The best children's books about grief and death

Who am I?

I am an author and illustrator of children's picturebooks, having completed my MA at the Cambridge School of Art. I am endlessly fascinated with the picture book as a rich medium for children to safely and slowly approach topics that might be challenging for them. Picture books can be such a versatile, interesting place for curiosity and confidence to thrive, while also creating a lovely time for closeness between parent/carer and child. As we grapple with the long-term effects of the pandemic, I feel that children will need stories more than ever, to help them make sense of their experiences.


I wrote...

Big Dance

By Aoife Greenham,

Book cover of Big Dance

What is my book about?

As Pippa watches her friends express themselves through their special dance moves, she wonders if she will ever find the dance in herself. With gentle encouragement from the others, Pippa discovers that it's all about taking the first step. A story about the freedom to be yourself and the fun of joining in.

The books I picked & why

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My Father's Arms Are a Boat

By Stein Erik Lunde, Øyvind Torseter (illustrator), Kari Dickson (translator)

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.

My Father's Arms Are a Boat

By Stein Erik Lunde, Øyvind Torseter (illustrator), Kari Dickson (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Father's Arms Are a Boat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's quieter than it's ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father's arms. Feeling the warmth and closeness of his father, he begins to ask questions about the birds, the foxes, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go outside under the starry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father's clear answers and assurances calm his worried son. Here we feel the cycles of life and life's continuity, even in the face of absence and loss, so strongly and clearly that we know at the end that…


Lob

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.

Lob

By Linda Newbery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lob as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

He's older than anyone can tell. Older than the trees. Older than anybody. For as long as she can remember, Lucy has wanted to catch a glimpse of the mysterious green man who lives in Grandpa Will's garden: Lob. You have to be very special to see him; that's what Grandpa says. Lucy's parents think Lob's just imaginary, but Lucy knows he exists. And she can't believe it when she finally spots Lob in the gooseberry bushes. But Lucy's world is about to be shattered by a terrible event. What will happen to Lob now - and will she ever…


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.

The Hideaway

By Pam Smy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hideaway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The wonderful long-awaited second novel from Pam Smy, celebrated author and illustrator of Thornhill.

The Hideaway tells the story of a boy, Billy McKenna, who runs away from a difficult situation at home and takes refuge in an overgrown graveyard. While hiding there he meets an elderly man who is tending the graves in preparation for a day in November when something magical is set to happen.

The book is written in two alternating narratives, both different aspects of the same story. One thread tells of Billy's experience of hiding away in the graveyard, his mixed-up feelings and emotions, and…


A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay (illustrator)

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.

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked A Monster Calls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling novel and major film about love, loss and hope from the twice Carnegie Medal-winning Patrick Ness.

Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don't quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there's a visitor at his window. It's ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking…


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.

Duck, Death and the Tulip

By Wolf Erlbruch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Duck, Death and the Tulip as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From award-winning author and illustrator, Wolf Erlbruch, comes one of the world’s best children’s books about grief and loss.

In a curiously heart-warming and elegantly illustrated story, a duck strikes up an unlikely friendship with Death. Duck and Death play together and discuss big questions. Death, dressed in a dressing gown and slippers, is sympathetic and kind and will be duck’s companion until the end.

“I’m cold,” she said one evening. “Will you warm me a little?”
Snowflakes drifted down.
Something had happened. Death looked at the duck.
She’d stopped breathing. She lay quite still.

Explaining the topic of death…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in death, gardens, and ducks?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about death, gardens, and ducks.

Death Explore 248 books about death
Gardens Explore 31 books about gardens
Ducks Explore 13 books about ducks

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Before I Fall, Eleanor & Park, and The Arrival if you like this list.