Picture books about death and grief bear such a weighty responsibility. These children’s books help kids process the trauma of losing a loved one in death, especially at ages when it can be tough for parents to explain. If you’re on the lookout for books like these because you’ve lost a loved one in death, I am so sorry. I hope you find one that speaks to your circumstances. This list features picture books about losing grandparents, friends, pets, parents, and much more.
Picture Books About Losing a Loved One in Death
Here are some of the best picture books about death and grieving:
The Invisible String
Published: September 1, 2000
“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. The Invisible String reaches from heart to heart. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach, anyway? Does it ever go away? Read all about it! THE INVISIBLE STRING is a very simple approach to overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation with an imaginative flair that children can easily identify with and remember. Here is a warm and delightful lesson teaching young and old that we aren’t ever really alone and reminding children (and adults!) that when we are loved beyond anything we can imagine. “People who love each other are always connected by a very special String, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love.”
Thus begins this heart-warming and reassuring story that addresses the issue of “separation anxiety” (otherwise known as the sense of existential ‘aloneness’) to children of all ages.
Specifically written to address children’s fear of being apart from the ones they love, The Invisible String delivers a particularly compelling message in today’s uncertain times that though we may be separated from the ones we care for, whether through anger, or distance or even death, love is the unending connection that binds us all, and, by extension, ultimately binds every person on the planet to everyone else. Parents and children everywhere who are looking for reassurance and reaffirmation of the transcendent power of love, to bind, connect and comfort us through those inevitable times when life challenges us!
I Miss You: A First Look at Death
Published: June 1, 2012
When a close friend or family member dies, it can be difficult for children to express their feelings. I Miss You helps boys and girls understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them to have following a loved one’s death. Titles in the sensitively presented A First Look At series explore the dynamics of various relationships experienced by children of preschool through early school age. Kids are encouraged to understand personal feelings and social problems as a first step in dealing with them. Written by psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas, these books promote positive interaction among children, parents, and teachers. The story lines are simple and direct–easily accessible to younger children. There are full-color illustrations on every page.
The Goodbye Book
Published: November 3, 2015
Through the lens of a pet fish who has lost his companion, Todd Parr tells a moving and wholly accessible story about saying goodbye. Touching upon the host of emotions children experience, Todd reminds readers that it’s okay not to know all the answers, and that someone will always be there to support them. An invaluable resource for life’s toughest moments.
Published: April 12, 2016
With subtlety and grace, Benji Davies paints a poignant and ultimately uplifting picture of loss.
At the bottom of Syd’s garden, through the gate and past the tree, is Grandad’s house. Syd can let himself in any time he likes. But one day when Syd comes to call, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic, where he ushers Syd through a door, and the two of them journey to a wild, beautiful island awash in color where Grandad decides he will remain. So Syd hugs Grandad one last time and sets sail for home. Visiting Grandad’s house at the bottom of the garden again, he finds it just the same as it’s always been — except that Grandad isn’t there anymore. Sure to provide comfort to young children struggling to understand loss, Benji Davies’s tale is a sensitive and beautiful reminder that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they’re gone.
Published: October 8, 2019
When Katherena and her mother move to a small town, Katherena feels lonely and out of place. But when she meets an elderly woman artist who lives next door, named Agnes––her world starts to change.
Katherena and Agnes share the same passions for arts and crafts, birds, and nature. But as the seasons change, can Katherna navigate the failing health of her new friend?
Published: August 1, 2011
Written and illustrated by a new talent in children’s picture books, this extraordinary book deals with the loss of a parent from a child’s point of view. Perfectly pitched text and evocative artwork explore the many emotions a bereaved child may experience, from anger to guilt and from sadness to bewilderment. And importantly, the book also focuses on the positive the recognition that the child is still part of a family, and that his memories of his mother are to be treasured. Beautifully illustrated with moments of wonderful warmth and the gentlest humour, this is a touching, honest and helpful book that approaches a difficult subject with great integrity.
Cry, Heart, But Never Break
Published: February 16, 2016
Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gently, naturally. And he comes with enough time to share a story with the children that helps them to realize the value of loss to life and the importance of being able to say goodbye.
Duck, Death and the Tulip
Published: August 1, 2016
In a curiously heart-warming and elegantly illustrated story, a duck strikes up an unlikely friendship with Death. Duck and Death play together and discuss big questions. Death, dressed in a dressing gown and slippers, is sympathetic and kind and will be duck’s companion until the end.
“I’m cold,” she said one evening. “Will you warm me a little?”
Snowflakes drifted down.
Something had happened. Death looked at the duck.
She’d stopped breathing. She lay quite still.
Explaining the topic of death in a way that is honest, lightly philosophical and with gentle humor, this enchanting book has been translated into multiple languages, adapted into an animated movie and short film and performed on stages worldwide.
Published: February 23, 2016
A beautiful, honest portrait of loss and deep friendship told through the story of two iconic polar bears.
Gus lives in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city, and he spends his days with Ida. Ida is right there. Always.
