Books for kids on grief, death, and emotions
with guest author Kat Miller of Foxbox
Books offer a world of imagination, connection, and hope. When I started my nonprofit, Foxbox, I knew books had to be a central part of what we provided infants, and their families, during extended hospital stays. We've written about how we select books at Foxbox for infants but never about a topic dear to our hearts — supporting siblings and caregivers through death, grief, and the big feelings that come with loss. At the core of what we do, it is essential that we support families throughout their baby's entire first year in a hospital, whether celebrating the joy of going home or holding space for them in grief.
Over the past two years, we've received requests from parents and caregivers for recommendations on books dealing with death, grief, and big emotions for kids, so we decided to put together a list. The books below provide kids with the opportunity to explore their feelings around death and loss while providing them chances to connect with the adults in their lives.
Books on death
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way To Explain Death To Children by Bryan Mellonie (author) & Robert Ingpen (illustrator)
What we love about it: Lifetimes does a beautiful job illustrating how death is a natural part of life on Earth. The story uses repetition to emphasize the commonalities between plants, animals, and people as they enter the world and die.
Themes: Death, Nature, Lifecycle
"I Miss You" series by Pat Thomas (Author) and Lesley Harker (Illustrator)
What we love about this book: I Miss You centers around a grandchild and their grandparent's death. The story talks about funerals, feelings associated with grief and loss, and how kids can use memories to develop connection and resilience in bereavement.
Themes: Death, Funerals, Grandparents, Grief
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
What we love about it: Duck, Death and the Tulip is different than other books on our list. It dives more into surrealism with a tender story about a duck who converses with death and ultimately dies. We like how this story can help encourage conversations about the characters and opens the door for dialog with older kids.
Themes: Death, Loss, Nature, Fiction
Books on grief
Something Small by Sesame Street in Communities
What we love about it: When we first read Something Small, we knew it had to be on our list. This short story features Elmo's cousin Jesse who just experienced her dad's death. Elmo helps Jesse find small ways to remember her dad throughout the day and helps her develop coping skills in her grief. Something Small gives families concrete ways to practice remembrance and offers a wide range of free activities on their website that pair with the book.
Themes: Parent loss, Healthy grief rituals
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
What we love about it: Boats for Papa is a charming story that follows Buckley and his mom throughout the year. The story doesn't explicitly talk about death, but Buckley spends the year building boats for his Papa, who isn't with him, and launching them into the ocean for his Papa to receive. We love how this tender story allows Buckley and his Mama moments of connection in their grief while showing the readers that remembrance can come in many shapes and forms.
Themes: Parent loss, Caregiver connection, remembrance
What we love about it: We love Slumberkins at Foxbox!* In particular, we admire their collaboration with The Dougy Center to bring their Sprite creature to life. In this story, a fox finds itself experiencing grief and loss when the Sprite visits them. The Sprite validates the fox's feelings and holds space for them while helping the fox find ways to express its emotions and remember its loved one.
Themes: Grief, Social/emotional wellbeing
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
What we love about it: The Invisible String is a delightful book on fostering connections between loved ones — no matter where they are. The story features two kids and their mom who tell them about the Invisible String's power and how love connects us. We like how families can use the same metaphor to talk about connection, love, and grief.
Themes: Connection, Love
Finn's Feather by Rachel Noble & illustrated by Zoey Abbott
What we love about it: Finn’s Feather is a story about an older brother who experiences the death of his younger sibling. We follow Finn as he uses a feather to connect with his brother, Hamish, and finds support from a playmate along the way. Resilience and memory are key themes with Finn’s Feather and it provides a sibling-specific story for families experiencing grief.
Themes: Resilience, Siblings, Memories
The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
What we love about it: Oliver Jeffers does a wonderful job sharing a story about the aftermath of loss and the way we try to protect ourselves. We love how the story provides a relatable journey with grief to readers while we see the main character grow from child to adult. During her journey, we learn to embrace the power of hope in the aftermath of loss.
Themes: Resilience, Hope
Books on emotions
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld*
What we love about it: Every person who reads The Rabbit Listened can relate to the main character Taylor and the menagerie of animals that come to "help" in the aftermath of a block tower falling. Each animal offers a different solution to Taylor's emotions and how to cope with trauma. When the Rabbit comes and only listens to Taylor while never leaving his side, the duo offers a healthy example for caregivers and kids dealing with traumatic events.
Themes: Social/emotional wellbeing
My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss (author) and Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (Illustrators)
What we love about it: My Many Colored Days is a departure from previous Dr. Seuss books. The story uses color and animals to personify associated emotions. Each color allows kids to relate to the feelings, and caregivers can ask questions about each page while reading.
Themes: Social/emotional wellbeing
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
What we love about it: This simple and heartfelt story follows a small child while they talk about feelings they experience throughout the day. We love how this book, in particular, allows kids to normalize that simultaneously carrying many feelings is okay! The beautiful cutouts on each page reveal a rainbow-colored heart layered with many emotions at the end.
Themes: Social/emotional wellbeing
A Kid's Book About Emotions by Nakita Simpson*
What we love about it: Not only is this a great book that offers quiet moments of reflection for kids as they read, but it's also a coloring book! The narrative and coloring activities prompt kids to share their feelings by asking age-appropriate questions and encouraging self-expression.
Themes: Self-expression, social/emotional wellbeing
We hope our list of books to help children with loss and grief is helpful. There are many beautiful stories out there, and we're continuously growing our list. Please drop us a line if you have any suggestions or book recommendations!
*Foxbox has received donations of these books from publishers to include in their family support program.