“It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.”
– Lemony Snicket,
Blejwas, Emily. Like Nothing Amazing Every Happened. New York: Delacorte Press, 2020.
Twelve-year-old Justin lives with a mystery: how did his father – a military veteran – die? Was it an accident or suicide? Who will tell him the truth? This 210-page novel portrays the effects of post-traumatic-stress-disorder and the complexities of history in a small Minnesotan town in 1991. Highly recommended for readers 11 to 14 years old. [School stories; Single-parent families]
Coelho, Joseph and Allison Colpoys. Grandpa’s Stories: A Book of Remembering. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019.
A young girl remembers all the special moments she shared with her grandfather. Spring. Summer, Fall. Winter. Every season holds precious memories of her beloved grandfather. A poignant picture book by an award-winning British writer and an Australian artist. Recommended for young readers grieving for people they loved.
Cordell, Matthew. Bear Island. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2021.
Some picture books are wordless, like Forever Home: A Dog and Boy Love Story by Henry Cole. Some have illustrations to accompany the text, like Peg Bearskin by Philip Dinn. And others have illustrations that help tell the story, like this one: Bear Island. Even before the title page, five pages of pictures start the story of a little girl grieving the death of Charlie, her dog. Louise paddles a boat to a little island where she meets a bear who is also sad. All summer long, the two spend time together until winter arrives and it is time for Bear to sleep. “It’s not fair,” she thinks, “when the things we love must end.” But a glimpse of hope comes on the last page: an illustration of a new puppy. Created by the 2018 Caldecott winner, this introspective story of loss and new life is recommended for readers five to 10 years old.
Something to talk about: What do you learn from the pictures that isn’t told by the words?
Something to do: divide a collection of picture books into three categories: wordless, pictures that illustrate the words, pictures that help tell the story. What do you notice?
Tip: Books published by Feiwel and Friends are reliably wonderful. Watch for them!
Couloumbis, Audrey. Getting Near to Baby. New York: Putnam, 1999.
“Although thirteen-year-old Willa Jo and her Aunt Patty seem to be constantly at odds, staying with her and Uncle Hob helps Willa Jo and her younger sister come to terms with the death of their family’s baby.” – OhioLINK. Recommended for introspective readers 11 to 14 years old.
Creech, Sharon. Chasing Redbird. London: Macmillan Children’s Books, 1997.
“Thirteen-year-old Zinnia Taylor uncovers family secrets and self truths while clearing a mysterious settler trail that begins on her family’s farm in Kentucky.” – FVRL. A quiet novel by an outstanding author. Recommended for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Guilt; Kentucky; Uncles]
Edge, Christopher. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. New York: Delacorte Press, 2017.
What happens when people die? Could they be living in a parallel universe? Grief stricken Albie, the son of two astrophysicists, embarks on a hunt to find his mother after she dies of cancer. With the help of a laptop computer, a box and a banana, he starts travelling the universe. Silly but also heartwarming, humorous but also thought-provoking, this British novel is highly recommended for readers 10 years old and up who enjoy science and speculating about the universe.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Erskine, Kathryn. Seeing Red. New York: Scholastic Press, 2013.
“When twelve-year-old Frederick “Red” Porter’s father dies in 1972, his mother wants to sell their automobile repair shop and move her two sons back to Ohio, but Red is desperate to stop the sale even if it means unearthing some dark family secrets in a Virginia rife with racial tensions.” – FVRL. A 344-page novel recommended for avid readers 11 to 14 years old.
“It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding.”
– Markus Zusak,
Forler, Nan. Rodney was a Tortoise. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2022.
Bernadette loves her friend, Rodney. They have contests, play dress up games, and enjoy treats together. In the evenings, she reads him stories of the outdoors. At night, he sleeps in a tank beside her bed. The two of them are the best of companions. But one day, Rodney stops moving. He has died, and not even a funeral and remembering all the lessons he taught her can ease the grief. At school, everyone goes about their usual life, talking about their usual concerns, while she withdraws further and further into sadness until one day a classmate – Amar – comes to sit beside her out in the playground. And slowly Bernadette comes back to life. The soft watercolour and pencil illustrations by Young Ling Kang help tell this gentle story recommended for anyone who has ever lost a beloved friend.
Questions to talk about…
How do we gladly make accommodations for the weaknesses of our friends?
What have our friends taught us about how to live a good life?
