Healing Young Hearts: Children’s Books Guiding Through Grief

Mother and child reading book at home.

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  • Children’s books about death can help parents talk about feelings of sadness and grief in age-appropriate, supportive ways. 
  • When discussing grief with children of all ages, honesty and developmentally appropriate concepts are important, and books are a good way to help both parents and children express their feelings. 
  • Conversations about grief help children express their emotions and learn empathy. 

It can be difficult to know what to say to our children when a family member or loved one dies or is terminally ill. Especially if you’re dealing with your own emotions of grief and sadness, trying to explain death and grief to your children can feel overwhelming. 

However, children’s books about death and grief can be useful tools for you to explain death, illness, sadness, and grief and to find the words to answer your children’s questions. 

We’ve found some of the best books for healing young hearts and guiding children through grief. These beautiful books will be a comfort to your kids and your whole family.    

Best Selling Picture Book
The Invisible String (The Invisible String, 1)
Best Award-Winning Story
The Memory Box: A Book About Grief
Best Classic Book
The Dead Bird
The Invisible String
The Memory Box
The Dead Bird
Best Selling Picture Book
The Invisible String (The Invisible String, 1)
The Invisible String
Best Award-Winning Story
The Memory Box: A Book About Grief
The Memory Box
Best Classic Book
The Dead Bird
The Dead Bird

Children’s Books About Grief: What Parents Should Know

There are many well-written and beautifully illustrated books for children about grief, loss, and the end of life. 

When it comes to choosing the right book to help you discuss these issues with your child, look for books that use age-appropriate, straightforward language and concepts that your child will understand. 

There’s no right age to explain death to a child11. Cleveland Clinic. How To Explain Death to a Child. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-explain-death-to-a-child. If a loved one has died, it’s important to be honest with your child in a developmentally sensitive way, and reading stories about grief can help you do that. 

Some children’s books about loss are more conceptual and can be applied to numerous situations like loneliness or separation. Other children’s books are specific about the loss of grandparents, parents, friends, or pets. 

Ask your child what they understand, and follow their lead in choosing books and stories that will help them express themselves and understand how others around them feel. 

9 Children’s Books About Grief

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst 

The Invisible String
  • Karst, Patrice (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 40 Pages – 10/30/2018 (Publication Date) – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

The Invisible String is a best-selling and beloved picture book recommended by teachers, social workers, and parents. 

It’s a story that can help children cope with many different kinds of difficult situations, including grief, loss, loneliness, and separation. 

While this is not a book that explains grief directly, it’s a simple story that helps children express their emotions and fears around loss. 

The mother in the story explains to her two children that they are connected by an invisible string made of love. Though they can’t see it, they can feel it, and it will always be there between them, no matter what. 

This is a beautifully illustrated book that has comforted many children and helped them cope with loss of different kinds—a classic story for all children. 

I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas 

I Miss You: A First Look at Death
  • Style May Vary
  • Thomas, Pat (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 28 Pages – 01/01/2001 (Publication Date) – Sourcebooks Explore (Publisher)

For kids aged 3–7, I Miss You, part of the A First Look At series, is a gentle but straightforward book that discusses death in simple, direct language to help little ones cope with loss and grief. 

It’s a simple book that presents children with facts about life and death and our feelings about them in a sensitive, age-appropriate way. 

Written by psychotherapist Pat Thomas, I Miss You helps children understand that sadness and grief are a normal part of losing someone we love. It also gives children the language to express those feelings and reassurance that they are not alone in feeling grief. 

This is a helpful book for parents of young children to talk about the emotions around loss in a realistic and supportive way. 

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny Brown

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death
  • Krasny Brown, Laurie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 32 Pages – 04/01/1998 (Publication Date) – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

Part of the fantastic and popular Dino Tales: Life Guides for Families series, When Dinosaurs Die is a sweetly illustrated, sensitive and realistic book that will answer many of your children’s questions about death and dying. 

