Must-Have Children’s Books on Grief, Empathy and Feelings
Talking with David Curnow on 612ABC Brisbane about books which explore feelings and in particular those which support young people who have experienced grief. Listen to the Soundcloud HERE.
I know I’ve posted about ‘grief’ books so many times now, but it’s a topic close to my heart; books which deal with grief and feelings have been very important to my own family and more widely speaking, I believe books such as these are incredible in developing empathy, understanding, compassion and kindness.
My family have experienced crushing grief in the last few years with the loss of my brother. We have felt the full gamut of emotions and through us, our children have also felt them. At the same time, we also deal with the Chief Bedtime Reader in our house, AKA daddy AKA #backboy living with chronic back pain which some days is crippling and life-altering and some days is just there as a part of him. He is never pain-free and our children witness this and deal with it and adore him. This morning ChickPea told her friend next door ‘my daddy can kill monsters’ and PudStar replied ‘Yep! Even though he has a bad back!’.
Our house is a happy place – full of laughter and shrieks of joy and screams of excitement, much rolling on the floor giggling with daddy about bodily function jokes. But we do read lots of books about feelings and about grief and far from being morose about it, we include these books as part of our normal day to day reading. PudStar often requests ‘Life is Like the Wind’ – it is gentle and affirming and yes, it’s about death. These books are just part of my family now, we read them alongside books which make us roll on the ground laughing.
And now with my teacher librarian hat on…here is a thought for all of you who are teachers or teacher librarians. A few years ago now, when we lost my brother and I suddenly acutely understood the loss of a parent (for my nieces), I stopped saying, ‘take this book home for mummy or daddy to read with you’ and started saying, ‘take this book home to read with someone who loves you‘. I cannot know the family situation of every student I come in contact with. I know I can’t shield children from every feeling of sadness but this seemed such a simple thing I could change and it is my hope that every child has someone in their life to who loves them and will read to them.
Children’s and YA Books on Grief
To add these books to your home, school or library collection click on covers or title links.
My full review of my all-time favourite book on grief, ‘Beginnings and Endings with Lifetimes in Between’ is here. Yes I have an all-time favourite book on grief. I’ve actually been reading this book for years and years…I just think it’s words are so perfect. Suitable for early childhood – adult.
‘Shine’ by Trace Balla is the most beautiful story about saying goodbye. it is a story about loss and grief for the very young and it is also about the everlasting power of love. I’m not even going to try and reveiw it, as Barbara Braxton did an outstanding job of that here!
‘The Wattle Tree’ below, is a particular favourite of ChickPea’s – despite the fact that she has not lost a grandma – see? Grief books don’t have to just be ‘somtimes’ books…though I don’t think grandma likes this one much! The illustrations in this book are divine. This is the story of Molly, a little girl who helps not only herself but her mother come to terms with the loss of Gran through connecting with the wattle tree at the bottom of the garden. Set over the course of several months, Molly makes repeated trips to the wattle tree. At first, her visits are to escape the sadness in the house as Mum is locked inside her own grief. Gradually, Molly draws strength from her visits and ultimately invites Mum to share in the experience so they can keep memories of Gran alive. Suitable for early childhood – lower/middle primary.
‘The Grief Book: Strategies for Young People’ is a stunning piece of work by Elizabeth Vercoe and was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Book in the Book of the Year Awards in 2005, very deservedly. This is a book for young people (from about 10) who have lost someone, whose families have split up, who aren’t feeling good. When someone is stuck and can’t find a way out of their grief, this book will show them the way, offering a plethora of strategies. Simply a brilliant book for adolescents.
‘The Protected’ is on the CBCA short list this year (can I just SAY I did predict this!). This is a fiction title for students from 14+. about a girl who has lost her sister in a car accident. The exploration of grief, and how the family deals with it, is spot on. I was blown away by this book and you can read my full review here. Either Zorn has experienced deep grief, or she has sat very quietly on the sidelines, skilfully and sensitively observing the grief of those around her, as ‘The Protected’ depicts the crashing, conflicting thoughts and tidal wave like emotions of grief.
Like’ The Protected’, ‘The Messenger Bird’ is a fiction novel for students from 14 years + and is utterly beautiful; not entirely about grief, this novel is a mystery, time-slip novel which is ultimately about hope and renewal. When you first realise the unfairness and randomness of death it eats into your thoughts like acid. Never before has Tamar felt so alone. Her older brother is dead, her mum’s gone away and her dad’s so wrapped up in restoring their ancient farmhouse he avoids talking about the things that really matter. With no interest in school or friends, and plagued by nightmares about her brother, Tamar wanders around her life in a daze. Even friendly new neighbour Gavin can’t get through to her, despite his eager attempts. When Tamar discovers an old handwritten sheet of music and allows herself to play piano again, she meets gifted violinist Nathaniel, a man from her house’s past who may just hold the key to her future. With no one else to turn to, Tamar is unwittingly drawn into a journey through time and music.
Books on Feelings
(there are hundreds of books on feelings…these are just my current favourites)
‘The Great Big Book of Feelings’ is one I like LOTS. It talks about all feelings and for some feelings it explains the range of that feeling for example a small sadness might be not being allowed to have an iceblock for dinner but a big sadness might be losing someone you love.
‘How Are You Peeling’ I have been using for SO.MANY.YEARS in early childhood classrooms. Vegetables are used to illustrate feelings – sounds odd but it is amazing! I prefer the hardback version here but it is half the price in softback here.
I am embarrassed to say that I dismissed Todd Parr books for a long time (sorry) until I read his one about families and adoption. His books are deserved best-sellers. This one comes as a book and also as flashcards.