102 A: Expressive Arts and Literature with Grieving Children
Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Curriculum Writer & Volunteer, Journey of Hope Grief
Support Center (Plano, TX)
This article written by Dr. Haggard shares hints for using books and a
The Use of Books to Help Your Grieving Children
Why Use Books?
There are several reasons why books are effective tools for adults to use as they
strive to help grieving children. Children who are grieving usually have
unanswered questions and concerns that can be addressed with books that
include characters that are looking for the same answers and experiencing the
Children of all ages seem to be able to identify with story characters that may be
animals or people. Relating to a grieving character can help the child understand
that his feelings and concerns are not unique. He is not alone. There are new
vocabulary words and concepts that a child often does not understand as he
copes with death, funerals, burial, or cremation. The purposes and roles of the
funeral home need to be understood. The meaning of death and how it is
different from sleep is not an easy concept for some children.
The grieving child is faced with swings in emotions and changes of attitudes. The
use of books can help him to understand these changes and find ways to cope.
Adults who want to help a grieving child often feel helpless about how to relate
with the child and how to converse about topics that they are not comfortable
with personally. Books can provide guidance. Some families find comfort in
projects that create memorials of some kind for the one who died. Scrap-booking,
crafts, quilts, and writing are examples. A group of books that can assist you in
finding just the right ideas for your family is provided. These projects serve as
outlets for the entire family and provide time together that can include sharing
memories and happy times.
How to Find Good Books
There are several ways you might search for a book:
Visit your public library. Many of the books that are suggested can be
checked out there. If the library does not have the book, the inter-library
loan system is usually offered. Check out a book found at your library and
request others that you do not find there.
Many of the books listed may be in your child’s school library. Write the
name of the book and the author on an index card and give the card to
your child. Older children know how to use the card catalog or the
computer to find a book. The librarian will be glad to help a younger child.
Use Google, or another good search engine, to find gently used books for
sale. Type the book, author and “purchase” into the search information
box. Many times you can buy the books at a much lower price than the
price at a bookstore.
Visit bargain bookstores like HALF PRICE BOOKS or 75% BOOKS. You
can call to ask if they have a book you desire.
The Centering Corporation books are priced sensibly and can be ordered
online at www.centering.org. You can also request a catalog from the
Centering Corporation website.
Visit a local bookstore and ask that the book be ordered.
Recommendations for Selection of Appropriate Books
This section offers hints for use of the books and includes bibliographies of books
for the various age groups of children - infants through teens. Read the ideas for
sharing the books and study the lists of books that are suggested for your child’s
age group. Each book listed has comments that can help you decide if the book
fits the needs of your child. Select a few books that you feel you might be able to
Suggestions for Using Books with Infants and Toddlers
The very young child may not be able to understand death, but he or she can
sense the changes in the caregivers and others in the home. These younger
children need the comfort that can come from special times that include hugs and
personal talk. The suggested books for these children always end with an
understanding that the caregiver and family love the child and that all is going to
Before reading a book to your child, read it carefully and study the pictures. Many
younger children prefer to talk about the pictures and ask questions. You may
choose to read or just talk through the story. Remember that children of all ages
never get tired of hearing a story or looking at the book. After you have read two
or three books, invite the child to select the book he wants to see and hear.
Read before naps, anytime that the child is fussy and cross, and always put the
young child to bed with a story. Read with the child in your lap. You may want to
sit in a rocker. You may sit on the edge of the bed or get under the covers with
the child. Provide hugs and kisses. Read slowly enough that the child can enjoy
the pictures in the book and relate to what is happening. Keep two or three books
that you have read to the child in his toy box or basket. The child may want to sit
and do “book talk” as he revisits a favorite book and shares with himself his
interpretation of the book. You may hear him repeating phrases, or lines, that
were repeated in the story.
Recommended Books for Infants and Toddlers
Bowen, Ann. I Loved You Before You Were Born. N.Y: Harper Collins, 2001.
This gentle story celebrates the love of a grandmother for her new grandchild.
The opening refrain, "Even before you were born," is repeated throughout the
text, coupled with "I loved-," "I wondered-," "I imagined-." The sense of waiting
and anticipation is almost tangible, and many hoped-for events convey the loving
intimacy of family.
Fearnley, Jan. Just Like You. Candlewick Press, 2003.
As Little Mouse and his mother walk home, they pass five other animal groups all
snuggling down at the end of the day. In glowing, grandiose terms, the parents
promise to protect and provide for their young, be it to fly high or dig deep. Little
Mouse thinks hard about how special these babies must be and is told that his
Mama will not only read to him and play with, feed, hug, and make him laugh, but
she'll also be cross when he is naughty. She will love him always.
Fox, Mem. Time for Bed. Hartcourt Big Books, 1997.
Charming illustrations and comfortable rhymes characterize this appealing
bedtime book and feature animal pairs, each with a parent settling its offspring
down for and sharing loving goodnights. An orange tabby kitten receives a
soothing bath, a sleepy blue bird is tucked into a warm nest, and a delicate fawn
curls up against its mother. Each babe is lulled by a gently rhyming couplet
beginning with the phrase, "It's time for bed."
Harker, Jillian. No One Like You. Parragon Publishing, 2002.
A young fox receives love and care. Beautiful pictures. This book may help
reassure the child that he will continue to be loved and cared for.
McBratney, Sam. Guess How Much I Love You. Cambridge, Mass: Candlewick
Searching for words to tell his dad how much he loves him (and to put off
bedtime just an ‘eentsy’ bit longer), Little Nutbrown Hare comes up with one
example after another ("I love you as high as I can hop!"), only to have Big
Nutbrown Hare continually up the ante. Finally, on the edge of sleep, he comes
up with a showstopper: "I love you right up to the moon."