Then one sad day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick, and she isn’t going to get better. The friends help each other face the difficult news with whispers, sniffles, cuddles, and even laughs. Slowly Gus realizes that even after Ida is gone, she will still be with him—through the sounds of their city, and the memories that live in their favorite spots.
A Stone for Sascha
Published: May 8, 2018
This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.
The Heart and the Bottle
Published: March 4, 2010
Once there was a girl whose life was filled with all the wonder of the world around her. Then one day something occurred that caused the girl to take her heart and put it in a safe place.
However, after that it seemed that more things were empty than before. Would she know when and how to get her heart back?
Published: November 8, 2011
When the boy in this story wakes to find that his mother has died, he is overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and fear that he will forget her. He shuts all the windows to keep in his mother’s familiar smell and scratches open the cut on his knee to remember her comforting voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad anymore, and when Grandma visits and throws open the windows, it’s more than the boy can take — until his grandmother shows him another way to feel that his mom’s love is near. With tenderness, touches of humor, and unflinching emotional truth, Charlotte Moundlic captures the loneliness of grief through the eyes of a child, rendered with sympathy and charm in Olivier Tallec’s expressive illustrations.
Lost in the Clouds
Published: May 4, 2021
Billy misses his mommy very much. She lives in the clouds. Some days when he and Daddy play in the garden, he knows that Mommy is letting the sun shine for them. But not all days are like that. Sometimes Mommy’s clouds are dark, and Billy feels sad and alone.
The Rabbit Listened
Published: February 20, 2018
When something sad happens, Taylor doesn’t know where to turn. All the animals are sure they have the answer. The chicken wants to talk it out, but Taylor doesn’t feel like chatting. The bear thinks Taylor should get angry, but that’s not quite right either. One by one, the animals try to tell Taylor how to act, and one by one they fail to offer comfort. Then the rabbit arrives. All the rabbit does is listen . . . which is just what Taylor needs.
I’ll Always Love You
Published: March 25, 2015
A gentle and moving story about losing a friend, and the importance of always expressing your love.
Elfie the dachshund is the best dog anyone could every ask for. Every day, she and her owner explore and play together. And every night, her owner tells her “I’ll always love you.” Elfie owner grow up togther, but growing up can mean having to say goodbye to the ones you love. This tender story is a perfect way to make the topic of loss a little less scary for kids (and grownups).
The Memory Box: A Book About Grief
Published: September 26, 2017
“I’m scared I’ll forget you…”
From the perspective of a young child, Joanna Rowland artfully describes what it is like to remember and grieve a loved one who has died. The child in the story creates a memory box to keep mementos and written memories of the loved one, to help in the grieving process. Heartfelt and comforting, The Memory Box will help children and adults talk about this very difficult topic together. The unique point of view allows the reader to imagine the loss of any they have loved – a friend, family member, or even a pet. A parent guide in the back includes information on helping children manage the complex and difficult emotions they feel when they lose someone they love, as well as suggestions on how to create their own memory box.
Death is Stupid
Published: August 4, 2020
When someone we love dies, adults often say things like, “She’s in a better place now,” or “I know how you feel.” You do not, one little boy thinks after his grandma passes away. Caught in the swirl of anger, confusion, and fear that accompanies grief and mourning, he doesn’t just think death is unfair—he thinks death is stupid. It takes him some time, but when he starts sharing cherished memories of his grandma and working in her garden, he starts to feel just a little bit better. Necessary, beautiful, and ultimately reassuring, Death Is Stupid helps make death a little less scary—for kids and adults.
Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
Published: August 15, 2009
Chester Raccoon’s good friend Skiddel Squirrel has had an accident and will not be returning – ever. Chester is upset that he won’t get to play with his friend anymore. Mrs. Raccoon suggests that Chester and his friends create some memories of Skiddel, so that they will have good memories when they miss him. Chester, his brother Ronny, and their friends decide to gather at the pond, where they combine their memories and create a touching celebration of their friend’s life.
Many young children must face the loss of loved ones or the need to attend a funeral. This sweet story will help children to understand the positive purpose behind memorial services and how “making memories” can provide cheer and comfort when missing an absent loved one.
The Rough Patch
Published: August 14, 2018
Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their prize-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickly weeds and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.
But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his isolation and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.
Where Lily Isn’t
Published: January 21, 2020
Where Lily Isn’t is Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s beautiful bereavement picture book celebrating the love of a lost pet.
Lily ran and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged and licked and snuggled.
But not now.
It is hard to lose a pet. There is sadness, but also hope―for a beloved pet lives on in your heart, your memory, and your imagination.
The Dead Bird
Published: March 1, 2016
One day, the children find a bird lying on its side with its eyes closed and no heartbeat. They are very sorry, so they decide to say good-bye. In the park, they dig a hole for the bird and cover it with warm sweet-ferns and flowers. Finally, they sing sweet songs to send the little bird on its way.
A beautiful book to share with children beginning to grapple with loss.
Big Cat, Little Cat
Published: March 14, 2017
There was a cat
who lived alone.
Until the day
a new cat came . . .
And so a story of friendship begins, following the two cats through their days, months, and years until one day, the older cat has to go. And he doesn’t come back.
