Picture Books

To Help Kids Understand Death

Picture Books

To Help Kids Understand Death

In our latest episode, Sarah Troop of The Order of the Good Death, had some great ideas for helping our kids (and ourselves!) grapple with the scariness of death and loss. Sarah was a preschool and kindergarten teacher for well over a decade, and I asked her to tell us her favorite picture books for engaging with kids on death questions. I’ll let Sarah take it from here. —HF

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Peach and Blue by Sarah Kilbourne
There are so many important things to take away from this exceptional book, including making the most of our time together. Plus, the illustrations are beautiful.


The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
This moving book reminds both adults and children that if we ignore or push aside our feelings of loss and grief, we are also pushing aside our capacity for living. Although there’s nothing better than reading a book with someone you love, the app created for it is pretty outstanding. Here’s a preview:


Rosita y Conchita by Erich Haeger and Eric Gonzalez
This book not only addresses the loss of a sibling but how we can continue to foster our connection to the deceased through all sorts of meaningful rituals, as demonstrated in the practices of Dia de Los Muertos.


Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
A rare book that helps both child and adult alike begin to come to terms with mortality told through a friendship between a duck and Death. —ST

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What are YOUR favorite kids’ books on death and loss?
Add ’em below! Would especially love to see more from other cultures.

3 thoughts on “Picture Books: To Help Kids Understand Death

  1. How I wish I knew about these books last October when my mom died unexpectedly. My son was 3 at the time and so I was very careful about what I said to him – I did watch the Ask a Mortician video on children and death which was helpful – and relied on books. Most of the suggestions I received were either too religious (we are atheist/agnostic) or only dealt with visiting grandma in the cemetery or the funeral. My mom had always said she wanted to be cremated and then have a big ass party with tacos (which we did, and had a pinata and cake) so we had no funeral or grave site.

    I found Older Than the Stars immensely helpful particularly since my mom had always liked the “Have a physicist speak at your funeral” reading and my son really latched onto the question of where grandma’s body went. By breaking it down as far as molecules and atoms he was actually get a handle on it a bit more.

  2. Our dog died on our son’s 3rd birthday this year, and this really kicked the death discussion into high gear around our house. A friend recommended the book “Saying Goodbye to Lulu” by Corinne Demas and Ard Hoyt, and it’s been invaluable to us. Since we’re not religious, it was important to us to approach death without confusing euphemisms and lofty visions of doggie heaven. This book helped us do that. The questions haven’t stopped and have extended to people too. Needless to say, I’m grateful for this latest LST podcast!

  3. I recommend My Happy Life (and the rest of the series) by Rose Lagercrantz. It’s an early reader-ish type book in format but deep emotionally. My 7 year old son loved them–they are optimistic as well as honest. Here are some great descriptions from the journal reviews: “Young Dani has what she considers a happy life, but she wonders if she will still be happy once she starts school. The butterflies subside when she meets Ella, and they are soon fast friends. When Ella moves away, Dani doesn’t think she’ll find happiness again, and she reflects on how unhappy she was when her mother died.” and “When Ella moves away, Dani is forlorn, and every other hurt is magnified by her sorrow. Her father’s gift of hamsters cheers her a bit, but it takes some time, reflection, correspondence with Ella, and a promised visit before Dani feels whole again. Translated from the Swedish, this simply written chapter book tenderly portrays the happiness of a child whose life is in balance, as well as the colossal, unremitting, inconsolable sorrow of one who is suffering loss.”

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