Death is a part of life and something that we need to discuss with children at younger and younger ages these days, unfortunately. This is such a difficult topic that young children will probably not be able to understand fully; honestly, do adults even really understand it? In general, many picture books have anthropomorphic animals as the main characters so it makes sense that this is also true for books about death and grief. It’s comforting for children to deal with these immense topics when animals are at the forefront.
Here is a short list of gentle picture books about death for young children, preschool ages and up:
Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby. This is one of the sweetest books that illustrate how we can go on living while still honoring the memory of those who have passed. Rabbit never leaves the field where he lives but after his good friend Dog dies, he leaves Rabbit his well-traveled motorbike. After some time, Rabbit decides to take the motorbike for a spin and finds the kind of adventure he always heard about from Dog.
And So It Goes by Paloma Valdivia. Gentle and lyrical, this book floats through the cycle of life. People are here and someday will be gone, and new people are going to be born. The art is as ethereal as the language. Just right for preschool and up.
The Phone Booth In Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith and Rachel Wada. Loosely based on a true story, after a dreadful tsunami, a man builds a telephone booth in his garden so people can talk to their loved ones who died. Simply written but intense, this book is better for older children, kindergarten or first grade and up.
Where Do They Go? By Julia Alvarez and Sabra Field. This simple, rhyming story asks that age-old question, where do people go after they die? This is a lovely book to help facilitate a discussion with young children about what happens when people die.
Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso. This touching book is based on the true story of two polar bears who lived in a city zoo. It follows their loving friendship and what happens after one of them dies.
Old Coyote by Nancy Wood and Max Grafe. A gentle book about an old coyote’s last day on Earth. He senses his end is near so spends the day loving his partner, being with friends, and enjoying his world until he dreams himself right into another one.
Always Remember by Cece Meng and Jago. This is one of the most beautiful and tender books about death. After Old Turtle dies but all the creatures whose lives he touched remember him so he can always live on. The art is as beautiful as the story itself.
When The Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow and Stefano Vitale. Sweet ideas about how things don’t really end, they just become something new. Wind doesn’t just stop, it just blows somewhere else. This book is about change and transition, and can be used to help start a conversation about death with young children.
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies. A beloved pet dog dies and his owner goes through his grief by taking it out on his well-loved garden. This book illustrates loss and life after a pet dies with grace and aplomb.
The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. After the loss of a special person in her life, a young girl decides to put her heart in a bottle to protect it. But along with her heart goes her curiosity and creativity, so how will she get her heart out when she needs it again? It gently moves through the idea of grief without ever mentioning death, and is a loving way to show how we can, and do, come alive again after grief.
Picture books about death can be an easy way to help discuss this difficult topic, especially if you are dealing with grief and loss yourself.