When children experience death of a loved one, it’s profoundly difficult for them to comprehend their swirling emotions. Parents with young children often struggle with how much to share or whether it’s appropriate for their children to attend funerals, wakes, or memorial services. Picture books that gently address the issues of grief and loss are a tremendous resource to help families navigate such difficult times, especially during holidays when the absence of a beloved family member is keenly felt by all. Here are five picture books I highly recommend, appropriate for family members from young to old.
THE INVISIBLE STRING by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Geoff Stevenson
“You don’t need to see the Invisible String. People who love each other are always connected by a very special String made of love.” This string reaches everywhere, including under water, outer space, and even up to Heaven to connect twins Liza and Jeremy with their dear Uncle Brian. This book only touches on grief, but the idea of eternal connection with loved ones is very reassuring during times of loss.
THE MEMORY BOX: A BOOK ABOUT GRIEF by Joanna Rowland, illustrated by Thea Baker
“I can always get another balloon. But I can never have another you. I miss you.” A young girl fears she might forget someone dear who has passed away and creates a memory box. While at first, she fills the box with mementos from times spent together, adding new memories helps the girl to accept that it’s okay to experience life without that person by her side. We never learn who died, which makes this heartfelt book relatable for all. At the end, Chaplain Mary Lindberg discusses how to address children’s greatest fears and offers helpful suggestions.
ALWAYS REMEMBER by Cece Meng, illustrated by Jago
“With his life complete, the gentle waves took him away. By dawn, everyone who knew Old Turtle knew he was gone.” This is a lovely story in which other sea creatures reflect on Old Turtle’s legacy. Meng’s second-to-last line reflects the earlier one: “When he was done, the ocean took him back.” The last line, however, helps readers to consider Old Turtle’s impact on the future. “But what he left behind was only the beginning.” This gentle book is a springboard for families to discuss memories of the one they lost, with emphasis on what each family member learned from that person and how they will carry that legacy forward.
THE GOODBYE BOOK by Todd Parr, jacket design by Saho Fujii
“It’s hard to say goodbye to someone. You might not know what to feel.” Sadness, anger, loss of appetite, and inability to sleep or find joy anymore are some of the very real emotions covered in this boldly illustrated book. Readers learn that a fish has died and the remaining characters are learning to process their feelings of grief. Parr explains it takes courage to keep living, but sad days are inevitable. His overall message is how it’s good to remember what you learned from and experienced with the loved one you have lost.
IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso
From Caron Levis’ website: “Ida, Always is an exquisitely told story of two best friends—inspired by a real bear friendship—and a gentle, moving, needed reminder that loved ones lost will stay in our hearts, always.” This elegant book shows the depth of the pair’s friendship and the pain and hopelessness felt by the bear (Gus) who is left behind. But due to attention from his handler, slowly, surely, his heart begins to mend and he shows signs of beginning to enjoy life again without Ida. I’m so impressed at how delicately and honestly Levis and Santoso approach this difficult subject. The bears are so human in the way they respond to each other, and discussing the range of emotions Gus shows will help children understand that such feelings are normal and expected.
Thank you to these authors and illustrators for providing comfort to so many families. Do you know of any other picture books that effectively deal with grief and loss? If so, please share in the comments below.