Grief in Children’s Literature

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

By Bethany Hobbs

After a year of facing a global pandemic, which has taken more than 2.6 million lives (BBC News, March 2021), conversations around death are more important than ever. It's been proven that this inescapable part of life can happen at any age, in any place at any time. Therefore, it's inevitable that at some point during our lives we will grieve. Whether for a family member, a friend, or a pet, it's important for us to understand what it is to grieve and how as individuals–and as a community–we can manage these natural responses.

As we all know: in our early years we are inquisitive, inquiring about everything and everyone around us. But what happens when someone we once knew vanishes? How can we know someone we’ve never met? Why do we talk about people we can no longer see? These are questions that are impossible to answer finitely. Children’s literature is a way to open these conversations with our new generation about morality, love, and loss.

'Sad Book', Walker Books 2004

All rights reserved for the publisher.

Written by: Michael Rosen

Illustrated by: Quentin Blake

Images: Bethany Hobbs

'Sad Book' follows a man who's recently lost his son, Eddie. A narrative very close to his heart, Michael Rosen shows the different ways in which sadness can be expressed, how it can be felt, and how it may present itself. This honest commentary on grief is accompanied with equally sincere and striking illustrations. As the book progresses we see how we can find positive ways to deal with these complex emotions.

'The Memory Tree', Orchard Books 2014

All rights reserved for the publisher.

Written by: Britta Teckentrup

Illustrated by: Britta Teckentrup

Images: Bethany Hobbs

'The Memory Tree' has grown from the legacy that Britta Teckentrup's character Fox left behind. Each woodland friend recounts their memories of him and with each fond tale told, the exquisite tree grows taller and wider. 'The Memory Tree' explores how we can celebration a life when someone, or something, we love dies.

'Where is Uncle Al?', All Around Publishing 2020

Written by: Eva Hibbs

Illustrations: Sarah Harrison

Images: Bethany Hobbs

'Where is Uncle Al?' explores the question "Where do we go when we die?" and how we can talk about it. Our picture book allows different members of Lily’s family to share their answers. Through their memories of Uncle Al, Lily is able to build a relationship with the uncle she never met.

Existence after death is the most foreign concept we will face as humans. There is no correct or incorrect belief as to what happens after our feet are no longer on Earth. Each individual will have a unique idea about what happens, allowing us to explore different philosophies until we arrive at an explanation that rings true. This can inhabit a place of fear in our lives. Having an open dialogue with our children about death and consequently, grief, is an essential foundation to establish what it means to be human.

Have you come across any comforting picture books about loss? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

Sending love and warmth.

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