Thank you for coming by. Today, I am sharing some children’s books that deal with difficult topics – loss, death, grief. You may remember that early in the school year I subbed in the school library of a friend of mine. Pat had been diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer which lead to her sudden early retirement. When I accepted the job, I didn’t know anything more than that Pat had retired unexpectedly due to illness.
In my first days at Whitaker, I learned about Pat’s prognosis. My heart filled with a heavy sadness that kept me awake at night and followed me into work everyday. Being in the library my friend loved so much was difficult. In introducing myself to the faculty, staff and students, I felt the need to somehow explain why I was there. The adults knew Pat was very ill but the children did not. In my introduction to them, I explained that I had retired to have neck surgery. Once I had recovered, I missed books and babies so much that I began subbing. I always ended by saying that maybe their librarian would return, if only for a story and to say hi, once she was feeling better.
However, on September 21, Pat lost very short-lived battle with cancer. That was a very difficult day on campus. The teachers arrived to school just having heard the news. And those who had worked with Pat for any length of time were extremely distraught. Counselors were brought in from neighboring schools to comfort them. The students, especially the older ones, were very perceptive and realized immediately something was terribly wrong. So the decision was made to share with them the news of their librarian’s passing.
In my grief, I began combing the library collection for books dealing with death and loss. I wanted to have them available for the teachers and students but also for the counselors who were helping us through. While death is a reality of daily life, there were very few books in the library that addressed that subject. I turned to Amazon for help.
Here are the books I ordered.
Telling the Children
The responsibility of telling the students about Ms. Arnold’s passing fell on the principal and counselor and some of the other leadership team. Those children who were most upset by the news were encouraged to stay with a counselor until they felt like joining the rest of their class. I kept the books above available until my time at Whitaker was over. Then I debated about whether to leave them or bring them home with me. Decided to bring them home to have on hand for my granddaughters, someday.
While each of the books received positive reviews on Amazon, my favorite was…
The Goodbye Book
Written by Todd Parr, the author/illustrator of more than 40 children’s books, The Goodbye Book can be used with children (and their adults) dealing with grief or enduring any kind of loss. In her Amazon review for “School Library Journal”, Liz Anderson writes:
PreS-Gr 2—This picture book shows young children that even when goodbyes bring sadness and unfamiliar emotions, those feelings will ease with the help of time, remembrance, and support. The Goodbye Book addresses the range of emotions someone might feel after a loss, including anger, sadness, lack of joy, and denial, as well as the desire to stop eating or sleeping. Parr explains that even when a person starts to feel better, there could be moments of grief or confusion, but at the end of the day, another person will always be available to provide love and comfort. The colorful illustrations, in an naive, childlike style and outlined in black, feature a goldfish that experiences the emotions discussed throughout the book. Young readers can infer what the goldfish is feeling by looking at the picture, and the imaginative representation gives the book a soothing tone. The Goodbye Book never specifies what the exact scenario is, making it an appropriate choice whether a child is dealing with death or another difficult situation. VERDICT An honest but gentle look at the grief that comes with saying goodbye. An essential purchase for all early childhood collections.
The illustrations in The Goodbye Book work to tell the story as much or more than the slight text. Even children who cannot read or those who do not read in English can benefit from the message of this book. The main character is a fish, who has experienced the loss of his bowl mate.
Parr suggests different emotions that the goldfish might be dealing with as he progresses through the stages of grief. The fish might not know how to feel. Maybe sad. Mad. He might not want to talk with anyone, and prefer to hide instead.
Might not feel like eating or sleeping.
But at this point, the author begins to suggest activities that the fish might do to feel better.
Goldfish can find someone to talk to. Draw a picture. Write down his feelings.
Fish may question where his friend is now. He will no doubt remember the love he shared with his pal. Remember the times they had together. And realize that it is ok to miss him.
But most of all, goldfish realizes that there is always someone to love him and help him through this loss.
