Picture Books about Death: Gentle Stories for Kids

by SusanM

Death is a hard topic to talk about with children. But these good quality picture books can help a child understand more about death in a gentle way.

Death is one of those topics parents often feel unprepared to talk about with their child. They can also feel overwhelmed by the topic or the events that have lead to needing to explain what death is to their child.

Death is a natural part of the life cycle. So it can be part of a child's general learning about the world and how things work. (Some books are better for this than others.) But often death unexpectedly touches a family before this has happened. This mixed with the emotions at the time can make for a difficult talk. Using a good quality picture book about death can help.

Why a Good Quality Picture Book Can Help

picture books about deathDeath is a complex and emotional topic to explain to children. Yet it's also one that children do need to understand. When a picture book is good quality it can help you talk about death in a way that's gentle and at your child's level. This can make it easier both on you and your child. 

It's important that books used to explain death area good quality though. This is because a poor quality book may just complicate things further. To pick a good quality children's book about death look for recommendations but also go with your own feelings about what your child needs. 

You know your child and family best so it's important you read the book first before you share it with your child. This can let you know if the book gives an explanation of death that fits with your family's own beliefs. It can also give you some warning about what questions your child might have after reading this book. Reading it first ensures it will be the right book for your child.

Lifetimes and The Fall of Freddie the Leaf are highly respected children's books about death. They're regularly used by organizations who work with children who experience death through the loss of a loved one. 

Both books stick close to the idea of the life cycle and have a very gentle mood about them. 

Lifetimes:The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children is a lovely book about the concept of death.

It has no religious affiliation instead focusing on how death is a natural part of the life cycle. This means you can easily include your own beliefs about what happens after death if you wish - using this book as a step into the topic.

This book is helpful to explain death to a child as part of general learning about life. It's also very useful for children who have experience a death - of a friend or family member. It would even help a child who has lost a pet. 

My niece was the first child in our family to have this book shared with her as part of her learning about life. She was about 4 years old.

One day after sharing the book Lifetimes with her mother she sat intently and listened to what was meant to be an adult conversation (aren't kid's little eavesdroppers). A woman was speaking of the death of a loved one. My little niece with great sympathy said - yes everybody dies one day. But this wasn't said with fear it was said with a gentle understanding of how the life cycle works. 

Understanding Death Through Nature

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages
Slack Incorporated

The Fall of Freddy the Leaf is another gentle book about death for a child. It beautifully explores the life cycle through the story of a simple leaf. 

It talks about having a life purpose. Of experiencing sun and laughter. Then it gently moves into the topic of death. Yet explains this through the concept of the seasons. 

The death of Freddy is explored very serenely: "At dawn the wind came that took Freddie from his branch. It didn't hurt at all. He felt himself float quietly, gently and softly downward. As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time and he knew that he had been part of its life and made him proud." 

This is why it's such a well respected choice. The use of the natural theme lets death be explained through something children already know about. The seasons. The focus upon a simple leaf rather than a human or animal is also much easier for children to read about. This lets the book explore death in a direct yet gentle way.

You Can Watch Freddie the Leaf Too

A small movie has been made based upon the original story. This is also an excellent resource for helping a child understand death. It can be used with the book or by itself. 

The Next Place gets glowing reviews - but not just from from parents. 

This children's book is also rated very highly of by adults who have lost a loved one. (Sometimes children's books have a depth that adult books lack. The symbolism in a good quality children's book can sometimes express more than an adult book can with words.)  

I haven't actually read this book myself yet (it's on my must see list). But I think it's definitely one to consider buying based upon all the reviews. 

Not Just for Kids

The Next Place
Waldman House Pr

Explaining Death from Illness

This book Gentle Willow is an excellent choice for helping children understand why doctors haven't been able to "fix" a loved one. So it's helpful to explain diseases like cancer, heart disease or any other serious medical condition both during the final stage of the disease (the palliative care stage) or after a loved one has died..

The book takes a gentle approach by using the story of a tree (Gentle Willow) and her squirrel friend (Amanda). The doctors in this story are portrayed as wise tree wizards. 

The tree wizards help Amanda the squirrel understand that the best medicine she can give Gentle Willow at this time is love. So this story follows the tradition of palliative care in a way children understand. 

Gentle Story About Dying (Palliative Care)

Gentle Willow: A Story for Children about Dying
Magination Press

In Gentle Willow death is explored with the idea of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. So death is seen as a change rather than an end. This is another book not related to any religious belief so this symbolism can be incorporated into many different beliefs about death. 

These explores the idea of how holding memories close to us can help when a loved one has died. Both books use animal characters rather than people. (This approach is usually less scary or upsetting for children than using human characters.)

Badgers Parting Gifts has become a classic in this area of children's literature. In this story old Badger peacefully accepts that his time has come but his friends grieve the loss of their beloved friend. They help each other with their loss by sharing their memories of him. By doing this they know that he will always be a part of them. 

Like the other books I've talked about this book is also general and not specific to any religion. So it's another one you can add your own beliefs to without difficulty. It has a very gentle mood and shows how with time happy memories of the loved one that has died can take the place of tears.

Another Popular Choice

Badger's Parting Gifts

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories is newer book that's getting good reviews. (It's another one on my must see list.) Even though I've not read it myself I included it here for the quality of it's artwork - which looks gorgeous. The good reviews it's getting. As well as it's specific topic.

This one explores the difficult topic of the death of someone young (a young squirrel has died from an accident). It would be a perfect world if the only cause of death was old age. But sadly this is not the case. So it's important to have children's books about this specific topic about.

When Someone Young Dies

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
Tanglewood Press

Reading the Book Yourself First

Finally, I'd like to finish with a reminder to read any children's book that explores the concept of death yourself. Reviews and recommendations are useful but you will only know if it's the right book for your child if you read it first. 

Understanding Children Better

Children Understand and Respond to Death Differently Than Adults
Children's grief is different. This means it is easy to miss how much grief a child feels. It also makes it hard to know what to do.
Updated: 10/06/2012, SusanM
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SusanM on 10/07/2012

Yes that's my favorite from the list as well I think :)

Sheri_Oz on 10/07/2012

I always liked "Freddie the Leaf". Good, gentle book.

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