whoever you want to be…

Helping children say goodbye

My mother-in-law – Harry and Joe’s grandma – died last week. We knew it was coming, but of course it was still a shock. And even though we’d told the boys she wasn’t going to get better – and we’d talked about her dying – I didn’t think they really got it. I mean, I don’t really get it, so what chance do a 9-year-old and 4-year-old have?

The boys know they can ask us anything and they have – questions have ranged from “What happens to the body?” to “Can I have her iPad?” (just realised I’ve made my children sound super-callous – they also asked “What will we do without her?”) – but I wanted a way to talk about death and dying without sitting down and having A Big Talk.

So I went online and ordered books. Books are my way of dealing with pretty much everything. When my own mum was dying and I was quoting information – chemotherapy statistics, I think – to my family, my aunty said, “I think you can read too much.” I disagree.

These are the books I bought.


Are you Sad, Little Bear? by Rachel Rivett

I bought this one to read with Joe. It’s lovely because it’s not overtly about death – even though it begins with Grandmother Bear going for a long walk – it’s about change and the seasons and, you know, the circle of life. I love the bit where Little Bear asks the sun if it’s sad to leave and the sun says “Just because you can’t see me, it doesn’t mean I’m not there. Remember that.”

Family Picture Book

Always and Forever by Debi Gliori and Alan Durant

I read this one with Joe too. It’s the story of a group of friends, one of whom, Fox, gets ill and goes off to die. The friends are very sad without him, but, as time goes on (the seasons change, so it’s a matter of months, not days) they realise they can look back and remember the happy times with Fox, rather than being sad he’s gone, and that Fox lives on in their hearts (which is what I’ve told the boys about Grandma).

I really liked this one, but Joe misunderstood and thought (insisted!) Fox had come back to life at the end.


The Sad Book by Michael Rosen

I was actually dreading reading this book, knowing that it was written after the death of Michael Rosen’s son, but it’s just wonderful. I read it on my own first to check it wasn’t too sad, but then struggled reading it aloud to Harry. And it made Harry cry. Unlike the other books, I didn’t feel like it ended on a positive note and I found the last picture harrowing, but I know other people disagree. However, I do think we’ll re-read it and I want the boys to know it’s ok to feel sad and that they might feel sad for a long time.


The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Oh, this book. I love Oliver Jeffers’ books so I picked this up in Asda ages ago and ended up crying. In Asda. On my own. I bought the app for the boys and found I couldn’t even get through it. I think it’s a little difficult for my boys (particularly Joe) to understand – when the little girl’s beloved grandad dies, she puts her heart in a bottle to protect it from being hurt again – and there’s a picture of her sitting in front of her grandad’s empty chair that’s just… *cries*

But it really is gorgeous if you’re made of stronger stuff than me.


About K

YA writer. Voracious reader. Feminist. Home educator. Addicted to tea and Twitter.

6 comments on “Helping children say goodbye

  1. Sarah
    July 26, 2013

    I’m definitely *not* made of stronger stuff and have also been known to cry in public. Often. I love this post, and thank you for the book recommendations. I’ve been thinking about getting the Rosen book for ages (not for a specific reason, just wanting to let the kids know that it’s okay to be sad/that i don’t expect or require them to hide those kinds of feelings) but I was worried it would be too harrowing for me. I think I will, now, although I might not read it aloud…

    • Keris
      July 26, 2013

      Reading aloud is so much harder, isn’t it? When I tried to read Heart and the Bottle, Harry kept looking at me to check if I was crying cos my voice was so wobbly. The Rosen book is a masterpiece – the illustrations are incredible. I read recently that Quentin Blake said trying to convey Rosen smiling even though he was sad was the hardest illustration he’s ever had to do.

  2. liveotherwise
    July 26, 2013

    Some great recommendations there. My favourite (seems inappropriate!) book about loss for children is Lifetimes Is about the natural cycle of life, so not particularly helpful with deaths of younger people, but lovely for expected loss if that makes any sense.

    • Keris
      July 26, 2013

      Oh that looks wonderful, Jax – thank you.

  3. Karen Saunders
    July 26, 2013

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Keris. I’m just like you – reading everything I can get my hands on to help understand situations!
    I had a different interpretation of the Sad book though – I didn’t think the end was harrowing, I got a message of hope from the fact he’s sitting in the dark looking at the candle. I interpreted it as there being light in the darkness, even when grief feels overwhelming and horribly sad.
    Grandpa is also a good one, although I had to hide it after my mum died because it makes me cry too much.

    • Keris
      July 26, 2013

      Thanks, Karen. Actually that is how I explained the ending to Harry, but I still find the illustration incredibly upsetting. He just looks so devastated.

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This entry was posted on July 26, 2013 by in Bea Family, Bea Literary and tagged , , , .
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