Death, Dying, and Grieving: Books for Kids

Death, dying, and grieving are the main topics of the news lately. It seems we just can’t get away from it. And as much as we try to shield our little ones from tragedy, sometimes there are issues you must face. Death is a common situation in life and while you can usually filter what your children are exposed to, the deaths of pets, grandparents, or sick friends, will eventually crop up. If you’re like me, you want a book to turn to to support your child’s emotional understanding of death.

There are a surprising number of books available that discuss death. Kids don’t need or want a heavy handed book discussing the ins and out of death and dying. Save that for biology class or for church, depending on your beliefs. What kids want in books is to understand that it’s ok to have certain feelings and that other people have similar feelings as yours and also probably that things will get better. Following are books for kids of varying ages that discuss death, dying, and grief in ways that they will be able to handle.


I have two words for you: “Some pig.”  Is there anyone born in the past half century who hasn’t been moved to tears by this beloved title?charlotte's web

Everyone cheers for our favorite pig and his friends. Not only do we learn the meaning of friendship from Charlotte’s Web, we also learn the value of the brevity of life on a farm and we learn about death and grief. Sure there’s a death in the book, but there is also the invaluable lesson of how to grieve when someone you love has died. This little gem can teach even the youngest of readers about life and death.



Here’s another classic that inadvertently teaches middle graders the value of friendship and the process of grief. I love this story because at this age kids don’t care whether their friends are boys or girls. They just want a friend. Jess and Leslie become friends and during their time together they help the other one become better people. The magical land they’ve created helps them deal with the issues they each face. In the end when one of them dies, the remaining child must confront their fears, the loss of a friend, and learn how to move on.



Tomie dePaola writes such good books, there’s practically a book for every situation. Grandparenting seems to be his specialty, though. Little Tommy loves his grandmothers: he has a grandmother upstairs and a great grandmother downstairs. You know where this is going, right? Naturally the grandmothers die and Tommy has to learn how to grieve. There’s a bit about a falling star that will have you in tears remembering your own grandmother’s kisses.


It’s a Judy Blume book. Do I need to say anymore? The woman who has helped every young girl grow up  in the past 50 years? Yeah, her. This time, Blume discusses a very sensitive issue at the time; the death of a parent.  Not only does Davey lose her father, but he is killed in a violent crime. Books about this topic were unheard of in its day. But somehow, shockingly, kids today are experiencing this type of tragic loss and will need help getting through it. The book also discusses the dysfunction that’s left behind when a family member dies tragically: depression, alcoholism, family instability; it’s all there.


A magical realism story about a girl whose goldfish dies and is reincarnated as her grandfather dressed as a bespectacled new friend. At first i thought perhaps the lesson might be too “out there” to catch; but I love this story and I’m sure someone will too.



Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

Here’s one you might not of heard of. It’s by the always fab Jason Reynolds. Here you’ll see that people cope differently with death and you might get some insight into what it’s like to work at a funeral home. Hint: more dignity than creepy.


Isn’t it great that there are so many books on this topic says that kids never have to go through any situation alone, that there is always a book available to lend an ear, lean on or to provide other ways of support?


How to talk to kids during times of tragedy: 3 books to help

In light of yet another horrific hate crime, this time in my hometown of Pittsburgh against the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, I thought this was a particularly good time to revisit how we discuss tragedy, violence, death, and dying with our kids. This is a conversation no parent dreams of having but more often we are faced with. What are we to do when wanting to comfort a scared or grieving child? We are struggling to process it in our own minds; the last thing we want to do is explain tragedy to our little ones. When I am faced with my own tragedy, I turn to books.

To be sure, books don’t have all of the answers but they are a start. Books are an excellent resource when you don’t know what to say, where to go, or how to begin. Books can comfort you and let you know that you’re not alone. The following are three books that have helped me during a difficult time in my life.


“A grieving child’s life is like a piece of paper upon which every passerby leaves a mark. What kind of mark would you like to leave on the life of the child whose heart and soul have been touched by the death of someone loved?”

