Explaining death is hard for parents of young children but what if we grew up knowing it was an essential part of life? We found a story about how children’s books can help both parents and children deal with loss.
When you think about children’s books that deal with death, “There’s often a knee-jerk feeling of revulsion to contend with,” writes Imogen Russell Williams. With some parents saying, “‘that’s too dark’ or ‘they’re too young for that.’”
But the reality is most young children will encounter some form of loss in their early lives whether it’s a lost pet or a grandparent’s death. “For a choked-up, grieving adult or for someone who wants to prepare a child for life’s only inevitability, a well chosen book can speak volumes,” writes Williams.
But what about using children’s books to “pre-emptively deal with death? Is it a good idea, or one that generates more anxiety than it allays?” Williams asks.
“Books dealing with the loss of someone close, especially a parent, are probably only needed in the dreaded specific situation, since reading a story in which a parent dies (outside the safe formula-bound, once-removed world of a fairytale) is likely to induce fearsome anxiety in young kids,” writes Williams.
Whether your family has been affected by a loss or not, here are some books Williams recommends to help familiarize children with death.
“Is Daddy Coming Back In A Minute?” by Elke Becker
Becker uses her son’s own words to ask and answer questions about death, describing with tenderness the anxiety, curiosity and unavoidable sorrow a parent’s loss brings in its wake. Becker’s second book, “What Happened to Daddy’s Body?” deals sensitively with the realities of burial and cremation.
“Missing Mummy” by Rebecca Cobb
Deals with the loss of a parent from a child’s point of view. Focuses on children’s fears, curiosity and feelings of being left alone. Explores the many emotions a bereaved child feels from anger to guilt, sadness to bewilderment. This book positively expresses that the child is still part of a family, and his memories of his mother are to be treasured.
“A Tiger Tale” by Holly Webb
A book about a little girl who lost her grandfather that deals with the discomfort of grief’s etiquette: Kate is bemused by adult mourners laughing at fond memories and is unsure whether and when she is allowed to feel happy again.
“Goodbye Mog” by Judith Kerr
Mog the Cat dies on the first page but stays around in the form of a spirit, thinking her family won’t be able to get along without her. The family is sad but their attention is soon taken up with a new kitten. Mog helps the new kitten learn how to be a cat and to love its family and be loved in return. Satisfied her family is now in good cat paws, Mog’s spirit flies up to the sky.
“Lifetimes: A Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children” by Bryan Mellonie
First published in the 1980s, Lifetimes has a calm, inexorable tone. Its illustrations evoke the beauty of death in nature from broken shells to ants to butterflies – and the joy of being alive. “It is the way they live, and it is their lifetime,” is the book’s refrain.
“Duck, Death and the Tulip” by Wolf Erlbruch
In the story a little girl named Duck becomes aware someone with a skull for a head is following her. Eventually she befriends the friendless Death and talks to him about the afterlife, and what will happen to her after she dies. Then Duck does die and Death tends to her body, placing it gently in the river, which carries it away.
“Making peace with the idea of death as a constant companion, something that awaits everyone and which is better reconciled with, than feared, is an uncomfortable prospect for many parents,” writes Russell. But dealing with it directly can “lessen the seismic nature of grief and fear for young children and adults.”
Read the story here.