The best children's books about grief and death

The Books I Picked & Why

My Father's Arms Are a Boat

By Stein Erik Lunde, Øyvind Torseter, Kari Dickson

Book cover of My Father's Arms Are a Boat

Why this book?

This subtle and tender book is a moving look at life continuing in small moments after a bereavement. I love the marriage of words and images, where each part tells a different piece of the story and the relationship between the boy and his father. The boy asks questions, about the birds, the trees, the fox, and his mother, looking for reassurance. When the father repeats "everything is going to be alright," we are all reassured and comforted, and held safe in arms like a boat.

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By Linda Newbery

Book cover of Lob

Why this book?

Lob is a gentle, magical, and affirming chapter book. The story centres around Lucy, her relationship with her Grandad, and their belief in the mythical garden helper Lob. In Lucy's devotion to her grandad, and her love of nature, we come to see how grief can be slowly approached and lived with. The illustrations are beautifully observed by Smy, who is a master of showing emotion through posture and environment. I love this story for the way that it weaves grief, love, and magic together in an accessible and respectful way for children and grown-up readers.

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The Hideaway

By Pam Smy

Book cover of The Hideaway

Why this book?

For older readers, The Hideaway blends themes of domestic violence, difficult family life, community, environment, and care together. Besides an unbearable home life, we are shown how Billy, our main character, finds safety and space in the unlikely setting of a graveyard. His relationship with the old man he meets and the careful work they engage in, help maintain the old man's connection with the past, and Billy's connection with the present. Beautifully illustrated by Smy, and written by her also, this book celebrates the graveyard not as a spooky or scary site, but as a special place where we remember, connect with, and love those we have lost.

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A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Jim Kay

Book cover of A Monster Calls

Why this book?

A Monster Calls is a true masterpiece of writing and illustration, and a must-have for any home or school library. We follow Conor as he begins to process and understand his mother's illness. While the story uses the foil of a mythical tree monster come to life, this is the story of how we can move through emotions and come out the other side changed. The monster challenges Conor, and challenges us the reader, to be honest, to be fully in touch with our feelings. He tells us that there is a path through hard times and difficult emotions, with honesty, care, and love.

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Duck, Death and the Tulip

By Wolf Erlbruch

Book cover of Duck, Death and the Tulip

Why this book?

It may seem like too much to have Death as a character in a child's picturebook. But this book can be a good companion to children's curiosity or their experience of death and loss in their own lives, whether it be of a pet, a loved one, or someone in their community. There is an unafraid normality to the characterisation of Death in this book. This Death is friendly, companionable, and caring. Duck's reaction to Death mirrors what our own might be; a little scared at first, and after a while, there is comfort, care, and acceptance. This might be a gentle introduction to what is a natural part of the cycle of life.

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