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Books to help your child understand loss and grief

“There are only two certainties in this world: death and taxes.”

So goes the famous quote. Although, if you’re rich enough to take advantage of certain loopholes, you can probably narrow it down to one. And it’s a big one, which is why it’s important for children’s books to deal with it and open the subject for discussion.

My latest book, What’s That in Dog Years?, is a little different from my earlier books. Like my others, there’s plenty of humour, but it’s the first time I’ve ever really broached the themes of grief and loss. I knew going in that it would be tough to bring humour to these subjects, but I felt it was important. I’ve always tried to treat tough things with a light touch, in a way that hopefully makes them easier to digest.

What’s that in Dog Years? is the story of George and his best friend Gizmo. When George realises that Gizmo might not be around for much longer, he creates a bucket list for him. As they work their way through the list, which ranges from the easy (have an ice cream, go to a party) to the not-so-easy (get fifteen minutes of fame) we discover memories the two of them share, and begin to understand what triggered George’s anxiety disorder.

You have to tread carefully when writing about dogs. People LOVE dogs. They will happily sit through films where scores of humans are indiscriminately slaughtered, but the minute any harm comes to man’s best friend, they become apoplectic. But the sad fact is, one of the reasons we have pets is to teach kids that nothing lasts forever.

Grief and loss are going to be part of everyone’s life at some point, so having books that reach out to young people affected by it is incredibly important. Sometimes, you just need to be reminded that you’re not alone.

With that in mind, I have compiled a list of recommended reads that deal with grief. It is by no means exhaustive; there are so many great titles out there. These are just the ones that I’ve had the opportunity to check out myself.

Pre-school

Goodbye Mog

Judith Kerr

Everyone’s favourite bookish feline goes to the big scratching post in the sky. Heartbreaking, yet somehow positive, which is a balance I strived for with Dog Years.

Buy on Amazon >

Granpa

John Burningham

A classic that reminds kids that the older folks in their life are full of exciting stories.

Buy on Amazon >

Ages 5–7

Grandpa was an Astronaut

Jonathan Meres

A lovely, funny book that gently approaches loss without being too obvious about it.

Buy on Amazon >

Grandad’s Island

Benji Davies

Sensing a theme, here? I guess there’s something about grandads that tugs at the heartstrings. A fantastic book for young readers by an author who, despite the fact that our names are basically the same, is not me.

Buy on Amazon >

Ages 7–9

Sad Book

Michael Rosen

Written in response to the death of his eighteen year old son, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is an unflinchingly honest look at bereavement. Younger readers may need some of the more complex concepts explained to them, which makes it the ideal book for discussions. Featuring illustrations by the legendary Quentin Blake.

Buy on Amazon >

The House with Chicken Legs

Sophie Anderson

When I asked bookish experts for their recommendations, this was by far the most talked about, and I can see why. It’s charming, mystical and magical.

Buy on Amazon >

Ages 9–11

Charlie and Me

Mark Lowery

I read this book when I’d pretty much finished Dog Years and immediately began to panic that it would never be as good as this. Charlie and Me is funny, gripping and has a twist that will leave you stunned.

Buy on Amazon >

Owen and the Soldier

Lisa Thompson

Lisa Thompson is one of my favourite children’s authors and Owen and the Soldier continues her hot streak. It’s incredibly easy to read (like Grandpa was an Astronaut, it’s published by the brilliant dyslexia-friendly Barrington Stoke) and deals with the concept of remembrance as well as loss.

Buy on Amazon >

You may also be interested in

  • Read our blog post about What’s That in Dog Years? >
  • Watch Keep on Walking (Gizmo’s Song):

  • Watch Ben Davis attempt Gizmo’s bucket list:

  • Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals both when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, and when a child is facing bereavement.