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, kids may find picture books can help.
How can books 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 the 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 specifically about the loss of a relative and the loss of a pet. When my husband’s best friend died about 12 years ago, leaving behind a daughter, I mostly found books about the loss of a pet. So I’m very glad to see that there now exist many more books to read that are about the loss of a parent as well. Books 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
1. General Picture Books about Death and 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 passing of one friend. Gus and Ida are polar bears friends — Gus knows that Ida will always be there. And, 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 gets it right again with this new picture book on the subject of death and saying goodbye. He talks about how you might feel — 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. But, you’ll remember and sometimes you might feel like talking to someone or drawing a picture. This book is a gift for children who are facing the loss of someone special. It is also helpful for other kids so they might understand what it’s 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.
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 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.
Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories by Audrey Penn
Chester’s is upset because his friend, Skiddel Squirrel, has died. Chester’s mom helps Chester and his friends remember and celebrate Skiddel’s life.
2. Picture Books About the Loss of a Relative (Mom, Dad, Grandparent)
One Wave at a Time: A Story about Grief and Healing by Holly Thompson, illustrations by Ashley Crowley
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.
The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
This children’s picture book will make you cry. We watch a young boy narrate his grief after his mother’s death. Illustrated in red and white, the dramatic colors capture the pain of his words and his fear that he will forget his mother.
Aunt Fanny’s Starby Brigitte Weninger Feridum Oral
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 good-bye.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Say Goodbye (Benny and Penny) by Geoffrey Hayes
If you don’t already love this series, I highly recommend checking it out– it’s fantastic. 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.
3. Picture Books About the Death of a Pet
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.
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 share how our pets go to heaven and the angels know their names and favorite things.
Rosie & Crayon by Deborah Marcero
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst
This is a sweet children’s picture book about the loss of a pet cat. The boy tries to think of 10 good things about his cat to say at his funeral.