Norac, Carl. I Love You So Much. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 1998.
This simple, sweet story involves Lola, a hamster, and the day she searches for
the right time to say, "I love you." Lola's growing frustration over her inability to
express herself shows the little creature more and more distraught, until she
finally explodes with emotion at dinnertime. Lola's parents respond generously
with kisses, and all is well. I Love You So Much deserves a place beside the
numerous other books that deal with the expression of family love because this
endearing little hamster finds as much satisfaction in declaring love as in hearing
Von Genechten, Guido. Because I Love You So Much. Tiger Tales, 2006.
For mothers and children everywhere this is a gentle and tender reminder of the
constancy of a mother's unconditional love. Snowy is a very smart bear. He
knows where to find the best fish, how to catch the biggest snowflakes, and
much more. But what he really wants to know is if his mommy will always love
him. Mommy reveals her answer in a most delightful way! The book includes
pop-up, pull-the-tab, and fold-out surprises on every page!
Waddell, Martin. Owl Babies. Candlewick, 2002.
Realistic as they appear, the three, fluffy, white baby owls and their mother are
infused with distinct personalities when the owlets awaken one night to find their
mother gone. Sarah, the largest, reasons that she is out hunting for food. Mid-
sized Percy tends to agree, while tiny Bill will only repeat, ``I want my mommy!''
Mom, just out for a night flight, does return, of course, and her fledglings are
delighted to see her.
Waddell, Martin. Who Do You Love. Walker Books Ltd. 2000.
A mother cat and her kitten share a bedtime ritual based on love. Called in from
the yard for supper, Holly joins her family at the table. Playfully standing
backwards on her chair, she begs to play the go-to-bed game and Mama begins
it by asking her, “Who do you love”? Holly runs through almost everyone but
Mama saving her for last.
Zolotow, Charlotte. I Like to Be Little. Harper Trophy, 1990.
The book enhances an endearing story that explains why one girl (and her
dachshund) enjoy being little as it records a little girl describing all the things she
likes that grown-ups usually do not. This tale helps the child understand that
being little and having someone to love you is great.
Suggestions for Using Books with Four and Five Year Olds
As toddlers become older, they enjoy stories about the real world. They can
identify with characters and often predict what may happen next in a story.
They like to hear favorite stories read over and over. They enjoy picking up a
favorite book and doing what is called “book talk” as they tell the story in their
own words using the pictures. Read slowly and encourage the child to picture in
his mind what is happening. Provide wait time to allow the child to interject his
thoughts and comments. If the child begins to tire, the book can be finished at a
second setting. Change your voice as you read conversations from different
characters. Use facial expressions that can help the child understand the
emotions of the characters. To check the child’s understanding or feelings about
the story, use open ended questions such as “What do you think?”, “What is the
story saying to you?”, How do you think he/she is feeling?”, and “Have you ever
felt like this?”
Bedtime is a good time to read to your four or five year old. The lap of the adult
or sitting on the bed, may be the setting. The feeling of being loved and the
freedom to talk about what the child is thinking are the two important things to
remember. Tears may come as you read about death, but the tears can help you
and your child.
Provide a book the child enjoys and crayons, or pens where the child can sketch
pictures as he is reminded of the story. In addition to helping your child cope with
his emotions and find answers to his questions, you are encouraging a love of
reading and modeling how to handle books. These are “concepts of print” that
are essential for success as your child enters kindergarten or first grade.
Recommended Books for Four and Five Year Olds
Aliki. The Two of Them. Harper Trophy, 1987.
In this moving story of the love between generations, a grandfather and a little
girl look after one another from the day she is born until the day he dies. "The
day she was born, her grandfather made her a ring of silver and a polished tone,
because he loved her already." Through the years, the little girl and her
grandfather share so many happy times -- playing by the sea, walking in the
mountains, working in his store. And when he grows sick, she takes care of him
with as much love as he always showed her.
Baker, Lisa. I Love you Because You Are You. Scholastic, 2002.
This charming story about a mama fox's unconditional love for her cub describes
the many moods of children, from happy to frightened, bashful to silly, and more -
offering children warm assurance of their parents' abiding affection and approval.
Mother fox shares the many ways she loves little fox.
Boynton, Sandra. Snoozers: 7 Short Short Bedtime Stories for Lively Little
Kids. Little Simon, 1997.
This book has seven bedtime stories that involve family relationships set up on
two pages each. Each page spread is one story, somewhere between 16 and 20
lines of text including cure rhymes and great pictures. The tab system lets the
child count as you go through the book.
Cannon, Janell. Stellaluna. Harcourt Children’s Books, 1993.
Baby bat Stellaluna's life is flitting along right on schedule--until an owl attacks
her mother one night, knocking the bewildered young bat out of her mother's
loving grasp. The tiny bat is lucky enough to land in a nest of baby birds, but her
whole world has just turned upside down and she learns that families can come
in all shapes and sizes.
Clifton, Lucille. Everett Anderson’s Goodbye. N.Y: Henry Holt & Co., 1988.
The death of Everett Anderson's father brings him to express universal
heartaches and small moments of hope through his emotions, as well as his
mother's quiet, understanding support. The book is an effective way of helping
children come to terms with loss.
Cusimano, Maryann. You Are My I Love You. Philomel, 2001.
