11 Kids’ Books on Dealing with Loss, Grief, Illness and Trauma
When children experience serious illness, loss, grief or trauma, it’s crucial to allow them to express and cope with emotions while at the same time, helping them understand, as developmentally appropriate as possible, what is happening. As parents and caregivers help children process these often times new and intense emotions, books are a great resource that can be used to open discussion, grow understanding, and offer encouragement and hope. Books are also useful for fostering understanding and empathy in children who have a friend or classmate going through difficult times or even for those who are just curious.
Here is a list of ten picture books that address a wide range and variety of emotions that young readers may experience when faced with serious illness, loss, grief or trauma. Though these books may not provide all the answers an affected child seeks, they may be able to offer sympathy, a reminder of love and support, and some relief from the weight of confusion and uncertainty.
By Tiffany Papageorge, Illustrated by Erwin Madrid
Publisher’s Synopsis: When children experience loss, our instinct is to protect them from pain, so we don’t discuss it or prepare them. But pain and confusion aren’t going away—they’re part of life. In fact, one of the best ways we can help kids through grief and change is to encourage them to express their emotions.
Tiffany Papageorge’s award-winning book My Yellow Balloon™ is a poignant tale of love, loss and letting go, and will serve as a powerful tool for parents, teachers, librarians, and healing professionals.
My Yellow Balloon™ is centered on a boy named Joey and his best friend: a bright yellow balloon. Joey and his balloon do everything together, until the balloon accidentally slips of Joey’s wrist and flies far, far away.
Ages 4-8| Minoan Moon Publishing | October 2014 | ISBN: 978-0990337003
By Julie Aigner Clark, Illustrated by Jana Christy
Publisher’s Synopsis: When someone you love has cancer, how can you make them smile? A cuddle, a story, a kiss—and thoughts of you. Because you are the best medicine.
Watching someone you love go through cancer treatment is scary—especially for a child. In this courageous and sensitive book, cancer survivor Julie Clark creates sweet and poignant memories that remind us how children can nurture people they care about at a time when optimism and love are the most needed.
Ages 4-8 | Balzer + Bray |September 2010 | ISBN: 978-0061956447
By Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, Illustrated by Taylor Bills
Publisher’s Synopsis: Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss is a family story book that centers around an old and somewhat wise woman, Grandy. Grandy has just suffered a big loss in her life and so she is headed to the kitchen to make a special batch of Tear Soup. To season her soup Grandy adds memories like the good times and the bad times, the silly and the sad times. She does not want to forget even one precious memory of her loss.
Ages 8 and Up | Grief Watch | June 2005 | ISBN: 978-0961519766
By Renee Londner, Illustrated by Martha Aviles
Publisher’s Synopsis: A little boy and his family gather at the cemetery for the unveiling of his beloved grandpa’s gravestone, bringing stones to place on the grave, as is the Jewish tradition. They tell stories that help the boy deal with his loss, reminding him of the wonderful memories he has of his grandpa.
Ages 5-9 | Kar-Ben Publishing | 2013 | ISBN: 9780761374961
By Patrice Karst, Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson
Publisher’s Synopsis: “That’s impossible,” said twins Jeremy & Liza after their Mom told them they’re all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. “What kind of string?” They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, “An Invisible String made of love.” That’s where the story begins. A story that teaches of the tie that really binds. Parents and loved ones feel the tug whenever kids give it; and kids feel the tug that comes right back: the Invisible String reaches from heart to heart. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach, anyway? Read all about it!
Whether it’s a loved one far away, or a parent in the next room, this delightful book illustrates a new way to cope with something all children and parents confront sooner or later; a child’s fear of loneliness and separation.
Ages 3 and Up | Devorss & Co | September 2000 | ISBN: 978-0875167343
By Laura Krasny Brown, Illustrated by Marc Brown
Publisher’s Synopsis: The authors explain in simple language the feelings people may have regarding the death of a loved one and the ways to honor the memory of someone who has died.
Ages 4-8 | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | April 1998 | ISBN: 9780316119559
By Margaret Holmes and Sasha Mudlaff, Illustrated by Cary Pillo
Publisher’s Synopsis: Sherman Smith saw the most terrible thing happen. At first he tried to forget about it, but soon something inside him started to bother him. He felt nervous for no reason. Sometimes his stomach hurt. He had bad dreams. And he started to feel angry and do mean things, which got him in trouble. Then he met Ms. Maple, who helped him talk about the terrible thing that he had tried to forget. Now Sherman is feeling much better.
This gently told and tenderly illustrated story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode, including physical abuse, school or gang violence, accidents, homicide, suicide, and natural disasters such as floods or fire. An afterword by Sasha J. Mudlaff written for parents and other caregivers offers extensive suggestions for helping traumatized children, including a list of other sources that focus on specific events.
Ages 4-8 | Magination Press | 2000 | ISBN: 978-1-55798-642-9
By Susan Farber Straus, Illustrated by Maria Bogade
Publisher’s Synopsis: Healing Days is a sensitive and reassuring story intended for children who have experienced trauma and covers the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that many kids have after a bad and scary thing happens.
A useful book to read with a parent or therapist, Healing Days emphasizes that children are not to blame for what happened, and that they can get help and look forward to a happy future. Kids will begin to understand their response to the trauma and learn some strategies for feeling safer, more relaxed, and more confident.
Ages 6-11 | Magination Press |2013 | ISBN: 978-1-4338-1292-7
By Julie Kraulis
Publisher’s Synopsis: Whimsy’s heavy things are weighing her down. She tries to sweep them under the rug, but she trips over them. She tries to put them in a tree, but they fall on her. She even tries to sail them out to sea, but they always come back. Eventually Whimsy decides to deal with the heavy things one at a time… and a surprising thing happens. With exquisite illustrations and delightfully simple text, Whimsy’s Heavy Things is a sweet story about changing the things that weigh us down into the things that lift us up.
Ages 4-6 | Tundra Books | September 2013 | ISBN: 978-1-77049-403-9
By Judith Viorst, Illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Publisher’s Synopsis: “My cat Barney died this Friday. I was very sad. My mother said we could have a funeral for him, and I should think of ten good things about Barney so I could tell them”… But the small boy who loved Barney can only think of nine. Later, while talking with his father, he discovers the tenth — and begins to understand.
Ages 6-9 | Atheneum Books for Young Readers | September 1987 | ISBN 978-0689712036
By Leo Buscaglia
Publisher’s Synopsis: This story by Leo Buscaglia is a warm, wonderfully wise and strikingly simple story about a leaf names Freddie. How Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter’s snow, is an inspiring allegory illustrating the delicate balance between life and death.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf is a warm and thought-provoking story and both children and adults will be deeply touched by this inspiring book. This 20th anniversary edition of this beloved classic has helped thousands of people come to grips with life and death.
Ages 6-9 | Atheneum Books for Young Readers | September 1987 | ISBN 978-0689712036
For information on children grieving, we think this article “How Children Grieve” is a good resource.
This list of kids books on dealing with cancer, loss, grief and trauma was curated by Gi Hallmark. Follow along with our Picture Books and Social Graces categories to discover more great books just like the books in this list.