The best picture books about death

The Books I Picked & Why

The Rough Patch

By Brian Lies

Book cover of The Rough Patch

Why this book?

Filled with beautiful illustrations, this is the story of Evan and his pet dog. Evan and his dog do everything together and especially love gardening. One day, though, Evan’s dog dies, and, as Brian Lies writes, “nothing was the same.” This powerful book allows readers to understand that grieving can include times when you’re sad, lonely, or angry. Evan’s garden becomes a literal representation of his feelings until the day he’s ready to grow pumpkins again. And once he opens his heart to gardening, he might be ready to open his heart to a new puppy.

This book helps readers grieving the loss of a pet or person to understand that healing takes time but is possible.

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Dance Like a Leaf

By AJ Irving, Claudia Navarro

Book cover of Dance Like a Leaf

Why this book?

Lyrically written and vibrantly illustrated, this book shows the special relationship between grandmother and grandchild. Grandma loves autumn, scarves, tea, and dancing like a leaf with the leaves that fall from trees. As autumn progresses, Grandma becomes forgetful and doesn’t seem to enjoy the things she’s always loved. Eventually, Grandma spends her days in bed, and by December, Grandma’s bed is empty. Our narrator mourns, but when autumn returns, she wraps herself in scarves and dances like a leaf in memory of Grandma. 

Based on the author’s own grandmother and her precious memories of their time together, this gentle story offers many talking points around illness, memory loss, and death. The narrator’s decision to celebrate her grandmother’s memory by doing things they loved is beautiful and empowering.

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Ida, Always

By Caron Lewis, Charles Santoso

Book cover of Ida, Always

Why this book?

This story is based on real polar bears, Ida and Gus, who lived in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book features gentle illustrations and a lovely text that introduces us to Gus and Ida’s friendship. Each day, they spend time swimming, chasing, and sunning themselves…until the day when Gus learns Ida is very sick and is dying. 

This book allows readers to walk through the stages of illness and death, experiencing some of the feelings Gus and Ida are feeling. It also shows the ways in which memories and love for a lost beloved can bring comfort to those of us still living. Because this story is based on actual events, readers can take comfort in knowing this really happened (some child readers want real, true stories).

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The Yellow Suitcase

By Meera Sriram, Meera Sethi

Book cover of The Yellow Suitcase

Why this book?

Asha visits India every summer, filling her yellow suitcase with gifts for Grandma. When Asha returns to California, Grandma fills the suitcase with gifts for Asha. This summer, though, Grandma is gone, and the house isn’t the same without her there. Grandma’s final gift for Asha’s yellow suitcase—a quilt made from her saris that she created before she died—brings comfort to both Asha and the reader. 

This story allows readers to explore how a place feels without a special loved one there, and colorful illustrations bring brightness to this difficult subject. An author’s note shares that Sriram and her family also lost a grandparent and she used her family’s experiences as inspiration for this story in the hopes that it will bring comfort to others.

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Always Remember

By Cece Meng, Jago

Book cover of Always Remember

Why this book?

Some picture books about death spend the majority of their pages leading up to the death of a character, but in this colorfully illustrated and powerfully written story, Old Turtle dies on the first page. The remainder of the book is spent reflecting on all the ways Old Turtle impacted the ocean creatures around him: he helped a whale find her pod, he saved a starfish, and he rescued a manatee tangled in fishing net. 

Throughout the story, the reader is reminded that turtle “made his world a better place” and that each of these animals impacted by turtle will always remember him. This story helps readers understand the importance of their actions and the connections we all have.

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