The rhythmic and lyrical text of this beautifully illustrated picture book explores
the special connections between a parent and child. The opening pages show an
adult teddy bear curled up with a baby bear as she takes her child through a day
of love. While they play outside, and after a bath, dinner, and a favorite story, the
poem ends with a quiet moment: "I am your lullaby; you are my ‘peek-a-boo’. I
am your good-night kiss; you are my I love you." This book could reassure the
child who has the death of a parent that he, or she, will still be loved.
Doray, Malika. One More Wednesday. Greenwillow, 2001.
Wednesdays are always special for one certain little bunny. Every Wednesday
he stays with his grandmother. They bake cookies and cakes (and then eat them
up). They walk her dog, Bobo, in the park. And at the end of the day, the bunny
falls asleep in Granny's lap, waiting for Papa to come pick him up. But one
Wednesday he can't go see his grandmother--she's gone to the hospital. Soon
after, she dies, and, with the help of his parents, the small, sad bunny tries to
understand what that means as he faces the strange questions of life, love,
death, and eternity.
Dunbar, Joyce. Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep. Harcourt
Children’s Books, 1998.
Willa can't go to sleep, so she enlists the help of her big brother Willoughby. He
tells her to "think of something happy," but the toddler bunny can't think of
anything on her own. Patiently, Willoughby points out happy things that await her
in the morning: her chicken slippers and blue-and-white jumpsuit, breakfast food
in the kitchen, toys in the living room, and the morning itself. Satisfied, Willa goes
to sleep in his arms.
Hodge, John. Finding Grandpa Everywhere: A Young Child Discovers Memories
of a Grandparent. Centering Corporation, 1998.
After Grandpa dies, a young boy finds that the memories of him and his love live
on everywhere he looks, including in the garden. He decides to work in the
garden to show his love for his grandpa. Includes a discussion of the importance
of allowing children to understand death and undergo the process of grieving.
Katz, Karen. Counting Kisses: A Kiss and Read Book. Little Simon, 2003.
How many kisses does it take to say goodnight? A fussy baby receives "ten little
kisses on teeny tiny toes/nine laughing kisses on busy, wriggly feet/eight squishy
kisses on chubby, yummy knees," and so on down to "one last kiss on your
sleepy, dreamy head." Each member of the family takes a turn bestowing kisses
on the child: mom, dad, grandma, big sister, and even the dog and cat. A fun
book just to say, “I love you.”
Mayer, Mercer. I Was So Mad. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2000.
A Little Critter Book that deals with anger. The book shows the Critter family
saying no to everything Little Critter wants to do. He can't keep frogs in the tub.
He can't help paint the house. Finally, mad at the world, Little Critter announces
he will run away. When pals come by and ask him to come and play baseball,
our young hero's mood quickly changes. He grabs his bat and heads off for the
game, telling himself he can run away another day if he is still so mad.
Mccourt, Lisa. I Love You, Stinky Face. Cartwheel, 2004.
A funny and happy book that can make a sad child feel better. A child tucked into
bed delays going to sleep, needing reassurance of her mother's love and asks,
"Would you still love me....if I were a big scary ape?" or "a super smelly skunk" or
"a terrible meat-eating dinosaur," and the list continues. Mama says she will
always love and care for her child.
Mccourt, Lisa. I Miss You, Stinky Face. Scholastic, 2004.
Speaking to his mother by telephone, a boy wonders when she is coming home
and asks a series of questions starting with "...what if the airplane forgets how to
fly?" His mother responds to each worry with a solution, pledging to "...hop in the
basket of a hot-air balloon," "...find the speediest shark in the ocean," or "...hitch
a ride on...[a] supersonic spaceship..."-all in an effort to get back to her son. The
message is reassuring and could be used to prepare children for times when a
parent is away from home.
Miller, Virginia. I Love You Just the Way You Are. Walker Books Ltd., 2000.
Bartholomew, called "Ba" is having a bad day, despite George's patient
assistance. Finally, George tells the youngster, "I love you just the way you are,"
and sends him off to bed in a better frame of mind.
Parker, Marjorie Blain. Jasper’s Day. Kids Can Press, 2004.
Knowing that their beloved dog Jasper, now close to death from cancer, must be
put to sleep, a family takes a day to celebrate their pet's life and what he has
meant to them. The difficult situation is described gently, but realistically. Riley
understands that Jasper's illness has affected his sight, hearing, and freedom of
movement. He is sad, but agrees with his parents that the animal is in pain and
he should not have to suffer. On Jasper's Day, the family takes him to several
places they have enjoyed together-a stream, the ice-cream store, and Grandma's
house. Later the family buries him in the backyard. The end of the story
acknowledges and validates Riley's feelings about the loss of his pet.
Pappas, Michael. Sweet Dreams for Little Ones. Winston Press, 1982.
This book could be used with children who are having problems going to sleep
and/or having bad dreams. It includes eighteen fantasy vignettes for bedtime
storytelling which focus on one or more of the basic needs known to affect all
human behavior while facilitating a loving, sharing time for parents and children
and nurturing creative fantasy.
Rothman, Juliet Cassuto. A Birthday Present for Daniel: A Child’s Story of
Loss. Prometheous. 2001.
A small girl’s brother has died finds a way to celebrate his birthday and describes
how she feels as she tells about some of the things her family does to help them
accept his death.
Winthrop, Elizabeth. Sloppy Kisses. Aladdin Paperbacks, 1990.
A thoughtful tale of an affectionate pig family. After her friend tells her kissing is
for babies, Emmy Lou tries to make do with a pat on the shoulder then finds that
kisses are not just for little babies.