The colors Parr uses in his illustrations are soothing and uplifting. The drawings are simple but perfectly convey the encouraging message of the book. And the concise text provides a springboard for discussion. While the “School Library Journal” review suggests The Goodbye Book is most appropriate for very young children, I can imagine using it with anyone dealing with grief and loss.
Publication and Purchase
- Age Range: 5 – 6 years
- Grade Level: Preschool – 1
- Hardcover: 32 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (November 3, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316404977
- Average Customer Review: 41 customer reviews
My second favorite book lends itself better to use with older elementary school-aged children. Those who are experiencing loss, grief, significant change or distance imposed between them and someone they love.
The Invisible String
Like The Goodbye Book, Patrice Karst’s The Invisible String has received much praise. On Amazon.com reviewer at “Parents Magazine” writes:
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a heartwarming story that reassures children that even though they can’t always be with a loved one, they’re always in each other’s hearts. Whenever a child thinks about a family member, THE INVISIBLE STRING gives a tug. This book is an excellent way to begin the conversation about death. The gentle story illustrates that we are still connected by love even after someone passes.
Because I live in a military community where many of my students have parents deployed overseas, this review on Amazon.com by the National Military Family Association resonated with me:
THE INVISIBLE STRING teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an invisible string. While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.
I can think of so many instances when this book could bring comfort. To young children and older ones alike. Even to senior citizens separated from their families or struggling with memory issues. The story opens when a brother and sister are awakened by awakened by a thunderstorm. They run to their mother for comfort.
She shares a memory from her own childhood. How her mother explained that loved ones are always connected by an invisible string. Even though it is impossible to see the string, we can feel it with our hearts and in the memories of those we love.
When her children are doubtful, the mother describes how the string can span even the widest distances between two hearts.
And because love is the strongest of all emotions, the invisible string doesn’t falter even during periods of anger or disagreement. Finally, the brother and sister are ready to return to bed. As their mom tucks them under the covers, the children begin to think of the invisible strings that connect them to those they love, and the strings that their friends have. And as they drift off to sleep, they dream of a world where everyone is connected by invisible strings. And no one is ever alone.
The pastel watercolors of Geoff Stevenson’s childlike illustrations wrap the reader like a soft blanket or warm hug. While this story isn’t as easy to follow without reading the text as The Goodbye Book, children will be able to make inferences from the illustrations. And the sparse text allows plenty of room for individual interpretation. The Invisible String can offer comfort in a number of situations.
Publication and Purchase
- Age Range: 4 – 8 years
- Grade Level: Preschool – 3
- Hardcover: 36 pages
- Publisher: Devorss & Co.; 4/30/01 edition (September 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0875167349
- Average Customer Review: 665 customer reviews
The other 2 books in the first photo above receive honorable mention. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers offers a good story about keeping alive the memories of shared times with someone we’ve lost. A little girl loses someone (perhaps a grandfather) and tucks her heart into a bottle to protect it. When the bottle becomes too cumbersome, the girl seeks a way to remove her heart and put it back where it belongs. Although, the child is enable for some reason to release her heart herself.
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen was the book I thought might be most beneficial to the older children at Whitaker who had known Ms. Arnold longest. This story validates the various feelings rolled into the emotion of grief as told in the format of a recipe for tear soup. The illustrations are a little dark and caricaturish and the story felt heavy.
Have you ever had to comfort a child through a significant loss or period of grief? What did you do to make things better? When my daughters’ father went to Desert Storm, I bought them handkerchief babies. They were similar to the cloth dolls the children of Civil War soldiers would keep close while their fathers were away at war. And my daughters and I developed a kind of secret language of signals for our love when we were unable to be together.
In trying to describe her love for her sister and me, my youngest daughter Lauren used to say she loved us from one mountain to the other one mountain. In El Paso, there is a mountain range in the distance as far as you can see to the east and another mountain range as far as you can see to the west. Lauren was saying she loved us as far as she could see in either direction. An example of our secret language that we still say today.
Hope you won’t need these titles anytime in the near future. Hope I won’t either. But it is good to know where we can turn for help in explaining and consoling a child when they struggle with loss and grief.
Hugs and kisses,