Using straightforward language and simple, factual sentences, the dinosaurs help young readers understand death and loss and the difficult feelings that people experience when they happen. 

If you have found yourself struggling with how to answer some of your children’s questions, this book can help you introduce the topics of death, grief and loss with simple words and reassuring honesty. 

The Memory Box by Joanna Rowland 

The Memory Box
  • Hardcover Book
  • Rowland, Joanna (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 32 Pages – 09/26/2017 (Publication Date) – Sparkhouse Family (Publisher)

The award-winning story, The Memory Box, is a beautifully illustrated story told from the perspective of a grieving child who makes a memory box to remember her loved one. 

This comforting and reassuring book, for ages 4–10, gives voice to the emotions of sadness and grief that the child feels, reassuring your child that these feelings are normal and part of what happens when someone we love dies. 

What’s also great about this book is how it demonstrates that memories can be comforting. It has a guide in the back for how children can create their own memory boxes to treasure their own memories of the people they love. 

Ida, Always by Caron Levis 

Ida, Always
  • Hardcover Book
  • Levis, Caron (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 40 Pages – 02/23/2016 (Publication Date) – Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

Ida, Always is a lovely picture book that helps explain friendship, loss, and terminal illness through the story of two polar bears who are best friends. 

Gus and Ida do everything together at the zoo every day. Sadly, one day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick and that she won’t get better. 

The two friends help each other cope with the news and spend their time together until Ida dies. 

Gus learns that although Ida won’t be there anymore, he will always have his best friend with him in his memories. 

A moving and beautiful story, Ida, Always is a comforting and reassuring book that helps explain illness and death sensitively and lovingly. 

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown 

The Dead Bird
  • Hardcover Book
  • Brown, Margaret Wise (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 32 Pages – 03/01/2016 (Publication Date) – HarperCollins (Publisher)

Margaret Wise Brown, the author of the iconic children’s classic, Goodnight, Moon, wrote The Dead Bird in 1938. However, the story is still comforting to today’s children, especially with its fresh and vibrant new illustrations by Christian Robinson. 

Like many of Brown’s books, The Dead Bird is crisp and simple enough for even very young toddlers to understand. The children in the story find a dead bird in the park, and saddened by this discovery, they decide to bury it and sing songs to say goodbye. 

This is a moving story about grief that also introduces the idea of memorials and funerals to children. With simple language and pictures, it helps children understand what happens when someone dies and that saying goodbye is part of the process. 

This is an excellent book for talking about death and grief with a young child. 

When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers 

When a Pet Dies
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Rogers, Fred (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 32 Pages – 04/13/1998 (Publication Date) – Puffin Books (Publisher)

For many children, the loss of a pet may be their first experience of death and dying. 

When a Pet Dies is a helpful and reassuring book by the beloved Fred Rogers that helps children understand death and the feelings we have around it. 

Using straightforward, sensitive, and realistic language, this book helps kids understand that the sadness that comes with death is natural and healing. 

Experts agree that honesty is the most important element of explaining grief to children, and you can always count on Mr. Rogers for truthfulness and sensitivity. 

This is a helpful book for parents to support their children in understanding the death not only of a pet but of people too. 

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr 

The Goodbye Book
  • Hardcover Book
  • Parr, Todd (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 32 Pages – 11/03/2015 (Publication Date) – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

With bold, colorful illustrations, this accessible and easy-to-understand picture book is highly recommended by parents of young children to help them understand loss. 

With just a few words and moving pictures, The Goodbye Book validates the feelings of loneliness and sadness that come with grief. 

Although it is pitched at toddlers from ages 2–4, everyone grieving in the family will feel better after reading this simple book with its vivid pictures and loving message. 

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld 

The Rabbit Listened
  • Hardcover Book
  • Doerrfeld, Cori (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 40 Pages – 02/20/2018 (Publication Date) – Dial Books (Publisher)

Part of children’s emotional development around death includes learning about empathy and listening to other people who may also be sad or grieving. 

Children are never too young to learn about being a good friend, and The Rabbit Listened is a great introduction to talking about what this means, especially in difficult times. 