Wolfelt, Allan. How I Feel. Compassion Books.
This is a workbook, coloring book that allows the very young child to explore the
emotions that come with the death of a loved one and the many feelings grieving
children experience. The book provides grieving children with the words to
describe their new and sometimes scary feelings.
Suggestions for Using Books with Children in Kindergarten, First and Second
Educators agree that reading aloud to children after they become readers is still
very important. When you read to primary grade children, you should read
something that they might not be able to read, or something that has a special
purpose for being shared.
A grieving child can especially benefit from the loving setting of a read aloud.
They may still enjoy sitting in an adult’s lap, or sharing their beds. Most parents
and children never remember television stories that they watch together, but they
often revisit a good book by rereading or talking about it.
Before reading the book to the child, read or review the book quickly. You want to
be familiar with the content and have time to think about how your child might
respond. If your child is able to read a book that you want to share, you can do
partner reading. You read a page, and the child reads a page. Do not use this
technique if the child has to work at decoding. You want the reading to facilitate
conversation and the sharing of stories about the one who died. Memories of
time spent with that person can help you and your child.
Keep a few familiar books in the toy box or basket. The child will enjoy
visiting the book and reading or reviewing the story. Each time this
happens, the child has a greater understanding of the concepts presented in
You can help your child cope with grief and his emotions. At the same time,
you can model good reading and help your child increase his vocabulary. Most
of all, you are developing a closer relationship between you and the child.
This precious time together allows you to cry together, laugh together, and
to understand how much you love each other.
Recommended Books for Kindergarten, First and Second Grade Children
Archambault, John and Martin, Bill Jr. Knots on a Counting Rope. Henry Holt
and Co., 1997.
A blind, orphan, Indian boy is raised by his grandfather who used knots in a rope
to help the boy remember his past. The story unfolds naturally, exhibiting the love
between the boy and his grandfather. When Grandfather dies, his memories and
a new colt that he learns to ride comforts the boy. He feels his grandfather’s love
is still with him.
Baumgart, Klaus. Laura’s Star. Tiger Tales, 2002.
Laura spots a streak of silver shooting past her window and discovers a sparkly
star nearby. She takes the little star home and later discovers that the little star
has disappeared. She searches everywhere and thinks that her special friend
may have been a dream. Laura learns that friendship sometimes means giving
away the brightest treasures as she faces the issues of depression, loneliness,
friendliness, caring, sharing, and giving.
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Dead Bird. William Morrow and Co., 2008.
Finding a still warm but dead bird, a group of children give it a fitting burial and
every day come again to the woods to sing to the dead bird and place fresh
flowers on its grave. This book provides an excellent handling of the subject of
death and the meaning of death in which all young children have a natural
Deluise, Dom. Charlie the Caterpillar. Aladdin, 1993.
When Charlie the caterpillar wants to play, the other creatures refuse because
they find him ugly. Of course, Charlie eventually makes a cocoon, turns into a
beautiful butterfly, and finds that the animals who scorned him now want his
company. He searches for meaning in his life through the cycles of life.
dePaola, Tomie. Now One Foot, Now the Other. Puffin, 2006.
Such a wonderful book for explaining illness to children! Bobby and his
Grandfather, Bob have a lovely relationship; they spend lots of time together,
building with blocks and sharing stories. Bobby especially likes the story about
how he learned to walk... ''Now one foot, now the other.'' Bob has a stroke, and
the little boy is frightened by the changes in his grandfather. Now Bob doesn't
seem to recognize Bobby, but Bobby soon learns to understand Bob and,
through love and persistence, is instrumental in Bob's recovery.
Gilman, Phoebe. Something from Nothing. Scholastic Press, 1993.
It is a story of relationships, trust, transformations, and optimism.
Grandpa trims away the worn parts of Joseph's baby blanket and uses it to make
him a jacket in the first of its many transformations into ever smaller items: a
vest, a tie, a handkerchief, and a button as each item in turn becomes worn.
When the button is lost, Joseph declares: "'There is just enough material here to
make...a wonderful story!'" As the boy grows the coat changes, but his
grandfather’s love is always with him.
Hines, Anna Grossnickle. Remember the Butterflies. Dutton Juvenile, 1991.
Just as the dying butterfly leaves its eggs to hatch out another generation, well-
loved grandparents leave children and grandchildren to remember them in the
beautiful things they leave behind. A young boy and girl, after spending quiet
summer times with their grandfather in his garden where he explains loss
through the death of a butterfly, must cope with his winter death. They then follow
Grandpa's garden through the seasons--from glorious, brightly hued summer
flowers and butterflies to the pale lilacs of spring.
Harris, Robie H. Goodbye, Mousie. Aladdin, 2004.
A little boy wakes up one morning and tickles his pet mouse's tummy, but Mousie
doesn't move. Daddy tells the boy that Mousie is dead. Slowly, after lots of tears
and many questions, the boy comes to terms with the fact that his pet is gone.
He plans for the funeral by painting a picture of himself to put inside the shoebox
that will hold Mousie. There is a funeral and the slowly boy gains an
understanding of death.
Hazen, Barbara Shook. Why Did Grandpa Die?: A Book About Death. A Golden
This book can help answer the question that is hardest to answer, “Why did my
loved one die?”
Holmes, Margaret. A Terrible Thing Happened: A Story for Children Who Have
Witnessed Violence or Trauma. Magination Press, 2000.
Sherman saw the most terrible thing happen. At first he tried to forget about it,
but soon something inside him started to bother him. Then he met Ms. Maple, the
school counselor, who helped him talk about the terrible thing that he had tried to
forget. Now Sherman is feeling much better.
