like these about grief and death help us know we aren’t alone and know what we feel isn’t wrong or bad.
It’s beyond heartbreaking to lose someone we care about. If you’re here because you have, I can only hope these books help in some small way with your grief.
Children’s Picture Books About Grief and Death
GENERAL Picture Books about Grief & Death
Grief Is an Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith, illustrated by Nancy Whitesides
Anyone who has experienced grief will immediately relate to ALL of the metaphors in this exceptional and emotional picture book. “Sometimes Grief is an elephant…It’s hard to breathe under all that Grief.” Push her with your hands. Lean into her. Run! Other times, Grief is a deer with too-tall ears or a fox with soft small feet who settles in for a nap. When she leaves, you know she’ll come again.” Wow. Doesn’t this just hit you in the heart and fill your eyes with tears? Tamara captures the essence of grief perfectly in all its soft, big, quiet, loud coming and going ways. This book is a masterpiece. And can we talk about these gorgeous illustrations, which are also perfect with their soft, muted colors?! I love this book so much.
The Memory Box: A Book About Grief by Joanna Rowland, illustrated by Thea Baker
Wow. I’m so impressed with this beautiful book that gently shows children, in kid-friendly language, how grieving can look…the feelings and the things we do to remember our loved ones. The girl in this book worries she might forget the person who died, and she wonders what happened to the love between them. It shows her making a memory box so she won’t forget and asking people to share memories of the person. The story shows the girl carrying the person in her heart as she makes new memories. It ends with the girl’s knowing that she’ll never forget the person because every time she misses the person, she thinks of them. Exceptional. The best children’s book I’ve read about grief.
I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas, illustrated by Leslie Harker
This book shares basic information about how when someone dies, their body stops working and that people die for different reasons. Throughout the pages are questions like: Has anyone you know died? How did they die? It’s a simple, respectful secular explanation of death. The book also talks about grief and the feelings that happen after someone dies.
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Christian Robinson
The children find a dead bird. They decide to carry him to the woods, bury him, and decorate his grave with flowers. It may sound simple but for kids, it’s a powerful narrative about life and death as well as ritual and tradition.
Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso
This book is a beautiful story of friendship that doesn’t end in the death of one friend. Gus and Ida are polar bears friends. Gus knows that Ida will always be there. And even after Ida’s death, Gus learns that Ida still is with him in his heart. It’s sad but beautiful.
The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
Todd Parr talks about how you might feel when someone dies– sad, mad, like not talking, like hiding, and more. He writes how eventually, you’ll start feeling better. He says they’ll be days when you feel up and days when you feel down.. This book about grief is a gift for children who are grieving but it is also helpful for other kids to understand what grief is like. I think it’s a very accurate glimpse into the feelings when you must say goodbye for any reason, even if it’s not a death.
Bug in a Vacuum by Melanie Watt
This is a beautifully illustrated book about the stages of grief, as shown by a fly trapped in a vacuum bag. I liked this book quite a bit and think it is a great way to share the stages of grief with children.
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
This is the story of the friendship between two cats, the grief when one dies, and the healing as life continues. It’s deftly told in simple black-and-white illustrations with minimal text, capturing symbolism, evoking emotions, and prompting reflection and discussion.
Someone I Love Died by Christine Harder Tangvald, illustrated by Anne Kennedy
It’s sad and confusing when someone dies. The author of this book shares the Christian perspective about what happens when someone dies and gives readers interactive prompts for sharing.
Always and Forever by Alan Durant
Mole, Hare, and Otter don’t think they will ever get over their sadness when their friend Fox dies. Soon the friends realize that Fox will always be with them in their hearts and memories.
The Tunnel by Sarah Howden, illustrated by Erika Rodriguez Medina
A boy deep in grief digs a tunnel where he hides. But his mom’s moonlit face draws him back home…An emotional and tender book about grief.
