The best children’s books on bereavement and loss

Who am I?

I’ve illustrated and written over 50 children’s picture books and now teach the subject of writing and illustration for all stages up to University level. I’m particularly interested when a student presents a challenging theme a publisher might balk at on commercial grounds: we have plenty of books about pirates, fairies, dinosaurs, and monsters under the bed, but relatively few on the important lessons that life can throw at a child. Race, abuse, depression, or disability (with which I have personal experience) are subjects rarely seen in book stores and can be difficult starting points for a successful children’s book. But the restrictions themselves can often be the source of great creativity.    


I wrote...

The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma's Wardrobe

By Diane Fox, Christyan Fox,

Book cover of The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma's Wardrobe

What is my book about?

If you think you know the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, think again! Cat is trying to read the much-loved classic children’s fairy tale to Dog – parents will sympathise with Cat as she suffers question after question from inquisitive Dog. Minimal words and pictures combine to create a powerfully funny book, with two new delightful, engaging, and appealing characters in a perfect debut. The humour is very funny throughout… the simplicity of the drawings, the meta-fiction element, and laugh-aloud dialogue will delight six-year-olds and upwards.

This book was chosen by Julia Eccleshare as one of “the best of 2014” in The Guardian in December 2014.

The books I picked & why

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Where are you Lydie?

By Emma Poore,

Book cover of Where are you Lydie?

Why this book?

This is a book by one of my students, and it’s the reason I first began to notice that bereavement was an important subject for children – who might experience the death of pets, grandparents, parents, or even siblings – but one in which publishers see little commercial potential. Obviously, publishers are reluctant to print a bedtime story that ends on a downbeat note, but a children’s book can often be the best way to introduce a difficult subject or concept that starts a conversation.


Dogger

By Shirley Hughes,

Book cover of Dogger

Why this book?

Neither Dogger nor Shirley Hughes will need much introduction to lovers of children’s picture books… it’s a well-established classic by one of the world’s best-known author/illustrators. Dogger isn’t specifically about bereavement, it’s about the broader subject of ‘loss’ – in this case, of a toy – which can be a great place to start a conversation with a child and explore the wider concept of loss in a less direct or traumatic way.


The Snowman

By Raymond Briggs,

Book cover of The Snowman

Why this book?

The Snowman needs no introduction. And it also deals with bereavement in a more oblique way: the boy’s snowman melts in the final image of the final page, essentially dying. But the boy doesn’t feel the loss of an inanimate object, he feels the pain and loss of losing a friend with whom he’s shared games and adventures. The wordless narrative also allows parents to supply their own dialogue, or let the reader ask questions of their own. 


Grandad's Island

By Benji Davies,

Book cover of Grandad's Island

Why this book?

I’m in two minds about this recommendation: on the one hand, it’s one of the few commercially successful books that deals with the loss of a grandparent head-on, while managing to do it in a vibrant, rich book that a child reader is likely to enjoy and request again and again. Benji Davies’ beautiful, detailed illustrations are a visual delight and hit exactly the right note for the subject matter. My reservations come in the fact that the ending seems fudged and confusing: did Grandad actually die? Did he retire to an island? Or did he go to whatever version of ‘Heaven’ your particular (secular or non-secular) beliefs allow? It certainly encourages questions.  


The Heart and the Bottle

By Oliver Jeffers,

Book cover of The Heart and the Bottle

Why this book?

Quite simply the best book on the subject of bereavement I’ve encountered, and it manages that rare trick of appealing to children and adults in equal measure. It’s poignant without cloying sycophancy. It’s humorous without being asinine. It’s respectful of its subject matter without being overly reverential. Interestingly it bypasses the publisher’s reluctance to end on a sad or downbeat note by dealing with the bereavement at the mid-point, allowing equal space in the narrative to move on to the subject of the healing process, without treating it glibly. The icing on the cake is that it’s also beautifully illustrated and written. A classic and one of Jeffers’ best books.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in grief, toys, and loss?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about grief, toys, and loss.

Grief Explore 53 books about grief
Toys Explore 20 books about toys
Loss Explore 39 books about loss

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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