King, Stephen Michael. A Special Kind of Love. Scholastic, 1996.
A father finds it hard to say, ”I love you”. He finds ways to say it by creating
constructions such as castles, airplanes, and kites out of boxes. And while
people make fun of his obsession, the father remains steadfast in showing his
love through his creations. This is a good book to use as a springboard for talking
about why a child knows he was loved by the one who died. It can also help the
parent express his or her love for the child.
Marshall, Bridget. Animal Crackers: A Tender Book About Death and Funerals
and Love. Centering Corporation, 1997.
Grandmother always shared animal crackers. This book explores aging, memory
loss and a special kind of love when a young child's Nanny must go to a nursing
home and later dies. At her memorial service the girl and her father share the
crackers. This is a good book to trigger memories to talk about and to discuss the
meaning of the funeral.
McLaughlin, Kirsten. The Memory Box. Centering Corporation, 2001.
A small boy’s grandfather dies even though he had promised to take him fishing!
The boy shares his feelings after Grandpa dies. He talks about all the things he
will miss doing with Grandpa. The child decides to make a memory box out of
Grandpa's tackle box. He fills it with special items and all the memories of his
Sqouros, Christine. A Pillow for My Mom. Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine
A little girl whose mother is seriously ill in the hospital misses her Mom's laughter
and the games, books, and conversations they shared. To cheer her Mom, she
sews a colorful pillow for her hospital bed. After her mother’s death, she now has
the pillow and treasures it as a loving memory. An item belonging to the one who
died could be used in making a memory pillow.
Varley, Susan. Badger’s Parting Gifts. Harper Trophy, 1992.
Badger’s friends are overwhelmed with grief when he dies. By sharing their
memories of his gifts, they find the strength to face the future with hope. This is a
great book for sharing happy memories.
Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Alexander could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Through his trials, Alexander offers us a reminder that things may not be all that
bad. As his day progresses, he faces a barrage of tribulations and wishes he
could move to Australia. This book is a great one to help children understand
their emotions and to talk through those bad days.
Weir, Audrey Bernheimer. Am I Still a Sister? Grief Inc., 1992.
A young girl tells how she feels, searches for her identity and copes with
sadness, anger, and guilt and describes what her parents do when her baby
sister gets sick and dies.
Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit. Harper Trophy, 1999.
After a death children may not feel ‘real’. A stuffed toy rabbit comes to life after
being given as a Christmas gift to a young boy. The shy Rabbit befriends the
tattered Skin Horse, the wisest resident of the nursery, who reveals the goal of all
nursery toys: to be made "real" through the love of a human. The rabbit wants to
be real and finds that truly loving someone makes him real.
Yoemans, Ellen. Lost and Found: Remembering a Sister. Centering Corporation,
Grandma said Paige was "lost" and her parents said she died. So begins the
story of one child's search for understanding after the death of her sister. If
someone could be "lost" could they also be "found"? Dealing with her own grief
and accepting the emotions of those around her this child finds her way toward
healing as she finds her sister’s love and comfort in sweet memories.
Suggestions for Using Books with Grieving Children in Grades Three, Four and
These grades in the elementary school are called the intermediate grades. Most
of these children have large vocabularies and read silently more than they read
orally. However, they enjoy reading orally at times. They still enjoy hearing books
read aloud. Most teachers do this daily. You will find that reading together is a
time that can help you and the child bond. You and your grieving child can share
worries and concerns, as well as happy experiences. A good book can help
enhance these precious times.
Most of the books for this age group are too long to share in one setting. You and
your child might share the oral reading of a chapter or two. The child might read
the next chapter silently. If the book is not divided into chapters, you can select
good stopping places for the reading. Do not ask the child to read orally or
silently if he or she struggles with the decoding of the text.
Good, oral, fluent reading helps the child understand the emotions of the
characters. As you talk about the book, use open ended question such as: “What
are you thinking”, “Can you identify with this character?”, “Is the story speaking to
you in some way?”, “Do you agree with the character in the book?”, and “How do
you think this story can help us?” Give the child time to talk about the one who
died and to compare his feelings with the story character. Welcome tears and
share happy memories of your dead loved one.
Recommended Books for Grades Three, Four and Five
Bunting, Eve. On Call Back Mountain. Scholastic, 1997.
Two young brothers live in an isolated wilderness area. Each June, an elderly
man who works as a fire spotter high on the mountain comes to visit before
climbing up to the tower for the summer. Once Bosco assumes his post, they
signal him with lanterns each night, and his light always answers theirs. After a
fire caused by arson, he does not return their signal; in the morning the boys'
parents climb up the mountain and discover that he has died of a heart attack. A
good book to use with a child feeling guilt.
Bunting, Eve. The Wall. Clarion Books, 1992.
A boy and his father have come to the Vietnam War Memorial to look for the
boy's grandfather's name among those who were killed in the war. They find his
name and express pride that his name in son the wall but agree that they wish he
was here with them instead.
Creech, Sharon. Walk Two Moons. Harper Collins Teen, 2003.
A 13-year-old travels west with her grandparents to the destination from which
her mother did not return. Sal's search for the truth about her mother becomes a
journey of discovery as everyone's story is told.
dePaola, Tomie. Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. N.Y: Putnam Juvenile,
The author shares his memories of his two grandmothers as every Sunday four-
year-old Tommy's family goes to visit his grandparents. His grandmother is
always busy downstairs, but his great-grandmother is always to be found in bed
upstairs. Tommy loves both of his nanas and the time he spends with them. He is
desolate when his upstairs nana dies, but his mother comforts him by explaining
that "she will come back in your memory whenever you think about her."