A Walk in the Woods written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Brain Pinkney
After his dad dies, the boy finds a treasure map of the woods from his dad. In the woods, he notices the soft bird songs, a stairway of mushrooms, and the hurt lessening with each step. He remembers being in the woods with his dad. The map leads him to a brick fireplace with a rusty metal box. Inside are sketches and poems from his dad when he was a kid plus an invitation to finish the stories and to draw and write his own. The boy breathes in the river-scented air and wanders home, grateful.
Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories by Audrey Penn
Chester is upset because his friend, Skiddel Squirrel, has died. Chester’s mom helps Chester and his friends remember and celebrate Skiddel’s life.
A Little Blue Bottle by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Gillian Whiting
A girl is very sad that her elderly neighbor has died. Her mom shows her the blue bottle that used to sit on her neighbor’s shelf and explains that God understands and collects her tears in a bottle. It helps the girl to know that she can be sad and God is with her.
How to Say Goodbye (Benny and Penny) by Geoffrey Hayes
In this story, the brother and sister find a dead salamander and react in different ways. But where Penny is tenderhearted, Benny isn’t — at least at first and regrets his behavior, helping bury the salamander with Penny and her friend.
The Circles in the Sky by Karl James Mountford
A gentle story about a fox who is sad because of a bird’s death. Fox’s new friend moth explains about death and stays with Fox. Gorgeous, geometric illustrations.
Picture Books About the Death of a Relative (Mom, Dad, Grandparent)
Cape by Kevin Johnson, illustrated by Kitt Thomas
A little boy puts on his bright red cape and follows the crowd where they gather at the gravesite, then back to the house with no smiles. The boy doesn’t want to listen or to remember, but suddenly, the memories explode, and he remembers… He remembers his dad. He remembers his dad’s laugh and the fun they had. And the boy tells his dad that he will never forget him. This sweet boy’s grief journey is exceptionally told with a brilliant arc showing how he feels both heartbreak and joy.
One Wave at a Time: A Story about Grief and Healing by Holly Thompson, illustrations by Ashley Crowley
This is the BEST book on the death of a parent I’ve read. Why? Because it really captures what kids go through as well as how parents support kids in their grief. This boy describes the waves of emotion that he feels after the death of his dad. “some waves / are fear waves / that curl me in a ball” There are some days with no waves, just flatness. “I’m like a robot / as I ride the bus, walk the halls.” He narrates about the group where he can share about his special person that died. At home, he adds to his memory box about his dad, makes a grief first aid kit, paints a Memory Chair to share his dad’s memories. What a healthy view of grief! “When Mom cries now, I don’t hide / when Ben whines now, I don’t (usually) yell / and when I spy a wave, I inhale slow.“
Grandpa’s Top Threes by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egnues
This grief story is wonderful. A sweet little boy helps his grandpa out of his grief by asking his grandpa’s opinion on his top three things — in random categories –and together they make lots of top three lists. Like the top three jellyfish. Or the top three animals at the zoo and eventually, the top three memories of granny. This gives them both a way to remember Granny.
Calling the Wind by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi
In this powerful story with exquisite art, a grieving family visits a phone booth where they talk to their beloved mom/daughter/wife who has died. Talking about their feelings and sharing about their lives help the family heal and move forward. This beautiful way to stay connected with a deceased loved one is inspired by Itaru Sasaki’s Wind Telephone.
Saturdays Are for Stella by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan
George spends Saturdays with Stella. The days are filled with exciting adventures like frozen yogurt trips, rides on the carousel, ninja tournaments, and reading favorite books. Until Stella dies, and Saturdays aren’t any fun at all. Now all the fun things he used to do with Stella make him sad and queasy. Just when George thinks he can’t do another Saturday, baby Stella arrives. Now George isn’t sad on Saturdays because he’s busy with Stella having exciting adventures. A story of death and life, grief and joy.
