Some topics are hard to address with children especially young children when they have no personal experience of the situation, death and what it means, how the feel about it and what happens are all things that we don’t really want to talk to our children about, and then when they experience death for the first time it’s usually with a family member and we are in a situation ourselves where the questions that children ask and how we feel make it difficult to express.
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Finding books that you can read together with your child about death that are age appropriate and speak about it in a gentle and sympathetic manner are important. The author Holly Webb has just released a book A Tiger Tale which addresses death, aimed at children who are starting to read chapter books and will listen along whilst you read aloud it is “a moving story about coping with loss”.
Kate’s, a young girl, grandfather has died and she doesn’t want to talk about, it’s sad and she misses him, her mother wants her to talk about it but she doesn’t. She is lucky though she has a toy tiger her grandfather brought her, Amos, and holding him helps her to remember Granddad and he doesn’t seem so far away, but Amos is special and turns himself into a real tiger who smells and sounds like her Granddad.
Join Kate in the journey as she learns to cope with the loss of her Granddad in A Tiger Tale from Scholastic.
I am very excited to welcome Holly Webb to Rainy Day Mum to share with us a selection of 7 books that talk about death with children, so I hand over to Holly.
The following are such amazing books, and I feel so strongly about them all. Writing this list has made realise that what I love about these books is the way they talk about death as something that can be awful, and shocking, but in all of them the person who dies leaves their family and friends changed, and remembering them with enormous amounts of love (but not afraid to feel anger, fear and all the other natural reactions to a death).
Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
This was a book I read and reread as a child (as well as Back Home, my favourite of Michelle Magorian’s books). I read it again recently as I heard the author on the radio talking about the book, and I was fascinated to hear that she’d considered not including the death of one of the main characters. I remember being horrified, almost angry, when I first read the book – the death (not saying whose) seems so incredibly unfair after all that Will, the main character, has suffered. But as she said, the war was real, and it would have been cowardly not to show how horrific the losses were. My oldest son (Tom, and another of my sons is called William…) read Goodnight Mr Tom at school last year, and was equally shocked – he said it was the first book he’d read where a main character died, and he almost didn’t believe that it could be right, I remember the same feelings so clearly. Will’s grieving is described so realistically, as is the way he carries on, trying to think like his friend, so that he’s not forgotten.
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
I borrowed this from my school library, probably shortly after I read Goodnight Mr Tom – again Leslie’s death (this one is impossible to talk about without spoilers, sorry!) is so shocking. But the amazing world she created carries on for Jesse and May Belle. This is one book where the film is almost as good!
Goodbye Mog, Judith Kerr
I bought this for my boys as they’d loved all the other Mog books, and I knew that they would find it difficult when our own elderly cat died. Although it’s about a cat dying, Mog’s tiredness and readiness to leave are beautifully expressed and would help a child struggling with any loss. Mog’s continued love for her family, and the way she wants them to be happy after she’s gone, are heartbreaking.
No Matter What
I read this picture book long before I had children, and thought it was so beautiful that I made my husband read it – in Waterstones, where it made him cry… No Matter What is about love, going on for ever, even after we’re gone. As an adult, particularly if you have young children, do not read it in public if you don’t want to be seen crying!
The Velveteen Rabbit
When the Velveteen Rabbit’s owner has scarlet fever, all his toys have to be destroyed for fear of infection. But the rabbit has been so well loved that he’s made Real. Such a beautiful book, again not directly about death, but about being taken away from someone you love, and the way things change and carry on.
Oh dear. So horribly sad, and Charlotte’s death is so uncompromising, the way she’s left behind in all the litter of the fair. But she carries on in her children (who have never met her) and the stories that Wilbur tells of her.
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Not an obvious one, and the one that doesn’t immediately fit into my argument… But I’m working on a book inspired by The Secret Garden at the moment, and I’ve been reading it and thinking about it a lot. Death pervades this book – Mary’s parents have died, so she’s sent back from India to Misselthwaite. Colin’s mother has also died, after an accident in her beloved garden, leaving his father grief-stricken, and his son abandoned and terrified that he will die too. It’s not a book to give a child who’s grieving, more an example of how crippling (literally, in Colin’s case) grief can be. But then the garden itself comes back to life, bringing memories of Colin’s mother, who created it, and healing both the children. Frances Hodgson Burnett had some interesting theories about what would probably now be called positive thinking, but her descriptions of spring reawakening the garden are beautiful.
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About Holly Webb
Holly was born and grew up in south-east London, but spent a lot of time on the Suffolk coast. As a child, she had two dogs, a cat, and at one point, nine gerbils (an accident). At about ten, Holly fell in love with stories from Ancient Greek myths, which led to studying Latin and Greek, and eventually to reading Classics at university. She worked for five years as a children’s fiction editor, before deciding that writing was more fun, and easier to do from a sofa. Now living in Reading with her husband, three sons and one cat, Holly runs a Girl Guide group.