The best picture books about loss, grief, and healing

Why am I passionate about this?

Nancy Bo Flood earned her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and Child Development at the University of Minnesota and has authored a variety of award-winning booksWalking Grandma Home came from her own experience as a child, as a counselor, and as a daughter. She has lived and taught on the Pacific island of Saipan, where she worked with teachers and parents to create resources and programs for students with disabilities, and for the past twenty years, she has taught in the Navajo Nation. With Native educators, she co-founded an early-literacy nonprofit, Read at Home, which encourages parents to read regularly with their children.


I wrote...

Walking Grandma Home

By Nancy Bo Flood, Ellen Shi (illustrator),

Book cover of Walking Grandma Home

What is my book about?

She was five. I was seven. Five-year-olds are not supposed to die. Now all the rules are broken.

Walking Grandma Home is a book from my heart, a story that comes from my own childhood experience and also my professional experiences as a counselor, educator, and author. I hope Walking Grandma Home will be useful to parents, teachers, librarians, or counselors - and most important, young readers and listeners.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Boy and the Gorilla

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

This book shows a child grieving after the death of his mother.  The gorilla is a subtle but strong metaphor about those who help us through the journey of grief. Words are spare; the illustrations are powerful. In this picture book, grief is shown as heavy, silent, and colorless.

Sometimes it can help to tend to gardens or fly kites or just think about something else.  But mostly, it helps to simply talk about it.” Words and images in this book show a comforting and caring relationship between a boy mourning his mother and an imaginary gorilla.  The gorilla encourages the boy to do the activities he once did with his parents – helping with the garden or flying kites. The gorilla helps the boy talk to his father about missing Mom, and in doing so, together, they find a way to heal.

By Jackie Azua Kramer, Cindy Derby (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Boy and the Gorilla as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

This profoundly moving tale about a grieving boy and an imaginary gorilla makes real the power of talking about loss.

On the day of his mother’s funeral, a young boy conjures the very visitor he needs to see: a gorilla. Wise and gentle, the gorilla stays on to answer the heart-heavy questions the boy hesitates to ask his father: Where did his mother go? Will she come back home? Will we all die? Yet with the gorilla’s friendship, the boy slowly begins to discover moments of comfort in tending flowers, playing catch, and climbing trees. Most of all, the gorilla…


Book cover of The Pond

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

A family moves through the darkness and isolation of depression and anger, two emotions that are part of their grieving the father’s death. Images and words of the natural world show the sadness and confusion of their feelings.  Finally the moment arrives when anger is fiercely expressed – why did you die, Dad?

Anger as part of grieving is often hidden – because how can one be angry at someone for dying?  All this pent-up emotion comes out in negative ways.  In The Pond, Nicola Davies effectively uses the metaphor of a pond as that well of anger – a dirty, dead, ugly, lifeless, and stinky pond.  Slowly the pond changes as family members pause, reflect, and express feelings.  The pond begins to fill with new life, even with tadpoles that Dad had once imagined.  Now the pond offers discovery, peace, and beauty, a place and a way for the family to come together and move beyond anger and toward acceptance.

By Nicola Davies, Cathy Fisher (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

A touching picture book for children about a young boy and his family overcoming the loss of his father. This colorful, emotional book is filled with natural imagery, centering on a small pond in the garden, and will teach children not only about death and loss, but the importance of the natural world.


Book cover of Dance Like a Leaf

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

In the delightful book, a granddaughter enjoys many fun activities with her grandmother, especially dancing like a leaf. Grandmother begins to change in many ways, especially physically and with her memory. And then “Grandmother’s bed is empty.” The child grieves but slowly feels comfort and even joy as she celebrates the many activities she had shared with her grandmother.

By AJ Irving, Claudia Navarro (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dance Like a Leaf as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

As her grandmother's health declines, a young girl begins to lovingly take the lead in their cosy shared autumn traditions. Poetic prose paired with evocative illustrations by Mexican illustrator Claudia Navarro make for a beautiful celebration of life and a gentle introduction to the death of a loved one.


