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LEAVES – A STORY OF THE SEASONS AND THE CIRCLE OF LIFE (Stephen Hogtun)
“I will always be with you.
Each time the wind blows,
in your leaves is where you’ll find me . . .”
Leaves (Bloomsbury 2021) is a visually stunning picture book, sensitively tackling the circle of life in an accessible way for children. The words are carefully chosen and the illustrations are warm and comforting, as we follow a young sapling’s elder towards the end of their life.
The message running through the pages advocates that whilst parents grow old, they leave us strong enough to survive in their absence, with happy memories and a love to help sustain us. An invaluable picture book with a message of unconditional and enduring love.
CRY HEART BUT NEVER BREAK (Glenn Ringtved, Charlotte Pardi, Robert Moulthrop)
Cry Heart But Never Break (Enchanted Lion Books, 2016) is a story about a group of children who are preparing to lose their much-loved grandmother. One day Death visits them and they know he has come for her. They attempt to make a plan to save their grandmother, but don’t succeed and the children ask Death why she has to die. Death tells them a story about Joy, Delight, Grief and Sorrow living in harmony together. “What would life be worth if there was no death? he concludes.
This picture book deals with the loss of a loved one in a poignant and accessible way. The children always remember their grandmother but learn that life moves on and not to fear death. The illustrations add to the honest tone and directness, making this a beautiful means of explaining death, dying, loss and mourning. Death’s story within the story perhaps means this is more accessible to older children and adds another layer of complexity for readers to unpick through discussion with an adult.
GOODBYE, MOTHER BEAR (Adam D Searle)
Goodbye, Mother Bear (Wide Awake Books, 2021) is a sensitive and heartfelt story featuring Faraday Bear who has lost his mum and didn’t get to say goodbye. Not saying goodbye is especially relevant and makes this book stand out, as Faraday’s friends help him find a way to create a memorial for Mother Bear and communicate how he feels to his mother even though he cannot speak to her directly.
The tone and word count make this feel more like a short story or chapter book than a picture book, but this means it has the space to delve deeper into Faraday Bear’s feelings. It has a clear message, advocating some of the things that might make loss easier, whilst not shying away from the fact that nothing can replace a loved one. This story would be beneficial for both those living with grief, and those who want to understand how someone living with grief might be feeling.
THE TENTH GOOD THING ABOUT BARNEY (Judith Viorst, Erik Blegvad)
Told from a first person perspective, in The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (Prentice Hall, 1971) we learn about the death of a child’s pet cat called Barney. The child is encouraged to remember ten good things about their cat as they prepare to bury him and have a funeral. Except the child can only think of nine good things.
The child learns that everything changes with time, just like the seeds the family plant around Barney’s garden. The family discuss where they think Barney is now, including in the ground and in Heaven. Although Heaven is mentioned, the story is left open for the reader to decide. Ultimately they agree that Barney is helping the flowers in the garden to grow, which is an excellent job for a cat and their tenth good thing.
This is a picture book from the seventies. which is reflected in the text and illustrations, but its aims are still relevant, helping children to deal with death of a pet. This story and its theme could also apply to the death of a loved friend or family member.
DADAJI’S PAINTBRUSH (Rashmi Sirdeshoande, Ruchi Mhasane)
Dadaji’s Paintbrush (Andersen Press, 2022) is a stunningly beautiful picture book about a young boy in a tiny Indian village who loses his grandfather. Dadaji and the boy spent all their time together, creating art, tasting delicious fruits and making paper boats to float down the monsoon river. But after Dadaji passes away, the boy can’t bear to use the favourite paintbrush his grandfather left him.
It takes the arrival of a little girl who wants to know how to paint for the boy to see that losing a loved one can be a beginning instead of an end.
Rashmi’s text is beautifully lyrical and evocative of the Indian village setting. Ruchi’s illustrations are dreamy and gorgeously soft, adding to the love that beams through the pages of this book.
A tender, hopeful story for any child – any family – experiencing bereavement.
THE FIREFOX (Alexandra Page, Stef Murphy)
Freya and her mum take a break to a cabin after Freya’s dad passes away and the light leaves their lives. Alexandra’s lyrical text and Stef’s soft and atmospheric illustrations take us with Freya as she meets a magical fox in the snow and a thrilling forest adventure unfolds.
The Fire Fox (Two Hoots, 2021) is a heart-warming bedtime book that subtly tackles the subject of grief, inspired by the Finnish Saami myth of the revontulet, suggesting that the Northern Lights are sparks that fly from the fur of the mystical fire foxes. The idea of light returning to a family’s life after a bereavement is beautiful and sensitively handled.
