One of the guinea pigs in my son’s preschool classroom died and that sparked some questions, which sparked this post. This subject isn’t fun, but books are always good resources to help if and when it is time. These picture books all deal with death and while reading them my son had questions and I had a hard time keeping it together. If you have a book you recommend about dying or death please share in comments.
I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson is a great book. There are some really wonderful aspects to this book that aren’t apparent at first but upon reflection really impressed me. The story is about a beloved teacher who is young, vibrant and one day tragically dies in a car accident. The rest of the book is devoted to how children grieve, from questions about if they will see her again to the realization that she wouldn’t want them to be sad and cry. I loved that the person who dies is someone important and close but not a family member.
For children just learning about death, it sort of eases them in. My son only kinda gets it , and his questions were more about if there was a firetruck and ambulance at the car accident than about death itself. He did understand and relate to the grief though, and how it’s OK to be sad when someone dies. The other wonderful thing I found was that she died in an accident, she wasn’t sick, it was sudden. SO often we teach our kids that people die when they are old or sick, and that just isn’t always true. Obviously this is an intensely personal subject and up to every family how and when they broach it , but that is what I liked.
Rudi’s Pond by Eve Bunting is about two friends, one who is sick and dies and the other who is left to grieve. What I liked about this book was that a child dies. OK, I hated that too and took more than a few moments to compose myself while reading this to my son. But, it’s a useful book for those who need it. Kids get sick and sometimes kids die. This is a good book about ways to remember friends when they do. I think the way that the little girl dealt with her sadness was honest and wonderfully portrayed.
Jim’s Dog Muffins by Miriam Cohen doesn’t beat around the bush. The first line informs the reader that Jim’s dog was smushed by a truck. At first, I thought, uh no, this book is not one I am going to like but I really do. The author has a knack of writing the story the way young kids deal with things. Kids are blunt and so is this story. I really liked that it angered Jin when a classmate suggested to him that sadness doesn’t help. And I loved their teacher’s response, too. Another good book about a tough subject.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is a metaphorical book about steeling one’s heart to loss. A little girl and her grandpa do everything together, going on adventures and imagining great things. Until one day she goes to him and his chair is empty. It’s then that she decides to put her heart in a bottle. Not until she is much older and a child fishes the heart out of the bottle does she sit down in the chair and imagine once again. I love this book. My son liked it but kept asking me if her Grandpa would be back. I didn’t explain he was dead. I did have to explain that he could not take his own heart out of his body and place it in a bottle. A great book for adults, but kids will enjoy it even if they don’t get it.
That Summer by Tony Johnson. I read this at the library alone knowing that my 3-year-old wasn’t ready for a book about death quite yet. I didn’t even try to conceal my tears. Not even crying, I was sobbing. The book is about the summer that one little boy watches his brother Joey get sick and die from Cancer. The author does a masterful job at relating grief, and the sadness of watching someone you love and don’t expect to die, get weak and leave you. As Joey’s condition worsens he learns to quilt and ultimately it’s his brother who finishes his quilt.
I can’t rave about this book enough. It simply makes the reader get it, as much as you can, without ever living this particular nightmare. The line that haunted me was: “I learned a lot that summer – how to grin when your heart is in shreds…”. That was the line that forced me into the “ugly cry”.
Edited for Fall 2010 : I wrote the above review almost a year ago and I didn’t re-read the book this week. I am not so sure I am ready for my son to read this book though, it’s one I plan on reading him at some time but with the new addition of a sibling so recent, I doubt books about death of a sibling would be timely. Still it’s an amazing and touching book.