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?

Books Children

Celebrate Black History Month with Kadir Nelson Day 20

Celebrate Black History Month with Kadir Nelson

Black History Month is a great time to discover new authors and illustrators of color. I’ve been crushing on Kadir Nelson for some time now, and try as I might, he seems to allude me.  What better way to celebrate his beautifully moving illustrations by highlighting one book a day during Black History Month?

Just the Two of Us


Just the Two of Us

Will Smith & Kadir Nelson

2015 Diversity Reading Challenge Children

A Sweet Book for Dads to Read at Bedtime: Elizabeth’s Constellation Quilt by Olivia Fu

Elizabeth is a young mouse who wants to be a sailor like her father. Her father tells her a sailor must use the stars to find his way, but to Elizabeth, all stars look the same. Then her mother makes her a constellation quilt. When her father is lost at sea, Elizabeth is the one who sails to rescue him, armed with her quilt and her new knowledge of the stars.


I thought it might be fun to talk to the author/illustrator about the book, so here’s an interview with Olivia Fu.

Q: How did you come up with the characters? How did you come up with the name?

The characters in Elizabeth’s Constellation Quilt were inspired by my own family, but the relationships aren’t a direct reflection of mine. It is more of a fantastic creation of what the relationships could be, in this whimsical world. Elizabeth is my oldest sister’s name, and I dedicate the book to her because she has always been a strong force in my family. She is in many ways like Elizabeth in the book, strong willed, self-determining, and adventurous.

On the process of illustrating the book

The process happened very quickly. This is my first published children’s book, so I’m still working on my process. There is no exact formula quite yet but there is structure. I start out by writing the manuscript. This means scribbling notes on postets, sketch books, and in the margins of my agenda. Eventually, these notes get woven together into a coherent story.

I want to mention that I my editor, Barney, had given me some really helpful information before I began illustrating this book. He had sent me a blog by Mem Fox, where she provides advice for writers. She says when you write, you need to be in a COMPLETELY silent room. It is like creating music and you need to be able to hear the words in your head. I really latched onto this idea when creating the illustrations for this book. When I read the manuscript, it was in a completely silent room. The initial pictures just sort of came to me. I am more likely to get a successful picture the first time, if I have razor focus in a room where not even the buzz of a fly will distract me.

I am creating the images in my head, as though I’m recalling them in a film I’ve already created. Certain lines in the story naturally fit together. These become one page or a spread. Certain parts of the story start to separate, need a pause here and there, or need a page of no words for the story to escalate or de-escalate. Then I make ROUGH thumbnail sketches. When it comes time to make the finals, I need TONS of source images. I am the kind of artist that needs to look at something.

Q: Do you have pets?

I have a fish named Kitty. I had wanted a cat, but I am not allowed to have cats in my apartment, hence the name Kitty. I am very attached to Kitty and he is surprisingly needy and responsive. He has the personality of a very flirty corgi. Growing up, I also had a fish named, Phoebe, who lived for a long time, about 5 years. There are four kids in the family including me, so for my parents that was enough lives to take care of.

Q: What’s your favorite color?

At the moment green, but my favorite color changes all the time. It used to be blue, then red, then purple, now green.

Q: What kind of art do you do – media and subjects?  

I’ve always been a painter and I have the most experience with it, but it is important to me to choose the media that best tells the story. Elizabeth’s Constellation Quilt is a story about a close father daughter relationship and it has ups and downs. It’s a rich story, which required a rich medium, so I chose paint.

I’ve done a lot of advocacy based artwork in mural painting, covering topics like traffic safety, immigration, and the history of Riverbank State Park and Water Treatment Plant. Before that I did large scale painting about current and historical events that are important to me, like the Rape of Nanking, and the creation of the atomic bomb.

Now I am focusing on children’s books about family relationships, unlikely friendships, and finding meaning in the world. The thing that ties my artwork together, is that I like to tell stories. Sometimes there is a clear message, and sometimes I just want to provide a different perspective. Stories provide just the right amount of structure and flexibility in my creative process. I enjoy creating the characters, the world they inhabit, and the events they will overcome and draw meaning out of. Creating a character is like getting to know a new person and discovering a new perspective. I escape into my stories.

Q: Where are your parents from/background?

My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from Taiwan. They met in graduate school in West Virginia. I’m really close to my parents.

Q: Why did you get into art?

This is going to sound cliché, but I just need to create things. It is how I communicate myself and it has taken me a long time to realize home important it is to me.

Q: What age did you start drawing?

I started drawing when I was 5 years old. My mom signed me up for an after school art class that I attended every Friday, from age 5 to 18. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Camozzi and she was one of the most patient and kind teachers I’ve ever had. She gave me a lot of freedom.

Q: Is it hard to be an artist/teacher?

Most definitely. Both being an artist and a teacher take a lot out of me emotionally. I hold myself to a high standard. I feel very responsible for how I influence young people, both as a teacher and as a artist/writer. It is also a lot to juggle mentally. When I plan a lesson, I have to think of things in a very structured organized way. When I make illustrations, although I have my own system for that, I have to let go of some control and be able to trust my instincts.

Q: Where do you live?

I live in Harlem New York, but I plan on moving back to California very soon.

Q: What things do you like to do outside of art/writing/teaching?

That is a very good question. At the moment my career does somewhat take over my life, but when I do have free time, I see friends and family, eat good food, go to museums, watch many animated movies, and try to keep myself out of trouble. Like Elizabeth I am a risk taker and deep down am always seeking adventure.

I love how the little girl goes to rescue her father. It’s so sweet! Perfect book for Dads and their little ones, don’t ya think? This book can totally count toward your Diversity Reading Challenge, as it’s written by an author of color.

Enjoy it’s cuteness!


Zen the Zebra My #FridayReads by SwordPen Publishing


Let’s celebrate making it through another week by sharing our #FridayReads. Here’s two I’m reading today:

Zen the Zebra by William Tellem



Zen the Zebra is a delightful morality tale of a zesty zebra named Zen (see what I did there?) who feels great about himself, regardless of what others say.  I don’t want to spoil it for you but let’s just say he has to prove himself and in the end everyone wins! Isn’t this the kind of uplifting tale kids of any age need? No matter what you look like, we’re all still the same at heart? Whatever your bottom line is for the moral of this tale, it’s a great one.

And now, I want a zebra too (I’m channeling that girl from Willy Wonka who stomped her feet cuz she wanted a goose that laid golden eggs)!

I don’t know where I’d put it and I don’t think my beloved pooch would care for it, but whatever, he’s so cute!

And speaking of Bailey, remember all those times your little one asked you if you loved them? It wasn’t too long ago when my littles asked me the same question!  Here’s a book that describes a similar conversation with a father and his young son.

Of Course I Love You! by Zev Lewinson



To be sure, the only little in my house right now is Bailey, and maybe in dog years he’s 56 but he’s still my baby! Anyway, he and I read Of Course I Love You! together.  As the father tells his son, “I’d wrestle an alligator for you…”

What’s your #FridayReads?

Books Children

Celebrate Black History Month with Kadir Nelson Day 20

Celebrate Black History Month with Kadir Nelson

Black History Month is a great time to discover new authors and illustrators of color. I’ve been crushing on Kadir Nelson for some time now, and try as I might, he seems to allude me.  What better way to celebrate his beautifully moving illustrations by highlighting one book a day during Black History Month?

Just the Two of Us


Just the Two of Us

Will Smith & Kadir Nelson