The best picture books about death

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teacher-librarian, I’m often asked for books on difficult topics, including death. When I was young, a close family member died and I struggled with grief. I didn’t know how to honor my loved one or how to begin healing from the loss. The books I’m sharing are books I wish I’d had as a child and books that I’m grateful to be able to hand to children and families when needed. If you’re an emotional person like I am, you may want tissues nearby when you read them. I hope they’re as helpful and therapeutic for you as they have been for me!


I wrote...

Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks

By Jolene Gutiérrez,

Book cover of Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks

What is my book about?

What happens when a young elephant steps on a buried land mine? Or when a predator injures a sea turtle’s flipper? Thanks to recent advances in technology, we have new ways to design and build prosthetic body parts to help these animals thrive.
Meet an elephant named Mosha, a sea turtle named Lola, a dog named Cassidy, a goose named Vitória, and a pig named Pirate. Each of these animals was struggling, but through a variety of techniques and technologies, humans created devices that enabled the animals to live and move more comfortably. Discover the stories of how veterinarians, doctors, and even students from around the world used 3D printing and other techniques to build bionic body parts for these amazing animals!

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Rough Patch

Jolene Gutiérrez Why did I love 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.

By Brian Lies,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Rough Patch 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 Caldecott Honor Book

An ALA Notable Book

A breathtakingly beautiful and luminescent book that is pitch-perfect for anyone of any age who has experienced any type of loss or disappointment, from New York Times-bestselling picture book creator Brian Lies.

New York Times-bestselling author-illustrator Brian Lies has created a beautiful, accessible, and deeply personal story about friendship, loss, and renewal. The Rough Patch was awarded a Caldecott Honor and features stunning paintings from the award-winning creator of Bats at the Beach.

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their prize-winning garden, which grows…


Book cover of Dance Like a Leaf

Jolene Gutiérrez Why did I love 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.

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 Ida, Always

Jolene Gutiérrez Why did I love 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).

By Caron Lewis, Charles Santoso (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ida, Always 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 beautiful, honest portrait of loss and deep friendship told through the story of two iconic polar bears.

Gus lives in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city, and he spends his days with Ida. Ida is right there. Always.

Then one sad day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick, and she isn’t going to get better. The friends help each other face the difficult news with whispers, sniffles, cuddles, and even laughs. Slowly Gus realizes that even after Ida is gone, she will still be with him—through the sounds of their city, and the…


Book cover of The Yellow Suitcase

Jolene Gutiérrez Why did I love 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.

By Meera Sriram, Meera Sethi (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Asha travels with her parents from America to India to mourn her grandmother’s passing.

When they arrive at her grandmother's house, it's filled with strangers—and no Grandma. Asha’s grief and anger are compounded by the empty yellow suitcase usually reserved for gifts to and from Grandma, but when she discovers a gift left behind just for her, Asha realizes that the memory of her grandmother will live on inside her, no matter where she lives.


Book cover of Always Remember

Jolene Gutiérrez Why did I love 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.

By Cece Meng, Jago (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After Old Turtle swims his last swim and breathes his last breath, and the waves gently take him away, his friends lovingly remember how he impacted each and every one of them. As the sea animals think back on how much better Old Turtle made their lives and their world, they realise that he is not truly gone, because his memory and legacy will last forever. Jago's gorgeous illustrations accompany Cece Meng's serene text in a book that will help children understand and cope with the death of a loved one.


You might also like...

Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

Book cover of Beautiful and Terrible Things

S. M. Stevens

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Charley Byrne isn’t really living. She hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, until quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander’s circle of diverse friends and thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the new friendships bring back-to-back betrayals that threaten the bookstore—Charley’s haven—and propel her into a dangerous depression, in a stark reminder that friendship has the power to destroy as well as save lives. Can her friends save the store? And Charley?

Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

What is this book about?

"A beautifully crafted story of friendship and self-discovery set amidst the harsh realities of today's world. Superb!" -Eileen O'Finlan, author of Erin's Children

Charley Byrne isn't really living. At age 29, she hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, afraid of a 7-year curse. Then quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander's circle of friends diverse in their heritage, race, gender and sexual orientation. She thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in death, grief, and best friends?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about death, grief, and best friends.

Death Explore 353 books about death
Grief Explore 81 books about grief
Best Friends Explore 82 books about best friends