Dorfman, Craig. I Knew You Could! Grossett and Dunlap, 2003.
This good book shares encouragement and help children the face the pain and
cope with their emotions. Dorfman suggests that though there will be "deep river
valleys" and "high mountaintops," dark tunnels and uncharted territory, "I think I
can" should be our cry.
D.K. Publishing Waiting to Sing. Darling Kindersley Publishing Children,
A father teaches his son to play the piano and an encouraging mother is always
present in the background. When she becomes ill, she asks the boy to play her
favorite song. After her death, a melancholy silence pervades the house. Time
passes and one day the boy hears his father play again and the song unites
them as they begin their healing.
Flournoy, Valerie. The Patchwork Quilt. Dial Books for Young Readers, 1985.
Tanya learns from her grandmother that a quilt can tell a life story as she helps
her grandmother with a quilt made from pieces of clothing from the different
family members. Grandmother dies and Tanya completes the quilt. The making
of the quilt brings her whole family closer.
Garay, Louis. The Kite. McClelland and Stewart. Ltd., 2002.
The boy’s father dies and he sells papers to care for his mother who is expecting
a baby. He sees a kite that he wants, but knows that he cannot spend his money
for it. The baby comes, and the boy finds a second job to help his family. The
man who had the kite for sale gives it to the boy. As the boy runs with his kite, he
feels his father’s love and a new happiness and vows to help his new sister learn
of their father.
Greene, Alesia Alexander and Lara, Susana. A Mural for Mamita. Bilingual
edition. Centering Corporation, 2001.
A story about a young girl who’s Mamita gets cancer and later dies. Lux, the
granddaughter, remembers all the special things about her grandmother and gets
everyone together to create a fantastic mural in her honor. Contains both English
and Spanish versions.
Hemery, Kathleen Maresh. The Healing Tree. Centering Corporation, 2001.
A girl takes the readers through the seasons as she grieves under the ‘healing
tree’. Grandma tells Samantha about her feelings after her mother died. She
remembers when the storm came and struck the tree with lightening causing a
scar on the tree. Grandma explains that even though the tree was struck by
lightening, it was beginning to heal just like we begin to heal from our grief.
Henkes, Kevin. Sun and Spoon. Harper Trophy, 2007.
Ten-year-old Spoon Gilmore is consumed with one worry--that he will forget his
recently deceased grandmother. He decides to find a memento, something that
he can touch and hold close so that her memory will live forever. The book offers
an understanding of the painful mistakes that children often make while trying to
sort out disturbing emotions and events of childhood.
Higgs, Liz Curtis. Parable of the Lily. Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Maggie, the farmer's youngest daughter, loves getting gifts, especially mysterious
ones. One wintry day, she receives a package in the mail. She excitedly opens
the package to find a bulb buried in a crate of dirt. When spring comes, she finds
the bulb in the cellar and tosses the lifeless thing into the garden. She walks
outside on Easter morning and finds the most beautiful lily she has ever seen
and discovers the power of grace and forgiveness and the true meaning of
Easter. Maggie learns how something that looks dead can become beautiful.
Includes Bible verses.
Higgs, Liz Curtis. The Pine Tree Parable. Thomas Nelson, 2006.
A great book to discuss the many gifts left behind after a person dies. A woman
gives her favorite tree to a needy boy. The Pine Tree Parable tells the
heartwarming tale of a farmer and his family who nurture tiny seedlings into
fragrant Christmas trees. When the trees are tall enough to offer to their
neighbors, the farmer's wife plans to keep the most beautiful pine tree for her
family, until one snowy December night when a child teaches her the true
meaning of Christmas. Includes Bible verses.
Johnson, Dr. Marvin and Johnson, Joy. Tell Me Papa. Rev. ed. Centering
Corporation, 2001. After the death of a cat Papa answers may of the questions
asked by children about death and dying. The book offers a gentle explanation
for children about death and the funeral. Tells children about what happens when
you die, explains the funeral, cremation and answers questions honestly and is a
useful tool for parents and caregivers searching for the right words to say.
Lucado, Max. Just the Way You Are. Scholastic, 2000.
A family of orphan children finds a father who loves them “just the way they are”.
The youngest child shows the others how love makes a difference when a king
adopts a family of orphans who try to impress him with gifts and their talents, but
it is the one willing to spend time with him who wins his approval.
Lucado, Max. You Are Special. Crossway Books, 1997.
Every day the small wooden people called Wemmicks do the same thing: stick
either gold stars or gray dots on one another. The pretty ones--those with smooth
wood and fine paint--always get stars. The talented ones do, too. Others, though,
who can do little or who have chipped paint, get ugly gray dots. Like Punchinello.
Eli the woodcarver helps Punchinello understand how special he is--no matter
what other Wemmicks may think. The vital message for children everywhere is
that regardless of how the world evaluates them, God cherishes each of them,
just as they are.
Miles, Miska. Annie and the Old One. Little, Brown Young Readers, 1985.
Annie, a Navaho Indian child, resorts to extremes in trying to prevent her dear
grandmother from dying. Old grandmother has said she will return to help Annie
and Annie's mother to weave their new rug. As she explains her beliefs, Annie
understands and no longer attempts to hold back time.
Mundy, Michaelene. Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing
With Loss. Abbey Press, 1998.
This is a storybook and a workbook designed to help the child express his grief
and find happy memories. It is a well-crafted summary of the grief process
including 14 short sections that discuss the various aspects of grief and the ways
people cope with the death of loved ones.
