First Books About Grief and Loss | Milestones

In SLJ's new "Milestones" series that takes on topics for young children with relevant book suggestions, we round up some effective, affecting titles that take on death. 

Along with such favorites as Robie H. Harris’s Goodbye Mousie, there are many more recent books to hand to parents needing to acquaint the very youngest child with death, loss, mourning, and grief. These selections have in common a spare approach that allows educators or caregivers to fill in as much or as little information as a particular child is ready to hear. From a beloved grandparent to an old family dog, the passings are treated with respect, love, and hope for those left behind.

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The Sour Cherry Tree by Naseem Hrab. illus. by Nahid Kazemi. Owlkids. ISBN 9781771474146.
By focusing on a child’s movements through the empty rooms of Baba Bozorg’s home, Hrab and Kazemi give weight to the atmosphere surrounding death. It’s not about what has happened, but about who is gone, and how impossible it is to name all the losses and feelings. Scenes of the child and this elder in the past show how they shared the spaces, and provide cues for parents to discuss with young readers.

The Treasure Box by Dave Keane. Illus. by Rahele Jomepour Bell. Putnam. ISBN 9781984813183.
This heartfelt story about the loss of a beloved grandparent plainly names the emotions felt by a grieving child, while imparting reassurance about the role of memory. By opening up about her grief and using found objects as touchstones, the girl is a model for all children.

When Grandfather Flew by Patricia MacLachlan. illus. by Chris Sheban. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823444892.
Lovingly called Birdman by his family for his appreciation of birds, Grandfather enjoys teaching everyone about the winged creatures that visit his property. This book creates a hook that prepares the fictional family, and readers, for the impending loss. It’s a naturalistic and positive glimpse of life and death.

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The Little One by Kiyo Tanaka. tr. from Japanese by David Boyd. illus. by author. Enchanted Lion. ISBN 9781592703586.
The little one of the title is a black blob of a creature, with a walleyed gaze, who keeps showing up during a young Japanese girl’s walk. This nameless thing leads her to a secret opening in her own home that results in a night of play, and a dream about her own mother. Educators can invite children to guess where the mother is, and to seek comfort when the father shows up to hold her hand on the next walk. A parent has gone missing and a child’s imagination saves her in this poetic book of love and healing

My Grandma’s Photos by Özge Bahar Sunar. tr. by Amy Marie Spangler. illus. by Senta Urgan. Amazon Crossing. ISBN 9781542031158.
Sunar’s beautiful, heartfelt story about loss and love presents a young boy listening to his elderly grandmother as she walks through her memories, remembering life again through her photographs. The boy follows his grandmother’s life story, from her time as an adventurous girl, to when she started out to pursue her dreams, to when she married the love of her life, the boy’s grandfather. Young children will understand that loss is a journey of memory and, one hopes, acceptance. Older ones may start to gather family photographs of their own.

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Watercress by Andrea Wang. illus by Jason Chin. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823446247.
This acclaimed book has complex topics woven into the tale of food and eating together, but it also presents the visual of an empty seat—a way for children to see, no words necessary, that someone is missing. Wang’s tale is not simple, but provides an avenue for many conversations with toddlers and older children.

The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder. illus. by Catia Chien. Chronicle. ISBN 9781452177168.
In this tearjerker, the perspective belongs to Letsgoboy, a dog along in years, and his pint-sized companion as they embark on their final walk. Children learn that for the very old, or tired, death is just another part of life. As they walk, their senses take in the magic of the summer woods. Wilder deftly navigates the difficult topic of dying by presenting it in tandem with the joy of life. The grief of loss is acknowledged, but not dwelled upon, and Wilder’s use of literal—and sometimes silly—descriptive phrases adds just the right amount of levity to a tough subject matter and provides children with profound comfort about some of the facts about death.

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