How do we protect ourselves when in pain?
How do we reenter life after deep grief?
Henkes, Kevin. Bird Lake Moon. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2008.
“Twelve-year-old Mitch, spending the summer with his grandparents at Bird Lake after his parents’ separation, becomes friends with ten-year-old Spencer, who has returned with his family to the lake where his little brother drowned years earlier, and as the boys spend time together and their friendship grows, each of them begins to heal.” – WAFMS. [Divorce; Family life; Wisconsin]
High, Linda Oatman. One Amazing Elephant. New York: Harper, 2017.
All sorts of surprises await twelve-year-old Lily when she leaves her father in West Virginia and travels to Florida to attend the funeral of her grandfather. She stays with her grandmother in a circus community. She spends time with her mother, a trapeze artist. She makes a new friend, Henry Jack. And she discovers that her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace, is not frightening after all. This 258-page novel told from alternating points of view is a surprising delight, a heartfelt story of finding love. Highly recommended for animal lovers 11 to 15 years old. [Animal sanctuaries’ Circus; Elephants; Florida; Friendship; Grandparents; Mothers and daughters]
Jeffers, Oliver. The Heart and the Bottle. London: HarperCollins Children’s, 2010.
A poignant story in which a young girl puts her heart away so that it will be safe. The pictures reveal the loss of her father. The words tell of her struggle to live with joy again. A profound story by a master storyteller. Recommended for all ages. [Loss (Psychology); Fathers and daughters]
Kephart, Beth. Nothing But Ghosts. HarperTeen, 2009.
Sixteen-year-old Katie grieves the death of her mother, uncovers a mystery and acquires a boyfriend while working as a gardener on the estate of a recluse who has not been seen for decades. Recommended for readers 13 to 17 years old. [Fathers and daughters; Gardening; Librarians; Mothers; Art; Summer; Secrets; Research; Painting]
Kramer, Jackie. Azúa. The Boy and the Gorilla. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2020.
A young boy, missing his mother, converses with an imaginary gorilla. Where do loved ones go when they die? How do we remember those no longer with us? How do we learn to go on with life? Softly illustrated by Cindy Derby, this short gentle story will prompt reader’s own conversations about death and grief. Recommended for children 5 to 8 years old.
P.S. Always take the time to look at a picture book by Candlewick Press.
Lawrence, Iain. The Skeleton Tree. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Chris and fifteen-year-old Frank, each recently bereaved, struggle to survive in the wilderness after their sailboat capsizes off the coast of Alaska. They also struggle to get along with each other. This 278-page novel full of descriptive details – and a bit of the supernatural – will appeal to competent readers 11 to 15 years old who enjoy realistic stories. An afterward provides background information about the author’s experiences in the Pacific Northwest. [Alaska; Fathers and sons; Survival; Ravens; Wilderness areas]
Lies, Brian. The Rough Patch. New York: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2018.
Everything is wonderful. Until it isn’t. Evan’s best friend – his dog – dies. And life becomes dark and angry. Until, in autumn, Evan takes a pumpkin from his garden and goes to the town fair. He sees some friends, wins a prize, and goes home with a new puppy. A story of loss and grief but also hope. A perfect picture book, told not only with words but also through illustrations. A 2019 Caldecott Honor Book. Recommended for readers 5 to 11 years old.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
– C.S. Lewis,
MacLachlan, Patricia. Baby. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, , c1993.
“Taking care of a baby left with them at the end of the tourist season helps a family come to terms with the death of their own infant son.” – WAFMS. A lyrical novel highly recommended for sensitive readers 9-years-old and up.
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
– William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 3
MacLachlan, Patricia. My Father’s Words. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.
Fiona and Finn love their father. Declan sang songs as he played basketball with them. He patiently offered words of wisdom when life was difficult. But now he is gone, killed in a car accident. Their mother buries herself in studies for a degree. Finn stops speaking. Fiona, the narrator of the story, struggles to help them all. Luke, a friend, suggests volunteering at an animal shelter. Talking to the dogs, reading to them, singing to them, and taking them on walks slowly eases their grief. Slowly, comfort comes as they remember their father’s words. An easy-to-read novel printed in large font with wide margins and wide spaces between the lines of print. Recommended for readers 9 years old and up. [Dogs; Fathers; Grief; Human-Animal relationships; Memory]
Maclachlan, Patricia. The Poet’s Dog. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016.