THE MEMORY TREE (Britta Teckeuntrup)
The Memory Tree (Orchard Books, 2014) is a powerful story featuring a group of animals that gather after their friend, Fox, dies. Fox has lived a long and happy life. As the animals recall their fondest memories of him, their sad hearts fill with warmth. The animals begin to notice a small and delicate plant growing in the place where Fox died. The animals continue sharing memories and a magnificent tree grows, helping the animals to see that Fox is still a part of them even after he has died.
The Memory Tree becomes a beautiful and accessible metaphor, showing little readers how the people we love can live on in the memories we have of them. A simple but tender and highly effective story for young children living with grief, that lends itself to planting something in memory of a loved one and reliving the actions of the characters in the story.
DADDY’S RAINBOW (Lucy Rowland, Becky Cameron)
Daddy’s Rainbow (Bloomsbury, 2022) is a pitch perfect, important story for a child whose parent is terminally ill.
Lucy – usually known for her dynamic rhyme – writes this story beautifully in prose. It’s heart opening stuff, full of fantastic details about Erin’s daddy, who sees the colour in everything. ‘In autumn, their walks were full of crunchy red, scrunchy orange and shiny-conker brown.’ But things start to change and Mummy tells Erin that Daddy is poorly.
This story was inspired by a real life Erin who Lucy knows and is close to. It shows. Emotions pour from the pages. Becky’s light watercolour illustrations are also full of love and feeling, with a soft, fragile touch, significant for any family finding themselves in this situation.
Despite the sadness and rawness felt when Daddy dies, the story ends with the reassuring takeaway that our loved ones live on in the memories we share and in the colour they gift to the world. Perfect for families who look to rainbows as a reminder of the people they’ve lost.
ALL FROM A WALNUT (Ammi-Joan Paquette, Felicita Sala)
“I planted my little tree in good brown soil, so it would grow strong here forever.”
“In this house? In this yard?”
“Shall we go see?”
All From A Walnut (Harry N. Abrams, 2022) begins with main character, Emilia, waking to a walnut on her bedside table. The walnut leads to a story from Grandad about when he was little and he had to leave his home. All he could take with him was a small bag and a walnut, just like the one Emilia found. Emelia is inspired to plant her walnut – like Grandad did – and watch what happens.
But growing a walnut takes time and Grandad is getting older and slower, as if his “batteries are on low charge.” Emilia holds him close and says goodbye when the time comes.
There is a beautifully visual and accessible metaphor at the end of this book, instilling in the reader that like the walnut trees, Grandad will always be a part of her.
GOODBYE HOBBS (Emma Bettridge, Josephine Birch)
This a beautiful and poetic look at loss from the point of view of a dog grieving their doggy friend, Hobbs. It is based on the clever notion that smells can be messages from those we greatly miss.
Goodbye Hobbs (Graffeg 2022) is an absolute joy to read aloud and a joy to look at – the design, the text layout, the illustrations… this book has a wonderful rhythm to the words and Josephine’s artwork is full of movement and fluidity like the wistful smells the main character chases.
This book could help readers with the death of a pet, but it could also offer reassurance for other kinds of loss, especially for those of us who find smells reminds us of someone we have loved and lost. Although if we hold onto their memory, perhaps they are not as far away as we initially think.
RABBITYNESS (Jo Empson)
One day Rabbit disappeared. The reader sees that without Rabbit the world is dull and grey. A deep, dark hole is left behind and the other rabbits are sad. They miss the colour and music that Rabbit brought into their lives. When they venture into the deep, dark hole they find some gifts that remind them of Rabbit and bring colour and music into their lives once more.
Rabbityness (Child’s Play, 2012) is a unique and hopeful story about loss and about the importance of creativity and the joy that can bring us, especially during life’s challenges. The sudden disappearance means this could be especially relevant to some families experiencing an abrupt and unexpected bereavement, as opposed to the grief of an elderly loved one, which is more commonly written about.
The illustrations are emotive but vibrant, full of splashes of colour. When we lose someone it is always painful. This book is an acknowledgement of that hurt and painful, with a splash of hope.
THE POND (Nicola Davies, Cathy Fisher)
The Pond (Graffeg, 2018) is a heart wrenching story about a family struck by grief. Dad leaves a muddy, messy hole in their hearts and in their garden – a hole that was supposed to be a pond filled with tadpoles and dragonflies and water lilies.
At first the family considers filling the hole in, so no-one would ever know.
But Mum gets a liner and some stones and the family fill the hole with water. Soon a change happens and the pond becomes a vehicle for the family to talk and remember Dad.
This picture book is pitched for slightly older readers. It opens up discussion and space for the very raw feelings that come with bereavement of a loved one, especially a parent, reminding us that hope and the love of the ones we miss is there if we look for it, just like the life bubbling under the surface of a pond in the Spring.
Beautiful. Lyrical. Powerful.