In this irresistibly illustrated picture book, Taylor is sad and in need of a friend. All of the animals have advice for Taylor that doesn’t feel quite right. However, all the rabbit does is listen, and it turns out that this is exactly the comfort that Taylor needs. 

A delightful book about friendship, advice, and what we need when we feel sad, The Rabbit Listened is a perfect entry into conversations about emotions and coping with sadness. 

How Do Books Help Children Cope With Grief?

Father and little son reading book on sofa at home.

Reading about grief is helpful to parents because it provides a gentle entry into what may feel like a hard or awkward conversation, especially if you’re feeling upset and emotional in your own grieving process. 

Children’s books make it easier to comfort a grieving child and to talk to them about the loss of a loved one. They can help parents answer their children’s questions with age-appropriate language and concepts. 

When discussing end-of-life issues with children, it is important to use books written using empathetic language that is also straightforward. 

Books that use metaphors for death like “sleeping,” can actually confuse or frighten young children because they think literally. They may start to equate falling asleep with dying and begin fearing sleep, for example.

However, books about grief can be a useful way to discuss your children’s feelings and emotions, introduce them to ideas like mindfulness, and help everyone in the family who’s dealing with the loss of a loved one.    

Developmental Benefits of Reading Books About Grief for Children

Happy mother with sad little son reading book at park.

Although we may be reluctant to introduce topics like grief, loss, or death to our children, according to a recent article in the Journal of Palliative Medicine22. Arruda-Colli, M. N., Weaver, M. S., & Wiener, L.. Communication About Dying, Death, and Bereavement: A Systematic Review of Children’s Literature. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2017;20(5), 548–559. https://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2016.0494, “The ability to adapt to loss, cope with death, and express grief is critical for healthy childhood development.”

Reading age-appropriate stories about death and grieving can help a child understand that everyone experiences loss and that they are not alone in having difficult feelings about it. This kind of realization helps children build emotional resilience.  

These kinds of books can also help children understand why the people around them may be sad or upset and will help them develop empathy, emotional intelligence, and concern for others.   

What to Look for in a Children’s Book About Grief

Cute little Afro-American girl with scarf on her neck is ill, lying in bed with her mother.

Depending on your child’s age, what they might be going through, and your own beliefs, there are some different things you’ll want to look for in a children’s book about grief. 

Age of child 
  • What is the target age group for the book?
  • What is the target developmental age for the book?
  • Is your child ready for this book at this moment, or would something simpler suit them better?
  • Will your child understand the language in the book?
Use of language 
  • Does the book use confusing euphemisms like “falling asleep” to describe death?
  • Does the book use clear language that your child can understand and words that they will hear being used by adults at this time?
  • Does the book reflect your child’s background, relationships, culture, and/or family?
  • Is the main character relatable to your child?
Specific subject 
  • Whose death is depicted in the book?
  • Is it too close to the situation your child is experiencing?
  • Is it too far from the situation your child is experiencing?
  • Will the illustrations be helpful to your child?
  • Will your child find the illustrations confusing?
  • Is the imagery in the book too metaphorical for your child to understand?


What are some engaging and interactive activities that can be paired with children’s books about grief?

There are many social-emotional activities that you can do with toddlers and children in addition to reading about grief that can help them process their emotions and remember your loved ones. 

For young children, drawing pictures, looking at photos and videos, and telling stories about the person can help them understand what has happened. 

For older children, making a scrapbook of memories, planting a tree or another plant in the person’s memory, making a memory box, or making a donation to a relevant charity can help to bring them a sense of closure.  


  1. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, August 1). How To Explain Death to a Child. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-explain-death-to-a-child
  2. Arruda-Colli, M. N., Weaver, M. S., & Wiener, L. (2017). Communication About Dying, Death, and Bereavement: A Systematic Review of Children’s Literature. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 20(5), 548–559. https://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2016.0494
Healing Young Hearts: Children's Books Guiding Through Grief

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