Remembering Mom’s Kubbat Halab by Medeia Sharif, illustrated by Paran Kim
A little girl named Bushra misses her mom, who has died. One of the things she misses most is her mom’s special recipe for kubbat halab, a potato-rice patty. Bushra searches for the same recipe, even making it herself, but it’s not ever the same. Her journey leads the family into cooking together and remembering Mom as they cook. This is a heart-tugging, honest story of grief, healing, and living with loss framed around Bushra’s grief around a special food.
Remembering Sundays with Grandpa written by Lauren H. Kerstein, illustrated by Nanette Regan
Henry misses his grandpa who died. His mom guides him to places that bring back fond memories of time with grandpa — reading stories, eating chocolate chip cookies in hot chocolate, making silly faces, and wearing a favorite crab hat. This is a sweet story that addresses the death of a grandparent and how a child comes to terms with their grief.
Ivy and Grandma: A Story About Grief written by Susan Griner, illustrated by Román Díaz
Ivy’s grandma used to take her to Sea Glass Beach to search for beautiful sea glass and share it with others. When Ivy’s grandma dies. Ivy wants to do something special to celebrate her grandma, so she collects more sea glass and shares it with people at the beach and her grandma’s life ceremony. The back matter shares more about grief and five discussion questions. I love how this story captures so much in so few words — that we can remember someone who moves or dies with activities that can help us work through our grief.
The Sour Cherry Tree by Naseem Hrab and Nahid Kazemi
Baba, an Iranian poet, dies and the girl goes to his home with her mother to remember him in each room, ending up in the back yard where she crunches the cherries on the ground fallen from a sour cherry tree. Beautiful, sensory writing that reads like a memoir. “There’s a crumpled up tissue on his nightstand. Smudgy eyeglasses. A picture of my mom and BAba Bozorg standing under the sour cherry tree. The tree looks small, and so does my mom.”
Mouseboat by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
The little girl talks to her mom directly (2nd person) in this book about fried dealing with the unbearable pain of loss. She misses her mom’s smell and her presence in her empty chair. Sad, she races outside to her boat during a storm and finds a connection to her mom in the windy storm. Feeling better, she returns to shore, to home.
The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
This children’s picture book will make you cry. We watch a young boy dealing with grief after his mother’s death. Illustrated in red and white, the dramatic colors capture the grieving process and his fear that he will forget his mother.
Remembering written by Xelena Gonzalez, illustrated by Adriana M. GarciaOS
Gorgeous blue illustrations full of moment and emotion guide us through this beautiful book about grief! The girl remembers her beloved dog on Dia de los Muertos, making an ofrenda for him. She fills his water bowl. She whistles for a walk. She prepares his favorite meal and gathers all his treasured toys. The family feels gratitude for the ways the dog loved their family well.
Good Things written by Maryah Greene, illustrated by Alleanna Harris
Malcom’s Pops gives compliments and support to people, saying things like, “Good things take time.” Pops especially loves saying this every week when he takes care of all the plants. When Pops dies, the plants become Malcolm’s. But Malcom’s watering doesn’t work. The plants get brown spots. He misses his Pops and wants to stop doing everything. Eventually, Malcolm starts to hang out with friends again and water the plants. He feels better, and his plants start to grow.
The Memory String by Eve Bunting
Laura uses a string with buttons to remind her of her family history, especially her mom who has died. She remembers her mom’s prom dress and the nightgown her mom wore the day she died.
Aunt Fanny’s Star by Brigitte Weninger Feridum Oral
Aunt Fanny comes to live with the Bunny family when she’s too ill to take care of herself. She makes things more fun for the Bunny children. She also prepares the children for when she dies or flies to the stars as she calls it. When she dies, the family is sad. They bury her and sing and cry together but remember that she’s in a better place.
Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie De Paolo
Young Tommy visits his grandma and his great-grandma every Sunday. One day, Nana Upstairs isn’t there anymore because she’s died. Tommy must say goodbye.
Sophie by Mem Fox
Sophie and her Grandpa have a close relationship. When Grandpa dies, it’s not until she has a child of her own that the feelings of love remind her of what she had with her Grandpa.