Book cover of Birdsong

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

With few words and simple images, we journey with a child as she becomes friends with an elderly neighbor who also loves birds, nature, the changing seasons, and expressing that love through art. But as the change of seasons continues, the girl’s elderly friend becomes fragile in health and strength. Even with an ache in her heart, the child discovers the comfort of remembering special times together and gathering together the drawings they shared. At night, while watching the rising of the full round “frog moon,” the child bundles up close to her mother and “My hands feel warm, and the covers feel soft, and I think of my friend until I fall asleep.”

By Julie Flett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Birdsong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, KIRKUS, HORN BOOK, QUILL & QUIRE, GLOBE AND MAIL

WINNER OF THE TD CANADIAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE AWARD

FINALIST FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARD

AN AMERICAN INDIAN YOUTH LITERATURE HONOR TITLE

A BOSTON GLOBE--HORN BOOK HONOR BOOK

When Katherena and her mother move to a small town, Katherena feels lonely and out of place. But when she meets an elderly woman artist who lives next door, named Agnes--her world starts to change.

Katherena and Agnes share the same passions for arts and crafts, birds, and nature. But as the seasons change,…


Book cover of Sitting Shiva

Nancy Bo Flood Why did I love this book?

In this book, we observe the mourning traditions of a Jewish family. A young daughter and her father show us their grief for their mother and wife. They do not want to invite others to come to their home and “sit Shiva” with them. They feel alone in their loss. But friends and family come. 

People bring food, memories, stories, love, and caring. Healing begins. In her author's note, Erin Silver concludes, "What every faith has in common is the idea of community. When someone dies, people bring food; they talk, and they gather. People have a need to care for each other, and the mourning process gives people that chance to share."

It is this coming together – the expression of care and kindness - that is the power of community to help us all heal. 

By Erin Silver, Michelle Theodore (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sitting Shiva as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

A little girl grieves the loss of her mother, but she can’t grieve alone.


When her friends and family arrive at her house to sit shiva, laden with cakes and stories, she refuses to come downstairs. But the laughter and memories gradually bring her into the fold, where she is comforted by her community. By the end of the book, she feels stronger and more nourished, and she understands the beautiful tradition. Then, when sees her father sitting alone, she is able to comfort him in his time of need. Sitting Shiva is a beautiful, heartfelt story about grief and…


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Hotel Oscar Mike Echo

By Linda MacKillop,

Book cover of Hotel Oscar Mike Echo

Linda MacKillop Author Of Hotel Oscar Mike Echo

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

For decades I have volunteered in different capacities, helping the hurting and those living on the margins by tutoring and teaching literacy to the formally incarcerated or homeless, teaching parenting in a maximum-security jail, and teaching ESL to resettled immigrants. Because my own suburban father fell into homelessness at the end of his life due to depression, job losses, divorce, and more, I feel tremendous compassion for anyone in this situation. And as the mother of four grown sons, we filled our home with books—especially books that taught compassion so our sons would grow into men with big hearts towards others. I believe we succeeded.

Linda's book list on hard family circumstances for middle-grade readers

What is my book about?

Home isn’t always what we dream it will be.

Eleven-year-old Sierra just wants a normal life. After her military mother returns from the war overseas, the two hop from home to homelessness while Sierra tries to help her mom through the throes of PTSD.

When they end up at a shelter for women and children, Sierra is even more aware of what her life is not. The kind couple who run the shelter, Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, attempt to show her parental love as she faces the uncertainties of her mom’s emotional health and the challenges of being the brand-new poor kid in middle school. The longer she stays at the shelter, the more Sierra realizes she may have to face an impossible choice as she redefines home.

Hotel Oscar Mike Echo

By Linda MacKillop,

What is this book about?

Home isn’t always what we dream it will be. 

Eleven-year-old Sierra just wants a normal life. After her military mother returns from the war overseas, the two hop from home to homelessness while Sierra tries to help her mom through the throes of PTSD.  

When they end up at a shelter for women and children, Sierra is even more aware of what her life is not. The kind couple who run the shelter, Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, attempt to show her parental love as she faces the uncertainties of her mom’s emotional health and the challenges of being the brand-new…


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