I found this book to be amazingly helpful. Inside it contained more than 100 helpful activities for dealing with grief and mourning. Tip 12 is an example: “Consider the child’s relationship to the person who died…Each child’s response to a death depends largely upon the relationship she had with the person who died…Set aside your own thoughts and feelings and enter her world as you consider this point.” See what I mean? Useful stuff. A child’s grief is not the same as your grief and must be treated differently than yours. Once I grasped that concept, I was able to move through the other practicalities of the book and construct a strategy that worked for each of my children separately.



Fitzgerald helped me understand my own death history and confront my feelings about death. “Before you begin talking to your child about the death of a loved one or about death in general, be sure you know where you stand.” The author reasons that “the more you understand yourself, the easier it will be to avoid letting those feelings influence your child.” This, too, was helpful. You don’t want to muck up your child’s understanding of death with your own conflicted feelings. Throughout the book, Fitzgerald offers honest and useful ways handle such situations as whether or not to take the child to the funeral, or deciding when it’s time to seek professional help.


Talking with Young Children about Death is a brochure I received from a children’s grief therapist. As a long time fan of Mister Rogers, it is not surprising that I would turn to him to help me understand a child’s point of view while dealing with grief. “Children’s sensitivity to ‘vibes’ is extremely keen. At a time of sadness in a family there are so many facial cues, so many disrupted schedules, new people coming and going, lots of conversations to overhear, and a general aura that clearly states that something important is going on.” When you think about it that way, is it any wonder children act out? They know something is going on but no one will tell them in a way that they can understand. That must be incredibly frustrating and scary.

I’ve discovered that by turning to books for any occasion, even tragedy and dying, I can find what I need. Sometimes I find answers to questions, sometimes I find inspiration, sometimes I find a comforting poem or story. Talking with children about tragedy isn’t easy, but if you’re not sure where to begin, why not open a book?

Books Children

Need to talk to kids about death? Try Life and I by Elisabeth Helland Larsen & Marine Schneider

Life and I by Elisabeth Helland Larsen & Marine Schneider


There’s something about talking to children about death that leaves even the strongest of parents stuttering, mumbling, or reaching for euphemisms. I’ve learned through experience that sometimes kids need the truth. Maybe a basic truth, but the truth. Some kids need a bit of a story to help them understand. If you’re in a situation in which  you have to speak to a little one about death and your little one needs a story to connect with but you don’t want to go the religious or anthropomorphous route of talking animals, Little Gestalten brings us an interesting view.

It’s called Life and I, A Story About Death. Death is depicted as an impish, waifish  watercolor little girl sort-of-being who talks about all the things that death is part of.

I pay visits to small animals with soft fur and to big animals with trunks or sharp teeth…

Death also discusses how she visits many people at one time, old and young. Death has to exist, the book says, in order for new babies to make their way in this world. The best part of the book is near the end when Death says that Love doesn’t die even when something  you love does.

There are some great bits in the book. Perhaps it will make discussing death easier with little ones. This is a keepsake book that would be nice if talked about every year on a grandmother’s birthday or something.

Talking with kids about death is difficult. I’ve had to do it myself many times. I hope more books become available that are as beautifully illustrated as Life and I.

How have you talked to your little ones about death?



Books Young Adult

What’s on My Radar: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds


Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.


Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!


Stop All the Clocks…W.H. Auden’s Funeral Poem

Friends, Pammy Pam had a busy weekend. A beloved relative died and I traveled to my second hometown of Austin, Texas to celebrate her homegoing and her life. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, funerals can either be sad or happy.  My initial reaction upon hearing of my dear cousin’s passing was one of sadness.  I found this poem by W.H. Auden to describe my feelings well.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


You might be familiar with this poem from Four Weddings and a Funeral.  After the funeral services, however,  we participated in a balloon release to signify releasing our grief.

balloon release.jpg


It was a beautiful and moving end to an emotional weekend. What unique ways have you said goodbye to loved ones?

Young Adult

Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young

Adult Fiction Books Reviews

Excerpt from Praise of Motherood by Phil Jourdan

Please enjoy this excerpt from Praise of Motherhood, a touching memoir by Phil Jourdan. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $500 in Amazon gift cards and 5 autographed copies of the book.


