Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation

Contributed by Lauren Carpenter

Books2All reporter

Fri 12 Nov 2021

Children’s Grief Awareness Week runs from 18-25 November 2021, and Books2All is keen to encourage more conversations around childhood and adolescent grief. The Childhood Bereavement Network reports that 78% of UK 11-to 16-year-olds have been bereaved of a close relative or friend. Parents passing away leave around 41,000 dependant children aged 0 to 17 a year; that’s 112 newly bereaved children every day.

We will all experience the loss of people we love during our lives. As adults, although we might struggle to come to terms with our grief, we will usually understand what and why it has happened. Bereaved children can be adversely affected in several ways, including lower attainment in education and mental health issues that persist into adult life.

Books are always a fantastic gateway into the human condition. They are a useful way of opening a conversation with a bereaved child or for educating children generally about grief. Not least of all because reading to your child strengthens your bond and positively impacts a child’s wellbeing. Additionally, a bereaved child will identify with book characters experiencing a similar loss, and other child readers will develop empathy and awareness of grief. Let’s take a look at some books and resources that can help kickstart the conversation.

Grief Awareness choice 1: I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas

  • Suitable for ages 2-6

This story is part of the A First Look at series, which focuses on sensitive and important topics, and with a narrative that is accessible to children. Written by Pat Thomas, a psychologist and counsellor, I Miss You has images across every page to help explain death in a way that young children can understand. When a family member dies, children can often find it difficult to express their emotions. Thomas shows that death is part of the natural cycle of life, and the feelings we experience are valid and normal. The story focuses on the loss of a grandmother, but the message can be applied to any loved one.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
I Miss You: A First Look at Death published by Turtleback Books (2001)

Grief Awareness choice 2: The Memory Box: A Book about Grief by Joanna Rowland

  • Suitable for ages 4-8

Through a child narrator, The Memory Box gives an account of coming to terms with bereavement from a child’s perspective. It comes with a handy parental guide at the back that includes suggestions on how to create a memory box to remember the deceased loved one. Having an interactive element encourages the child reader to process their grief by creating something tangible.

Connecting with their emotions actively can help children feel less fearful of grief, plus it’s a great way for adults and children to remember the dead person together. Creating a memory box shows children that, although the person they loved may no longer be around, their memories will always be there.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
The Memory Box: A Book about Grief published by Sparkhouse Family (2017)

Grief Awareness choice 3: The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

  • Suitable for ages 4-8

Focusing specifically on the loss of a parent, The Heart and the Bottle tells the story of a young girl dealing with her father’s death. In reaction, she falls out of love with the things she once cherished and locks her heart away in a bottle to avoid any more hurt. When she meets another young girl who reminds her who she once was, her heart is unlocked. This uplifting story illustrates the importance of talking about grief instead of bottling up our emotions.

An excellent gateway into teaching children how to open up, The Heart and the Bottle is now available as an app. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, this interactive experience includes a drawing game that brings the child’s creations to life.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
The Heart and the Bottle published by Harper Collins (2010)

Grief Awareness choice 4: Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies

  • Suitable for ages 4-8

Syd and his grandad used to play together every day, but when Syd calls on him one day, grandad isn’t in any of his usual places. Via the attic, Syd finds grandad on an island and together they explore until grandad decides he’s going to stay on the island permanently. Syd struggles to comprehend life without grandad and visits his home in the hope of finding comfort, but it is not the same.

Grandad’s Island illustrates beautifully the challenges faced by children who have lost a grandparent and touches on the important role that grandparents often play in a child’s life.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
Grandad’s Island published by Simon & Schuster (2015)

Grief Awareness choice 5. Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers by Earl A. Grollman

  • Suitable from age 13

Moving away from younger years to adolescence, Straight Talk about Death is a novel for teenagers about how to cope after someone close dies. It’s a long story, but each section is in manageable chunks to allow for breaks when reading; something that could be beneficial if your teen prefers reading in short bursts. The no-nonsense approach deals honestly with the reality of losing someone, with great detail about each stage of grief to help young readers understand their feelings.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers published by Beacon Press (1993)

Grief Awareness choice 6: Fire in my Heart, Ice in My Veins by Enid Traisman

  • Suitable from age 13

Some bereaved teenagers will find comfort in Traisman’s Fire in my Heart, Ice in My Veins. It’s an interactive journal, which asks questions and leaves space for the reader to draw or write their responses. The youngster can work through at their own pace and vent feelings they might struggle to express verbally.

As well as the therapeutic benefit of journaling, the book becomes a cherished keepsake for your teenager. A trove of treasured memories and thoughts about the deceased person, for them to return to whenever consolation is needed.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
Fire in my Heart, Ice in My Veins published by Centering Corporation (2002)

Grief Awareness choice 7: My Sibling Still by Megan Lacourrege

  • Suitable for ages 2-4

Beautifully written as a love letter, My Sibling Still deals with infant loss and is designed for reading aloud to a toddler whose younger sibling has died. With comforting pictures to accompany the sensitive content, the book serves as a gentle way for the whole family to process the loss of their baby. Although aimed at a very young audience, anyone struggling to come to terms with miscarriage, stillbirth or infant mortality will find solace in Lacourrege’s words.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
My Sibling Still published by ‎Bowker (2019)

Grief Awareness choice 8: I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

  • Suitable for ages 3-7

The unconditional bond that owners have with their pets regrettably and inevitably exposes them to loss. Wilhelm tells the story of Elfie, the dachshund, who lives the best life. Every night her owners tell her that she will always be loved and cherished, despite knowing their time together will not last forever.

Through showing the pain of saying goodbye to a beloved pet, I’ll Always Love You makes bereavement a little less scary for children. The sudden nature of death is softened by beautiful watercolour illustrations.

Books2All blog: Grief Awareness Week: Books to start the conversation by Lauren Carpenter
I’ll Always Love You published by Perfection Learning (1988)

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