5 Books to Help Children Understand Death

Children have a very different concept of death and dying and this is dependent on their age and emotional development. That is not to say, however, that they won’t experience death and have to deal with it, and adults can sometimes feel helpless when trying to support a child through this, especially if they are grieving themselves.

We also need to think about loss and grief in a broader sense because, while death is a very difficult concept for children to comprehend, there are other forms of loss which may be equally difficult for them to understand. Loss can take many forms – someone they love becoming very ill, parental divorce, moving schools and so on. All of these scenarios involve transition and loss of stability, which for children is all-important.

Books can be a great medium to help children to understand death, change and loss, at an appropriate level for them. There is some very good children’s literature which focuses on these issues, and we are going to look at 5 books here:

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

This is a beautifully illustrated gentle book, which helps children to come to terms with the death of someone close. It tells the story of Badger’s peaceful death in his old age, as his friends, initially grief stricken, come together to share all of the useful things that Badger taught them when he was alive. It has a positive message about death and the legacy that a person leaves behind, which can really help children to understand the death of an older relative such as a  grandparent, for example.

The Coat I Wear by Mel Maxwell and Michelle Stewart

The Coat I Wear is a story which follows the grief of a child after their sibling dies. It uses the analogy of having to wear a very big, heavy and uncomfortable coat to symbolise the weight of grief that covers the character. The book then moves through the many emotions we all feel as we grieve a loved one and uses the coat to express the sadness and the loneliness but also the warmth and comfort we take from our precious memories. It’s a lovely book which really aids understanding of how grief and loss can change over time.

Sad by Michael Rosen

This book was borne out of personal tragedy when Michael Rosen himself was confronted with the loss of his son, Eddie, who died suddenly of meningitis at the age of 18. It explores the nature of loss and grieving and the ways in which it can affect you in many different ways. It is a deeply moving book and teaches both children and adults that it is ok to be sad. The words are supported by beautiful, moving illustrations by Quentin Blake.

When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope with Grief by Marge Eaton Heegaard

This is different in that it isn’t a story book. It has a more practical format, which helps children understand the concept of death and develop their own coping skills. It is also designed for readers to add their own illustrations, so that the book can, in effect, represent a personal journey for them.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

The Invisible String offers a very simple approach to overcoming loneliness, separation, or loss with an imaginative twist that children easily understand and embrace, and delivers a particularly compelling message in today's uncertain times. The ‘invisible string’ is, of course, the love that binds us and keeps us connected to the people that we care about.

There are lots of books which deal with this sensitive and challenging subject – have a look and find the best one for you and the children in your care.

Good luck.