It was Veterans Day; the Pope spoke into a microphone so the thousands around him could hear his weary voice. And in the airport lounge my sister and I waited for our flight to take off, trying not to listen to the televised broadcast of the Pope’s solemn speech. I held my sister’s hand and heard her say fuck for the first time.

“fuck, do you think she’s going to be okay”

and I said “I don’t know”

and she said “but why aren’t they telling us what’s going on”

“I don’t know”

“I don’t want mom to die”

“I know”

“I’m so scared”

“I know”

and the Pope went on, speaking of the dead, the men whose lives had been lost in a terrible war, and he praised them, their families, for the courage they’d shown. He spoke of Christ, but not much. Sometimes he closed his eyes and paused. From the airport lounge, sitting in front of the television screens, I had to rely on the cameras for a sense of what being there was like. Safe and comfortable and mourning out of patriotic or humanistic duty, in a spirit of contemplation. The Pope did not know that my mother was dying in a little hospital in Portugal. Neither did the lady who announced, on the intercom at the airport, that out of respect for the men who had lost their lives during the war however many decades ago now, we were all invited to stand for two minutes of silence. Everyone else in the lounge stood up, but my sister and I remained in our seats and hugged each other.

As far as I knew, my mother was dying or dead, a small, tanned Portuguese woman with curly dark hair and two dogs, two kids, a lovely loving wonderful lady, all of that sob-story stuff. It turned out that when we were waiting for our flight, she was still alive. She would only die in the evening, after the Pope was done speaking and everyone was having dinner and no longer thinking about the veterans. But nobody had warned me. Nobody had warned anyone. Everybody was on the way to Portugal, my uncle, my grandfather, me and my sister, all of us trying to protect someone. They didn’t tell me what had happened until I arrived in Portugal. I didn’t tell my sister everything I knew, which was next to nothing, because I wanted to think I could protect her. I spoke to my father on the phone and he was in tears: “I will be there when you land,” he said,

and I said:

“but why, what’s going on”

“I’m not sure, I’m not sure, but if I were you… oh, Jesus, if I were you I would brace myself for the worst”

And he broke into tears and hung up. They had been separated fifteen years.

On the plane my sister and I spoke little. I told her it’d be okay. I told her even if the worst happened, I’d be around for her. You’re my little sister. Tell me about Denver. How are classes going? She gave short, bored answers, and she asked me about my life. I told her I’d been about to take the train to Paris from London with a friend when I found out something was wrong with our mom.

“but what’s wrong with her” my sister said

“I don’t know”

“why don’t they just tell us”

“because they’re trying to keep us sane”

“how can I be sane when my mom is dying all of a sudden”

“I really don’t know”

When we arrived in Portugal, and I saw my family standing together waiting for us — my grandparents, my father, my aunt — I knew at once there was no hope.


As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Praise of Motherhood eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $500 in Amazon gift cards and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

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About the book: Praise of Motherhood is a son’s tribute to the woman who not only gave him life, but helped him live: through various psychotic breakdowns, tumultuous teenage years, and years of feeling out of place in the world. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: Phil Jourdan fronts the lit-rock band Paris and the Hiltons, runs the fiction press Perfect Edge Books, and occasionally works on a PhD. Visit Phil on his blog, music site, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.









Wow.  I think I’d drop the f bomb too.  Can’t wait to read it!

Blogging from A to Z Challenge Books

#AtoZChallenge: T-Tuck Everlasting

A to Z challenge button

I can hardly believe we’re on the letter T!

The letter T is tricky because there are lots of words that start with it;

“The” notwithstanding, I want to focus on a word that cannot be so easily dropped


T is for

Tuck Everlasting!

unconventional librarian

I know, I know, the book is the mass media movie tie in

but don’t let that put you off the book.

This is a sweet story that discusses life and death so very sweetly!

To be sure, the movie is not as good, although the cast is phenomenal.

Where would this world be without Natalie Babbitt?


as a bonus, I want to share with you

This is the Matzah by Abby Levine

Unconvetional Librarian Matzah

If you need a tale for the kiddos about Passover, this is a good one.

Don’t forget to buy a box of Matzos, hide it, and then let your littles find it.

The finder gets a prize!

Here’s what I did with my matzah:

look yummy?

click here for my recipe.