Polacco, Patricia. The Keeping Quilt. Aladdin Picture Books, 2001.
The immigrant mother of the family continues to live in their hearts as they follow
the quilt through four generations and changing fashions. Family is constant and
linked by the “keeping quilt.''
Pitzer, Susanna. Grandfather Hurant Lives Forever. Centering Corporation,
This is a deeply moving story about the depths of a boy’s grief in the face of
losing his beloved Grandfather Hurant. It offers the wisdom of centuries in a
simple tale about the old Armenian rug maker and his grandson, who is learning
the art at the shop of the elder. After his death, the grandfather's love comes
back to him in smells, words, textures, and pride and the boy follows in his
Powell, E. Sandy. Geranium Morning. Lerner Publishing, 1991.
Timothy pretends he is too tired to go along on their annual outing to buy
geraniums. On his return from the nursery, Timothy's father is in a fatal car
accident. Frannie needs a friend because her mother is dying. Together, they
come to terms with death, sharing a special understanding that sustains and
heals through the value of the shared experience as the root of recovery.
Ross, Kentand Alice. The Cemetery Quilt. Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
On the night before her beloved Papaw's funeral, Josie discovers an ugly old
quilt in Granny's closet. The cemetery quilt has cloth coffins sewn on the edges
and in the middle, and each one bears a name. Granny explains that when a
family member dies, his or her coffin is moved to the central square.
Spelman, Cornelia. After Charlotte’s Mom Died. Morton Grove, IL: Albert
Whitman and Co., 1996.
The story of a girl and her father who grieve alone until a school counselor helps
them deals with the subject of grief in a compassionate, understanding way. The
focus is on the individual hardships of losing a loved one and the story highlights
the importance of seeking help.
Waber, Bernard. Courage. Houghton Mifflin / Walter Lorraine Books, 2002.
Children learn to define courage and learn that they can be brave when sad and
Wood, Audrey. A Cowboy Christmas: The Miracle at Lone Pine Ridge. Aladdin,
The father of a boy who lives on a ranch dies and cowboy Cully becomes the
family’s friend. While on a trip to get the boy’s Christmas gift, a snowstorm
threatens the cowboy’s life. The boy concludes that Cully is in danger, convinces
his mother to ride out with him in the snowy night, and finds him on Lone Pine
Ridge. After a long recuperation, Cully stays and a new family is born.
Wrenn, Elizabeth. The Christmas Cactus. Centering Corporation, 2001.
A girl’s grandmother who is ill in the hospital, asks her to tend to the cactus plant.
She tells the girl that she will have a special gift from her at Christmas time. She
picks up one of Nana's plants and tries to bring it back to health. The
grandmother dies, and the cactus has a beautiful gift for the girl.
Zebrowski, Marianne. Babka’s Serenade. Centering Corporation, 2002.
A girl loves the fantasy stories that her grandmother tells as they sit in her garden
and listen to make-believe music. One day, when Pipchin came home, her other
was crying. Babka has died. They began to clean out Babka's house. Pipchin
loved all the beautiful flowers in Babka's garden where she listened to her
stories. In the end, Pipchin returns to the garden, begins her own garden and
continues to tell Babka's stories.
Suggestions for Using Books with Grieving Adolescents
Older children in junior high or high school can respond to books designed for
their age group if the book is presented with love and an explanation of why the
book is a gift. Teachers often read the first chapter to the teen. This introduction
can whet the teen’s desire to read the book. The adult might offer to discuss the
book with the teen if the teen would like to do so.
Some of the books listed below are not fiction. They are self-help books or
workbook formats that allow the teen to move through the book and make
personal responses. Because teens often want to be private with their grief, it will
be important that some family time be spent in talking of special memories and
the love of each family member for the one who died. Family activities that create
memorials can involve the teen and become a time when family discussion can
be shared. There might be times when the teen might share something from the
journal, or workbook, he is using during this sharing time.
Recommended Fiction for Teenagers
Alexander, Sue. Nadia, the Willful. Dragonfly Books, 1992.
When her favorite brother disappears in the desert forever, Nadia refuses to let
him be forgotten, despite her father's bitter decree that his name shall not be
uttered. She cannot obey her father and finally helps the tribe understand the
importance of talking about the one who died.
Blume, Judy. Tiger Eyes. Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 1982.
Resettled in the "Bomb City" with her mother and brother, Davey recovers from
the shock of her father's death during a holdup of his 7-Eleven store in Atlantic
City. She and her mother and younger brother visit relatives in New Mexico
where Davey is befriended by a young man who helps her find the strength to
carry on and conquer her fears.
Greene, Constance C. Beat the Turtle Drum. Puffin Books, 1994.
Beat the Drum is a bittersweet tale of two sisters and their summer together. A
young girl learns to cope with her feelings about her sister's accidental death.
Landalf, Helen. Getting Used to Candy. Centering Corporation, 2000. Out of
A girl’s father sells the family car after his wife’s death. The daughter must get
used to the new car and the fact that the father is dating. They rediscover the
love they have for each other.
Schotter, Roni. A Matter of Time. Philomel, 1981.
A high school girl, sixteen year old Lisl develops her sense of self and learns to
cope with the death of her mother from cancer.
Recommended Self-Help Books for Adolescents
Beckleman, Laurie. Grief. Crestwood House, 1995.
Beckleman gives us a book for adolescents and teenagers dealing with grief.
Grollman, Earl A. Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with
Losing Someone you Love. Centering Corporation, 1993.
