Kids, especially toddlers, are emotional tuning forks. They sense if we’re anxious, despondent, or just plain sad, which, in these uncertain times, most of us are. When the COVID-19 pandemic will have run its course, if ever it does, chances are that all of us will know, directly or indirectly, at least one person who died from it. And that’s pretty terrifying, especially for kids, which is why it’s smart to have some of the best children’s books about death on hand when it’s time to talk to them about this deeply frightening reality.
The younger the child, the less they grasp what death really means (insofar as any of us do). And that’s where children’s books can play a critical role, explaining something incomprehensible and confusing in clear, concise, age-appropriate language. They also give parents a way into the topic, without being too forceful or pedantic, so kids feel empowered to open up about what they’re going through.
“Kids are hearing a lot of stuff and they’re not understanding what they’re hearing. It’s scary. You need to involve them in the conversation,” says Dr. Dina L.G. Borzekowski, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health who studies how media impacts the health and well-being of kids.
When talking to kids about death, says Borzekowski, “Don’t talk down to them. Use words that people are using. Use the word ‘virus.’ If they don’t understand something, explain it in simple declarative sentences and concrete terms. Get a grasp of what they know. You can see if there are some myths or exaggerations you need to address.”
The best children’s books about death use such simple language, don’t sugarcoat or dismiss the difficulty of the experience, and ultimately validate kids’ feelings. It can be hard for parents to know what to say and when to say it; these children’s books about death can help guide the conversation.
A touching story about two captive polar bears, one of whom gets sick and won't get better. The two friends help each other deal with what lies ahead, and Gus realizes that even when Ida is dead, her memory will live on. It's great for kids in kindergarten and up.
When Daniel’s pet fish dies, he asks questions. Plenty of questions. All in an effort to try and understand why his fish is no longer there and how he should handle his many feelings. A lovely book for preschoolers.
When a child loses a grandparent, that's likely the first time they experience firsthand what death really means. In this book, Asha travels with her parents from America to India to mourn her grandmother. Asha deals with anger, sadness, and loss, and she learns that she can store memories of her grandmother forever. It's a lovely story featuring a non-white protagonist, and it's for kindergarten and up.
A beautiful classic from the author of 'Goodnight Moon ' that's been reissued and now features the work of award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson, this book tells the story of children who find a dead bird. It has no heartbeat. They say goodbye to the bird and realize that in nature, there's a cycle to life. Perfect for preschool and up.
The tragedy of losing a beloved pet hits kids (and adults) hard. In this book, a little boy tries to think of 10 good things about his cat Barney, who just passed away, to say at the feline's funeral. It helps children learn to articulate their feelings. Ideal for first grade and up.
Written for 2- and 3-year-olds, this book explains what death is, and why it's perfectly OK to miss someone. Proper names and pronouns are written in red, so parents can personalize the book when reading it out loud.
Kids feel grief for any number of reasons: Someone they know died. Or maybe a parent left the home. Or maybe they lost their best friend. This book explains why feeling sad is normal and explains that there's no right way to feel. It's for kids in first grade and up.
A gentle, graceful look at loss told in prose, from the bestselling author of 'How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.' This book, for kids 3 and up, doesn't give any easy, pat answers. It's a conversation starter that asks questions: When somebody dies, where do they go? Do they go where the wind goes when it blows?
Told from the point of view of a sad goldfish, this book for preschoolers breaks down all the emotions kids experience when they lose someone they love. Anger, misery, denial, confusion, all are covered, and kids are reassured that someone will always be there to love them.
A thoughtful, poignant, and heartfelt book for preschoolers, 'The Invisible String' assures preschoolers that no matter where anyone is at any point, whether dead or alive, we're all connected by an invisible string. And that string is unbreakable, because it's called love.
Death is frightening. It's mysterious. And it's incredibly difficult for preschoolers to understand how from one day to the next, someone could just be no more. In clear, concise, age-appropriate language, this book looks at both death and its emotional aftermath.
Told from the point of view of a child, this book, for first grade and up, beautifully describes what it's like to grieve for someone, and how to keep their memory alive. In this case, by storing mementos in a memory box.
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