Wow what letter is next?


uh oh…what do I have planned?

Books Reviews

We all Grieve Differently inspired by Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor

Signs fo Life by Natalie Taylor“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still…yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.” –William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

Natalie Taylor wonders if JK Rowling placed those words in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for her. In fact, Taylor holds a conversation with Rowling on the phone.  I didn’t know that there was someone else in the world who talks to book characters or their authors.  I’ve had plenty of conversations with Jane, from Jane Eyre.  I commiserated when she was abused by her cousins.  I was one of the friends who comforted her when she was publicly humiliated at school.  I told her that Rochester was a little moody and she could do better.  Given Natalie Taylor’s love of literature, I am not surprised she turned to literature during her grief.  While the books she turned to would not have been my picks, I understand just the same.

Natalie and I are both widows.  Widowhood is a distinction few wish to hold. Natalie became a pregnant widow after her new husband died in a carve boarding accident. I, too, am a widow.  I’m a divorced widow.  What exactly is a divorced widow, you ask?  I was married, then divorced, then my ex-husband died.  Prior to becoming a divorced widow, I had never heard of that phrase. The government thinks of everything.

I am currently happily remarried, but at the time, I was devastated.

My ex-husband and I had been divorced a few years and had moved on with our lives.  We had two children together so he saw #1 son and Pumpkin frequently.  I decided that just even though our marriage couldn’t be saved, it was still important for the kids to see their father as much as possible.  I moved from Austin back to Pittsburgh, my hometown.  One day, as you’re going about your day you receive a phone call.  Of course, you’re not expecting bad news so when you answer and it’s one of your ex’s relatives, you’re not surprised because you’re very close to her.  You cannot believe the news you’re hearing, your ex is dead. He was 38.

My ex left behind 3 children, one from his first marriage and two from his second (me).  Just like Taylor, I was in shock.  I couldn’t believe it.  My family rallied around for support: my mother helped me tell the children.  It was unbelievably the worst thing you ever want to tell your children: their Daddy was dead. The kicker? It was suicide.  How’s that for a double whammy? So now not only are my kids different because their father is dead, but one day I must tell them their father chose death over them.  THAT is a stigma no one wants: abandonment. I was angry. So very angry.  The depth of my anger scared me.

I had no way to express that anger except through physical exertion. Pittsburgh weather in February can be brutal and I couldn’t get out of my driveway to get to the airport to attend his funeral.  The city was shut down. Flights were barely taking off. There is no better physical activity in mid-February Pittsburgh but shoveling snow.  And shovel I did.  I shoveled my sidewalk. I shoveled my neighbors’ sidewalks. I shoveled my car out.  I shoveled my father’s car out. The snow was thick and heavy so it was hard work.  I shoveled to the point of exhaustion. When the men came outside and offered to help, I turned them away.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I would care to attend my ex-husband’s funeral.  Believe it or not, despite how bad our marriage was (and it was bad) I wished no ill for my ex.  He was the father of my children and a human being.  I had been able to put my life back together and was happy to be out of his control.  I would rather have my ex-husband alive than knowing my kids could never see him again.

Unlike Taylor, I avoided grieving.  Like Taylor, I graciously accepted phone calls, cards, and condolences as the strong widowed mother of two young children.  I hurt inside, though, and my body took the beating.  Unlike Taylor, I did not seek help.  One day, after getting kicked out of a graduate night class due to my coughing, I finally went to the doctor:  Bronchial pneumonia.

Can you imagine the author with whom I had a conversation?

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through –


And when they all were seated,

A Service, like a Drum –

Kept beating – beating – till I thought

My Mind was going numb –


And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space – began to toll,


As all the Heavens were a Bell,

And Being, but an Ear,

And I, and Silence, some strange Race

Wrecked, solitary, here –


And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down –

And hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing – then –


Yes. Emily Dickinson: I Felt a Funeral in my Brain. Yes.

She knew how I felt.

During the fifth month of her pregnancy of her first child Natalie Taylor is devastated by the sudden death of her husband. Her journey with grief is chronicled in the memoir Signs of Life. Join From Left to Write on March 29 as we discuss Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are entirely  my own.

How do you grieve?