The best books to teach kids about pet death

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m someone who has had a lot of pets in my life––dogs, fish, birds, turtles, tortoises––which means I’m also someone who has had a lot of pets in my life die, because the worst thing about pets is they don’t live as long as we do. I spent ten years writing Good Grief, but really, I’ve been researching Good Grief my whole life, ever since my first pet died. This list includes some classics I loved when I was a kid, and some newer titles that I learned about while researching Good Grief. All are wonderful and will be a balm during a hard time.  


I wrote...

Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter

By E.B. Bartels,

Book cover of Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter

What is my book about?

To own a pet is to love a pet, and to own a pet is also—with rare exception—to lose that pet in time. But while we have codified traditions to mark the passing of our fellow humans, most cultures don’t have the same for pets. In Good Grief: On Loving Pets, Here and Hereafter, E.B. Bartels takes us from Massachusetts to Japan, from ancient Egypt to the modern era, in search of the good pet death—from the traditional (scattering ashes, commissioning a portrait), to the grand (funeral processions, mausoleums), to the unexpected (taxidermy, cloning). The central lesson: there is no best practice when it comes to mourning your pet, except to care for them in death as you did in life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Tenth Good Thing about Barney

E.B. Bartels Why did I love this book?

There are a lot of picture books about the afterlife of pets (such as the classics Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant, which I love) but I adore this book because it grapples with the uncertainty many people feel after a death: is Barney the cat in heaven?

The dad in this book isn’t entirely sure, and makes sure his kid knows that, but something the dad does know for sure is that Barney was a great cat during his time on earth and that there are at least ten good things about Barney to remember. I also love this book because it’s a nice exercise to do with your family when writing an obituary for a pet or just remembering all the things you love about them.

By Judith Viorst, Erik Blegvad (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Tenth Good Thing about Barney as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My cat Barney died this Friday. I was very sad. My mother said we could have a funeral for him, and I should think of ten good things about Barney so I could tell them...
But the small boy who loved Barney can only think of nine. Later, while talking with his father, he discovers the tenth -- and begins to understand.


Book cover of Jasper's Day

E.B. Bartels Why did I love this book?

I love this book because it digs into those tough days leading up to a pet’s death––especially when you know what day your beloved animal is going to die because your family has decided on euthanasia.

It can be really scary knowing exactly when the end will be, but I love Jasper’s Day because it shows how one family made their dog Jasper’s final day on earth as special as possible, doing all of his favorite things.

This book reminds me of how my friend and her family took their German Shepherd for a ride along the California coast and cooked her a steak dinner the night before she was put down, or how another friend threw a party and invited everyone who loved her dog to come say bye. 

By Marjorie Blain Parker, Janet Wilson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jasper's Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today Riley's family is celebrating Jasper's Day. Everything they do will be in honor of Jasper -- sort of like a birthday. But it isn't Jasper's birthday. The old dog's cancer has gotten really bad. Riley knows they can't let him suffer any longer, but letting go will be the hardest thing he's ever had to do. Marjorie Blain Parker's tender story is filled with smiles, tears and the joy of special memories, and Janet Wilson's gentle pastels capture the depth of love shared by a boy and his dog. Together, they speak of acceptance, remembrance and the importance of…


Book cover of Rodney Was A Tortoise

E.B. Bartels Why did I love this book?

I have always had a soft spot for turtles and tortoises (I currently have two pet red-foot tortoises, Terrence and Twyla) and so I love this book because it deals with the loss of a more unusual pet.

Lots of people have dogs and cats, so often the death of a canine or feline pet is easier for others to understand––but people get sad about all kinds of pets dying, everything from tortoises to tarantulas. I wish I’d had this picture book when my first pet tortoise, Aristotle, ran away when I was in middle school.

Even people I know who love, love, love their dogs and cats didn’t fully get why I was so upset about “just a reptile.” But Nan Forler totally gets it! Tortoises are the best.

By Nan Forler, Yong Ling Kang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rodney Was A Tortoise 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?

This comforting and gently humorous picture book about bereavement and the strength of friendship shows how a child overcomes the sadness of her beloved pet's death.

Bernadette and Rodney are the best of friends. Rodney's not so good at playing cards, but he's great at staring contests. His favorite food is lettuce, though he eats it VERRRRRRY SLOOOOOWLY. And he's such a joker! When Bernadette goes to sleep at night, Rodney is always there, watching over her from his tank. 
 
As the seasons pass, Rodney moves slower and slower, until one day he stops moving at all. Without Rodney, Bernadette…


Book cover of Tough Boris

E.B. Bartels Why did I love this book?

This is another great picture book about the death of a non-dog/cat pet––in this Mem Fox classic, the pirate Tough Boris loses his dear pet parrot.

This book is especially wonderful though because it shows how even the toughest of tough guys––and Tough Boris is a tough pirate––can absolutely fall to pieces when a pet dies. It’s okay to cry about an animal dying––even if you are a pirate!

The really beautiful thing about this story though is seeing how Tough Boris copes with the loss through making friends with a stowaway boy on his ship, because if I’ve learned one thing from my pets dying, it’s that you need the support and love of other people to help you through the loss.

By Mem Fox, Kathryn Brown (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tough Boris 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?

Boris von der Broch is a mean, greedy old pirate - tough as nails, through and through, like all pirates. Or is he? For when Boris'' parrot dies, the tough pirate is reduced to tears'


Book cover of The Longest Letsgoboy

E.B. Bartels Why did I love this book?

This book is absolutely breathtaking and I cry every time I read it.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and I find it so soothing to think about my dead dogs being in a version of heaven as beautiful as the one that Catia Chien has illustrated. My favorite part of this book is how it is narrated by the old and dying dog himself, and when he finally dies and becomes part of the sky––his sweet face continues to look down on his beloved small human (“Little”) and her new puppy.

All the pets we love are always part of us forever, and I like to think they’re looking out for us. I’m tearing up just writing this!

By Derick Wilder, Catia Chien (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Longest Letsgoboy 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?

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey meets Dog Heaven in this profoundly beautiful book about the special relationship between kids and dogs, the importance of language, and finding the meaning of life even in its final days.

Poignant, hopeful, and lovingly told, this dog's journey-told by the dog himself in his own unique words-proves that love abides beyond a lifetime, out of sight but never far away.

As a dog and his little girl go on their final walk together, he experiences the sights, smells, and wonders of this world one last time before peacefully passing on. But for such a…


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Transforming Pandora

By Carolyn Mathews,

Book cover of Transforming Pandora

Carolyn Mathews Author Of Transforming Pandora

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Creator Meditator Messenger Shopaholic

Carolyn's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Transforming Pandora, women's fiction with a metaphysical undercurrent, is written with humour and a light touch. As the plot slips between two time frames, separated by more than thirty years, the reader explores her life and loves: her ups and downs.

In the opening chapter, Pandora is attempting to come to terms with her husband's death. At a friend's suggestion, she reluctantly attends an evening of clairvoyance, after which her life is transformed by a mysterious spirit who sets her on a new path.

Her romantic life is reignited when she encounters a new man, but complicated by the…

Transforming Pandora

By Carolyn Mathews,

What is this book about?

Pandora, 51, childless, and still beautiful, is attempting to come to terms with her husband's death. Having a history of being drawn to the esoteric, yet remaining a healthy sceptic, she reluctantly attends an evening of clairvoyance and raises a spirit who sets her on a new path...


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