Grollman offers advice and answers the kinds of questions that teens are likely to
ask themselves when grieving the death of someone close with brief entries such
as "Accidental Death," "Self-Inflicted Death," "Talking," "Crying," and "Going
Gootman, Marilyn E. When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens about Grieving and
Healing. Free Spirit Publishing, 2005.
16 short chapters deliver helpful information on subjects including: How can I
stand the pain? How should I be acting? What is ‘normal'? What if I can't handle
my grief on my own? and How can I find a counselor or a therapist? The book
includes quotes by teenagers who have experienced grief as well as well-known
writers and philosophers which allow readers to understand that they're not
alone. Other topics covered include guilt, anger, confusion, fear, and numbness;
all valid emotions.
Harper, Jeanne. Hurting Yourself: For Young People Who Have Attempted
Suicide or Intentionally Hurt Themselves. Centering Corporation, 1993.
Hurting Yourself talks about feelings such as depression, anger, guilt and blame,
pressures and includes helpful hints for taking care of yourself and getting help.
Hughes, Lynn. You Are Not Alone: Teen Talk about Life after Death of a
Parent. Scholastic Press, 2005.
Sharing experiences about losing a parent begins the healing process. Teens
don't have to feel isolated–there is help available for them. The book opens with
the author's story of losing both of her parents by the age of 12 and living with an
unloving stepmother. Fourteen chapters lead readers through the process of
grieving and dealing with life without a parent. Talking with a counselor, therapist,
teacher, coach, or religious leader is suggested, along with keeping a journal.
Information about Comfort Zone Camp is appended. This book offers consolation
in knowing that others have also experienced immeasurable loss while giving
helpful suggestions on how to deal with the pain.
Kuklin, Susan. After a Suicide: Young People Speak Up. G. P. Putman & Sons
"I don't think my brother realized just how much this hurt his family. If he had,
maybe he would have reached out for help. "The book includes a quote from a
young person and provides help for teens who are dealing with a suicide.
Scrivani. Mark. When Death Walks In. Centering Corporation, 1991.
Help for teens dealing with their emotions when facing death. One chapter deals
with suicide. The book offers helpful and supportive information for facing grief
during the teen years. Gives important information about grief and what we can
do about anger, sadness and all the emotions that come when death walks in.
Traisman, Enid Samuel. Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins: A Journal for
Teenagers Experiencing a Loss. Centering Corporation, 1992.
Teens can write letters, copy down meaningful lyrics, write songs and poems, tell
the person who died what they want them to know, finish business and use their
creativity to work through the grieving process.
Tyson, Janet. Common Threads of Teenage Grief. Centering Corporation, 2005.
For the Caregiver - Supportive Books Concerning Adolescent Grief:
Carlson, Richard. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – and It’s All Small Stuff.
Carlson presents common-sense advice for living a less hectic and more
meaningful, loving life. His essential message is that we get caught up in
minutiae, "the small stuff," and never get around to doing what makes us or our
loved ones happy. Engaging in such small acts as paying someone a compliment
daily, putting a lid on keeping track of who does what around the house, and
writing a letter to a friend urges small daily changes and improvements.
Grollman, Earl and Johnson, Joy. A Teenager’s Book About Suicide. Centering
A workbook that includes information about the difficult teenage years, facts and
myths about suicide, danger signals, emotional and behavioral changes, what
you can do to help and breaking the silence to whelp break the silence and
Grollman, Earl A. Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with
Losing Someone You Love. Beacon Press, 1993.
Grollman offers advice and answers the kinds of questions that teens are likely to
ask themselves when grieving the death of someone close with brief entries such
as "Accidental Death," "Self-Inflicted Death," "Talking," "Crying," and "Going
Wolfelt, Alan. Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas.
Companion Press, 2001.
Written in clear, user-friendly prose and presenting a different idea designed to
help teens recognize mourning as a natural process connected with loss, this
book reassures them that they should not be afraid of deep, sometimes
uncontrollable emotions, and shows them how to release grief in healthy, positive
ways. Several suggestions appear under each heading; many of them encourage
readers to express their feelings in a journal.
I lost my father in September of 1993; I was seven-years-old, and my foundation
had been shattered. As a young man whose life had been wrapped around his
father, I made my first brush with mortality. I knew that people could die, and I
knew that my father had cancer that people often died from, but I "knew" it
wouldn't happen to our family. It did, and I was broken.
Today, however, I'm twenty-years-old. I carry with me the pain and joy of
knowing just how much like my father I really am. I know that I never got to know
him as well as I wished. But I also know that I wouldn't be standing here talking to
these great people who want to help teens and young-adults through their grief
and mourning if I had not experienced the death of my father. I will never be
happy that he has died, but I see there was a purpose in it. God guides, and we
don't always understand what He wants to do through us or through those terrible
occurrences in our lives. I have found peace and purpose in the growth I've
experienced since my father's death, and I know others can benefit from my
experience if I will let God work through me.
Life is like a muscle: In order for it to get stronger and denser, it must first be torn
and broken. Then it needs time to heal. Then it gets torn and broken again,
usually in different ways, but if we give it time to heal it grows back stronger. I
was torn and broken. Since then, I have healed and been made stronger. I still
cry, I still mourn; even though my father died 12 years ago. We don't "get over"
our grief, we reconcile it, and we learn to live with it. It gets easier as time goes
on, even if it does show up now and then. And even though I can't predict when
the next "tearing" and "breaking" will be, I will meet it, and give myself the time to
heal and mend, and use that also to benefit others. Matthew, 19 - January 22,