Grandma’s Gloves by Cecil Castellucci
When Grandma dies, her granddaughter feels so sad. As she grieves, she thinks back about all that she learned from her Grandma.
Love & Memories: Activities for Kids Who Have Lost a Loved One by Susan B. Weaver
sample pages here
I liked what I saw as I looked through this workbook. Prompts guide children to remember the person who died and express their feelings about it. It’s meant for ages 4 – 14.
Daddy’s Promise by Cindy Klein Cohen
Jesse’s father died. Jesse doesn’t understand what happened and why. Both dreams and his mother help answer Jesse’s questions.
The Dreams We Made by Lisa Bentley
In a story about a father’s death, the little girl always wants to go with her daddy to work. When he comes home, they work together on a cool, creative project. But one day, he dies, and the little girl feels too sad to continue their project. She misses her daddy. Then, when the moon is full, she starts their rocket on her own and remembers that her daddy is always with her.
Grandpa’s Stories: A Book of Remembering by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
Marked by each season, we see a grandpa sharing stories about India and spending playful time with his little granddaughter. When Grandpa dies, the girl holds on to her memories, writing and drawing them in the notebook her grandpa gave her. I love this idea to support children whose grandparents have died and the beautiful, bright illustrations that make this book less melancholy and more celebratory.
Picture Books About the Death of a Pet
Remembering Barkley by Erin Frankel, illustrated by Aboo Yang
This story shows the process of grieving and remembering a beloved dog who has died. The boy and the dog who loved their friend Barkley walk by the lake and the tree that Barkley loved. They try other paths. They return to Barkley’s favorite tree often, letting their memories come and go. Eventually, they’re able to play and laugh again, thinking fondly of their beloved friend. It’s a tender story that reminds us that grief lasts for a long time and eventually gets less intense.
The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder, illustrated by Catria Chien
Heartbreaking and beautiful with transcendent illustrations, this is a beautiful book for anyone who has a dog or who has lost a dog. An old dog walks with his Little one last time through nature, speaking to us in a playful dog-speak style. “She gives me a happyface. I wigglewag…We reach a bend in the gurgleburble, where hornheads and stripetails often visit, and sipslurp cool sweetness.” Later, when Little sleeps, the dog slowsteps to the softgreen, circles twice, and then hears his last letsgoboy. He closes his eyes and is lifted to a place where he’s young again. There, he watches Little as she grieves and eventually welcomes a new “awwwpuppy”.
Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Lulu is the little girl’s dog. The girl describes how when Lulu gets old she can’t go up the stairs anymore or even walk. And she knows that she will die soon. When Lulu dies, the little girl feels sad. As time passes, she remembers Lulu in her heart. Appealing illustrations and a genuine story make this story accessible and highly recommended for kids who can relate to the death of a pet.
Pablo’s Pet (Confetti Kids) by Sheri Tan, illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez
This excellent story shows how children can mourn when a pet dies. Palo’s fish Ruby dies and he feels sad. His friends help by telling Ruby stories, making a paper fish, and joining Pablo as he plants a tree in her honor.
Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
God gives dogs fields and fields for running. He gives dogs lakes with geese. It’s the best place for dogs to go after they die. Children will feel reassured that their beloved pet is in a better place.
Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
Kids wonder what happens to your pet cat after they die. In this story, the cat goes to Cat Heaven, a wonderful place with butterflies to chase and angel’s laps for cuddling. It’s a perfect place filled with happy cats.
The Heaven of Animals by Nancy Tillman
Rhyming text with warm illustrations shares how our pets go to heaven and the angels know their names and favorite things.
Rosie & Crayon by Deborah Marcero
The little girl’s grief for her dog’s death shifts after she helps another girl find her missing cat. There’s a good deal of color imagery, which may not appeal to readers, but the illustrations are lovely.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
This is a sweet children’s picture book about the death of a pet cat. The boy tries to think of 10 good things about his cat to say at his funeral.