Are we really loved? Will will be remembered when we’re gone? Who will save us when we’re lost?
This short easy-to-read novel told from the point of view of an Irish wolfhound portrays the abiding bond between people and animals. It demonstrates the power of poetry and the mysterious connections that carry us through hardships. A philosophical novella highly recommended for readers and listeners 6 years old and up. [Blizzards; Brothers and sisters; Dogs Grief; Human-animal relationships; Loss (Psychological); Poets]
Muth, Jon J. Addy’s Cup of Sugar: Based on a Buddhist Story of Healing. New York: Scholastic Press, 2020.
How do we carry on after a loved one has died? That is the question in another picture book about grief. Similar to The Boy and the Gorilla, this story depicts a helper. Stillwater, a giant panda who has appeared in previous books by Jon Muth, teaches Addy how to recover from grief after her beloved kitten is hit by a car. She is sent to borrow a cup of sugar from someone who has never experienced loss. By the end of the day, she realizes that everyone has suffered the desolation of losing loved ones. She is not alone in her pain. And she still has a heart full of loving memories. This story, with its full-page watercolour and pencil illustrations, will appeal to readers of all ages and all faiths. Highly recommended.
Pitcher, Anabel. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. New York: Little, Brown, 2012, c2011.
“With his family still grieving over his sister’s death in a terrorist bombing seven years earlier, ten-year-old Jamie is far more interested in his cat, Roger, his birthday Spider-Man T-shirt, and keeping his new Muslim friend, Sunya, a secret from his father.” – WAFMS. A British novel recommended for competent readers 10 to 14 years old.
The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.”
– John Green,
“During the ceremony of First Salmon, an event celebrated by the Northwest Pacific tribes to honor and welcome back the salmon each year, Charlie remembers his beloved uncle and starts the process of accepting his death.” – FVRL. A picture book recommended for readers 8 to 12 years old.
Smith-Ready, Jeff. This Side of Salvation. New York: Simon Pulse, 2014.
“After his older brother is killed, David turns to anger and his parents to religion, but just as David’s life is beginning to make sense again his parents press him and his sister to join them in cutting worldly ties to prepare for the Rush, when the faithful will be whisked off to heaven.” – FVRL. This 368-page novel is highly recommended for competent readers 13-years-old and up. [Cults; Faith; Families; Grief; Pennsylvania; Schools]
Stevens, April. The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2018.
Figrotten loves nature. And she loves spending time outdoors on a big rock on a hill behind her house. She feels safe up there. Like she can truly be herself when she is there alone. But over the course of her eleventh year, she starts to see life differently. Maybe she can find friends at school, after all. Maybe her sister doesn’t hate her, after all. Maybe she can find a balance between being along and being with people.
This 196-page novel is beautifully written. Like poetry in prose. Highly recommended for thoughtful readers 10 to 13 years old.
Whelan, Gloria. Small Acts of Amazing Courage. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011.
“In 1919, independent-minded fifteen-year-old Rosalind lives in India with her English parents, and when they fear she has fallen in with some rebellious types who believe in Indian self-government, she is sent “home” to London, where she has never been before and where her older brother died, to stay with her two aunts.” – FVRL. Highly recommended for avid readers 12-years-old and up. [Aunts; Historical fiction; India; London (England)]
Woodson, Jacqueline. Behind You. New York: Puffin Books, 2010, c2004.
“After fifteen-year-old Jeremiah is mistakenly shot by police, the people who love him struggle to cope with their loss as they recall his life and death, unaware that ‘Miah is watching over them.” – FVRL. Highly recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [African Americans; New York]
Yang, Kao Kalia. A Map Into the World. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, 2019.
How do you find your way in a new world? A little girl settles into a new home with her parents and grandmother in this quietly hopeful picture book by an award-winning Hmong American writer living in Minnesota. As the seasons pass, Paj Ntaub welcomes her twin brothers into the world, befriends a grieving neighbour, and enjoys the beauties of nature in her neighbourhood. Softly coloured, full-page illustrations by Seo Kim help tell this story recommended for readers 7 to 11 years old.
In the Ojibway Teaching, there are 7 ways of dealing with grief:
How many have you observed in novels?
How many have you experienced in real life?
Learn more: Ross, Rupert. Indigenous Healing: Exploring Traditional Paths. Toronto: Penguin, 2014, p. 244.