Picture Books about Death

Mum’s Jumper by Jayde Perkin

There are many picture books about the death of pets and grandparents but I don’t know any that tackle the death of a parent. So, this debut by Jayde Perkin is much needed. Jayde used her own experience of grief to express a gentle story of a little girl whose mum dies in hospital and the aftermath of grief, confusion and ultimately hope that things will get better.

The story begins with the  little girl saying goodbye to her mother as she sits on her hospital bed, attached to a drip. The next morning the hospital telephones to say that ‘She’s gone’. ‘Gone where?’ the little girl asks and in the pages that follow she experiences the flowers and condolences, the kindness of friends and teachers, her mother’s funeral and the overwhelming sadness of missing her mum.

My body ached, like I’d been swimming for days; how could I get to the shore?
Dad told me this feeling is normal. It’s called grief.
He was swimming too. We were grieving together.

She starts to wear her mum’s favourite jumper. Dad explained that the jumper and grief are similar.

Dad says the grief is like Mum’s jumper.
The jumper stays the same size, but I will eventually grow into it. The grief may stay the same size.
But my world will grow bigger around it.

I am very proud to be part of the Kickstarter that funded this book, published by the incredible Book Island. Here is the Kickstarter video that explains more about the story and the need for picture books about death.

 

Fox holding a goldfish bowlFox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters
Translated from the Flemish by Greet Pauwelijn

Oh Goldfish, my friend,
Maybe your time has come,
But I just can’t let you go like this…

Goldfish may be very sick and stuck in a bowl but his friend Fox is going to ensure he fulfils a whole heap of bucket list adventures. From swimming in the sea, to riding through the Grand Canyon on the back of a Harley and gazing at the majesty of Mount Fuji, Fox and Goldfish explore the world together. It brings them both happiness and the picture of them singing in the rain and dancing down a flooded road is joyous. For appreciating every moment of life and friendship, and for the daunting task of preparing for death, this colourful, imaginative book is essential in all library collections. I particularly liked the focus on having adventures and caring for a friend which features in the teacher’s guide, prepared by Book Island.

 

Dutch classic Frog storiesFrog and the Birdsong by Max Velthuijs

When Frog finds a blackbird lying in the grass he tells his friend Pig. Pig thinks the bird is asleep and Duck thinks the bird is ill. When Hare arrives, he tells the friends that the bird is dead. He explains that everything dies and they should bury the bird. Hare reminds them that the bird sang beautifully and has now earned his rest. The friends throw flowers into the grave and find a beautiful stone to mark the top. They notice the peace and quiet and lack of birdsong and as they move quietly away Frog decides it is time to play catch. As they laugh and play Frog declares that life is wonderful and as they head off towards home a blackbird starts to sing.

I love the approach of this book from asking questions about death, to knowing what to do, burying someone and acting respectfully, reminiscing about the good things they brought and finally moving on and being happy. A fantastic introduction to death told in a classic story with very familiar, lovable characters.

 

Little girl on Granpa's wheelchairGrandpa by John Burningham

Beautifully told and illustrated story about a little girls relationship with her Grandpa. They do so much together: gardening; singing; playing; going to the beach; and, even having the odd disagreement. But when Grandpa gets sick the little girl climbs on his knee and they snuggle up to watch TV together. On the penultamate page the little girl sits forlornly, looking at Grandpa’s empty chair. The final page shows the little girl, all grown up and pushing a pram. Very simple, very clever.

Girl looks at empty green chair

I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

This is the story of Elfie –
the best dog in the whole world.

Having grown up together, a little boy remembers all the fun and naughty things his dog Elfie liked to do like chasing squirrels and digging in the flower garden. But as Elfie gets older she likes to sleep more and walk less and finds it difficult to climb the stairs. Boy carries dog upstairsThe family take her to the vets but are told that it is her old age that prevents her from doing all the things she could before.

The little boy carries her and puts her into her bed where he tells her that he will always love her. During the night, as the little boy dreams about running across the fields with her, Elfie passes away. The family cry as they bury her and the boy refuses the chance to have a neighbour’s puppy. Instead he gives Elfie’s bed away but says that one day he will be ready for another pet and he will tell them, every night:

‘I’ll always love you’.

Family gathers around their dead dog

Gorgeous illustrations and simple text makes this a story to be read in quiet, reflective moments where both reader and listener can enjoy extra hugs.

Harry and Hooper by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood

In a similar vain to I’ll Always Love You, Harry meets Hopper when he is just a puppy. They have lots of fun together: catching, fetching, wrestling and even helping with homework. But one afternoon, Harry returns home to find that Hopper has died. He has been hit by a car.

Fireman talks to small boyHarry is upset and refuses to say goodbye to Hopper before Dad buries him. Harry has trouble sleeping and misses Hopper sleeping along side him, his smell and his bark. One night Harry dreams of Hopper and reaches out to hug his ‘solid, warm little body’. The two of them play and the next night he dreams of Hopper again.

Finally, Harry dreams that he finds Hopper outside

‘As wispy as winter fog, as cold as winter air’

and carries him to bed where they snuggle up together and say goodbye. This book deservedly won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal in 2010.

Fred by Posy Simmonds

A very funny story of Fred, an old, ill cat who is dearly missed by his human family. They remember him as the laziest cat. He was always sleeping: in the car, on the ironing board and even on top of the fridge. As the little girl and boy try to think of something nice to put on his headstone they give up and go to bed only to be awoken by some very loud meows…Mum tucks in children at bedtime

Outside they find Mrs Spedding’s cat Ginger. Not only is he looking at his digital watch he is also dressed as a Victorian undertaker in a long frock coat and top hat. Ginger tells the children that Fred was famous throughout the world. The children can’t believe that Fred did anything but sleep and wee on the neighbour’s flowers! But Ginger and all the neighbour cats tell otherwise. Fred was famous for singing! And with that the wake starts and the children and cats all have a sing-song in Fred’s memory. In the morning they find his headstone has been completed with the immortal words ‘Famous Fred’.

A cat dressed as an undertaker

You have to watch the cartoon version. Hilarious and a brilliant reminder that we can remember loved ones with lots of laughter and very happy memories.

 

 

 

 

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