Why Do I Feel so Sad?: A Grief Book for Children
Published: July 14, 2020
Help kids start to heal after grief and loss—for ages 5 to 7
Why Do I Feel So Sad? is an inclusive, age-appropriate, illustrated kid’s book designed to help young children understand their own grief. The examples and beautiful illustrations are rooted in real life, exploring the truth of loss and change, while remaining comforting and hopeful.
Broad enough to encompass many forms of grief, this book reassures kids that they are not alone in their feelings and even suggests simple things they can do to feel better, like drawing, dancing, and talking to friends and family.
Why Do I Feel So Sad? is:
Published: March 26, 2019
A heartwarming story about loss, healing, and how to be a friend during hard times.
This tender exploration of loss illuminates the sustaining power of kindness, empathy, and friendship. It will resonate with anyone who has experienced hardship or grief, from the death of a loved one or a pet, to the transition to a new home, family situation, or learning environment. It is especially comforting during this time of social distancing and the uncertainty around what the future holds, sensitively demonstrating that we are stronger together.
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
Published: February 3, 2005
Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.
Sad things happen to everyone, and sometimes people feel sad for no reason at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen. In this book the author writes about his sadness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it — like telling himself that everyone has sad stuff (not just him) and trying every day to do something he can be proud of. Expressively illustrated by the extraordinary Quentin Blake, this is a very personal story that speaks to everyone, from children to parents to grandparents, teachers to grief counselors. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel deeply sad, the truth of this book will surely touch you.
My Father’s Arms Are a Boat
Published: February 5, 2013
It’s quieter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feeling the warmth and closeness of his father, he begins to ask questions about the birds, the foxes, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go outside under the starry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assurances calm his worried son. Here we feel the cycles of life and life’s continuity, even in the face of absence and loss, so strongly and clearly that we know at the end that everything will, somehow, be all right.
The Memory Tree
Published: Fox has lived a long and happy life in the forest, but now he is tired. He lies down in his favourite clearing, and falls asleep for ever. Before long, Fox’s friends begin to gather in the clearing. One by one, they tell stories of the special moments that they shared with Fox. And so, as they share their memories, a tree begins to grow, becoming bigger and stronger with each memory, sheltering and protecting all the animals in the forest, just as Fox did when he was alive.
Always and Forever
Published: May 1, 2004
When Fox dies, Mole, Hare, and Otter are devastated. They feel they will never get over their great sadness. How can life go on without him? Then one day Squirrel comes to visit. She reminds Fox’s family of all the funny things he used to do. And as the friends share dinner and tell stories, they realize at last that in their hearts and memories, Fox is still with them, and he will be–always and forever.
With thoughtful, delicate illustrations by acclaimed artist Debi Gliori, this gentle story is just right for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one.
Lifetimes: A Beautiful Way to Explain Life and Death to Children
Published: September 16, 2009
When the death of a relative, a friend, or a pet happens or is about to happen . . . how can we help a child to understand?
Lifetimes is a moving book for children of all ages, even parents too. It lets us explain life and death in a sensitive, caring, beautiful way. Lifetimes tells us about beginnings. And about endings. And about living in between. With large, wonderful illustrations, it tells about plants. About animals. About people. It tells that dying is as much a part of living as being born. It helps us to remember. It helps us to understand.
Lifetimes . . . a very special, very important book for you and your child. The book that explains—beautifully—that all living things have their own special Lifetimes.
Ladder to the Moon
Published: April 12, 2011
Little Suhaila wishes she could have known her grandma, who would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could, Mama says. And one night, Suhaila gets her wish when a golden ladder appears at her window, and Grandma Annie invites the girl to come along with her on a magical journey. In a rich and deeply personal narrative, Maya Soetoro-Ng draws inspiration from her mother’s love for family, her empathy for others, and her ethic of service to imagine this remarkable meeting. Evoking fantasy and folklore, the story touches on events that have affected people across the world in our time and reaffirms our common humanity. Yuyi Morales’s breathtaking artwork illuminates the dreamlike tale, reminding us that loved ones lost are always with us, and that sometimes we need only look at the moon and remember.
Where Do They Go?
Published: November 2, 2016
Bestselling novelist (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and children’s (The Tia Lola Stories) author Julia Alvarez’s new picture book is a beautifully crafted poem for children that gently addresses the emotional side of death. The book asks, “When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? … Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, ‘You’re perfect, just as you are’? …” Illustrated by Vermont woodcut artist, Sabra Field, Where Do They Go? is a beautiful and comforting meditation on death, asking questions young readers might have about what happens to those they love after they die.
There they are: 31 of the best picture books about death and grief. Which of these books have you read? Which ones did I miss?
More Picture Book Lists
- Picture books about dealing with anxiety
- Great picture books about how to be kind
- Picture books about disability
Looking for death and grief books for older kids? Here’s my middle grade book list about death and grieving.
All these beautiful, poignant books brought tears to my eyes. I shared the link with a friend who recently lost her brother and her children who lost a beloved uncle. Thanks for sharing.
Such a thoughtful list. I own a few of these books, and know what a balm the perfect book can be in a time of loss and grief. Thanks for this.
Afoma Umesi says
You’re welcome, Emily!