Home Unpolished Book Lists When A Pet Dies – Comforting Kids Books About Grief & Resilience

When A Pet Dies – Comforting Kids Books About Grief & Resilience

via Ashia

Good to know about this unpolished book list

  • I got 25% of the way through creating this booklist back in…I dunno, 2018? And then got overwhelmed with other life stuff. So it’s going to live here half-baked for now until I can get back to it.
Click here to go back to the unpolished booklist category page
 

In this post: Picture books that comfort kids after the death of a pet – without minimizing their grief.
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When A Pet Dies

Kids Books About Bereavement, Acceptance, and Resilience

 

  • opportunist – but it’s also an opportunity to help kids become more compassionate and reslilent
  • validating feeligns and creating open channels of communication before, during, and after
  • link to male toxicity
  • link to living/nonliving
  • animals matter, and this might be the worst day of their lives so far
  • Don’t use metaphors, lie
  • Dn’t replace pets right away
  • it’s real pain, it’s normal
  • This feeling won’t hurt like this forever

 

When Q was 2, my mom’s dog was old and her health was declining. We knew one day soon, he’d visit Maimo’s house and find his friend Jada was no longer there.
To prepare him for Jada’s passing, I searched through every book on death made for toddlers. They were all pretty vanilla, and not…great.
Who wants to frighten a 2-year-old? Who wants to rip that innocence away? I didn’t know how to handle the logical consequences of discussions on death. Once he knew our furrier  family members could be gone forever (we’re atheists), he’d ask the inevitable – Will mommy and daddy die? Will I die?
Apparently makers feel the same way. I plowed through flowery books with confusing, abstract language (sooo many rainbows). I started to get frustrated. Grow some courage, or hush!
To understand, to validate the experiences and feelings they have, to find solace, toddlers and preschoolers need concrete, real-life stories that mirror their own. They need clear language – ‘DEAD,’ not ‘passed on,’ not ‘no longer with us,’ not ‘far, far away,’ not ‘special sleep.’
Yikes, how terrifying to equate death with sleep. I’d be afraid of bedtime forever if my parents told me the two were related.
I was delighted to find ‘Goodbye Mousie’ – and I’m not using ‘elated’ lightly. It’s hard to find a book about something so sad that kids LOVE to read. I also love that it was one of the few books that didn’t end with an immediate replacement of a dead pet with a rebound pet – as if someone we love can be so easily replaced!
We think of death as an obligatory topic to discuss with our kids – like sexual assault, or tooth-brushing. It’s the kind of lesson we don’t look forward to, but we DO look forward to finishing.
Instead, ‘Goodbye Mousie’ is a good story in itself. Both Q and R2 enjoyed reading it in the 2.5 to 3 range, for months at a time. It brings them comfort and helps them see there can be closure to the confusing, awful feelings they have in grief. Reading this story every night gave the boys chances to ask questions about what death really is. They theorized why the little boy found comfort in placing a carrot and grapes in Mousie’s burial box, even though Mousie wouldn’t be eating them.
Now that R2 is 3, even though we don’t have an expected loss coming up, I’m grateful to have and know about this book to prepare him for the inevitable. He loves this book, it gives him all the feels, and helps him process his questions – even the scary ones, like what happens when me and his dad die, what happens when he dies – in a comforting way.

The Best Books To Help Toddlers Through Grief

Goodbye Mousie, Ocho Loved Flowers

 

The Rabbit Listened

The Best Books To Help Preschoolers & Kindergartners Through Grief

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney

My Forever Dog

I’ll Always Love You

General Books About Grief & Sadness

Unrelated to death – these books are going to be helpful as your family navigates through the messy pit of bereavement.

The Rabbit Listened

You might also like: Temper Tantrums

 



Books By Pet Type

Fish

  • Goldfish Ghost – We’re not teaching our kids that there is life after death, but this is adorable, and more of a gentle adventure. It’s upbeat and cute. ( Ages 3+)

Turtle

  • Tim’s Goodbye – Sweet story but the ending is a unrealistic. The turtle’s girl abruptly gets over her grief after the honor ceremony.

Not recommended: Always Remember – This isn’t a bad book, but the narrative of passing on wisdom to the next generation is clumsy. It’s been done better in other books (this one gets infuriatingly repetitive). If you’re grieving the death of a domestic turtle that lives in an aquarium, comparing its life to a turtle in the wild with friends and places to explore is just going to make kids feel worse.

Mouse

  • Our Favorite: Goodbye Mousie – This is my very favorite book to introduce death and grief for toddlers through kindergarten. The Little Earthquakes even ask to read it just for fun (my kids are ghouls). Mousie’s death is unexpected (it’s implied that he died painlessly in his sleep). His parents help him through his day as he navigates the stages of grief and as he comes to terms and accepts his beloved mousie’s sudden death. (Ages 2.5+)

Bird

  • Silly Chicken – Khan’s work is complex, mult-layered literature about family structures, jealousy, forgiveness, and generational narratives. This isn’t for everybody. This doesn’t have a clean happy ending, and the pain and guilt of a pet chicken’s death is still there. But it as a beautiful one, if that makes sense. The chicken’s death is sudden, and implied as violent. This one feels like death – it slaps us suddenly, turns the world upside down, and causes us to have experiences and emotions we didn’t expect.
  • Grayboy – Kids feed and protect an injured seagull who can’t fly. He’s killed during a storm and when they go looking for him, they find his body in the sand. It’s the right mix of sad & validating for anyone who’s ever rescued an injured animal only to have it die. It’s particularly good for those guilty feelings I have when I wonder if I could have done more.
    Seagulls are a choice animal for this kind of story – no matter how much you love them, they are all jerks, and they are pretty, but not cute. So your kids won’t get too attached to Grayboy before he bites it.
  • The Dead Bird – The neighborhood kids gather to honor a dead wild bird they find laying on the ground – with dignity and a little bit of joy.

Cat

  • Our Favorite: Ocho Loved Flowers – Includes illness (stomach tumor), a few weeks of palliative care, and a gentle natural death at home. (3.5+)
  • Big Cat Little Cat – This is one of the very few books where the family replaces the cat with a new kitten soon after (usually that bugs me). It’s both appropriate and heartwarming given the narrative of the story about passing wisdom through the generations.

Not recommended: The Best Cat In The World – The family immediately replaces their dead cat with a new kitten, revokes the old title of ‘The Best Cat In the World,’ and bestows it on some new upstart. Which isn’t just unhealthy and dismissive of the old relationship, but it feels a big F-you to the old cat.

Dog

  • Favorite: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (5.5+)
  • Favorite: The Forever Dog – Validates how extremely painful it is when a pet dies – it hurts, hurts, hurts. I love that this story gives kids space to feel that way, and addresses how grief is real pain. Discusses the way we are together with a dead loved isn’t over, it’s just changed.
  • Favorite: I’ll Always Love You (Wilhelm) – The family dog grows old and passes away in her sleep. Her boy is comforted by the fact that they spent the time they had together well, and appreciated each other. Unlike the many off-putting books I’ve screened, the boy refuses to replace her with a new puppy, but instead chooses to donate her basket to another family’s puppy – which is utterly lovely.
  • Jasper’s Day – Creating a celebratory day for Jasper to give him a good farewell in a planned euthanization. Fine story, but dusty, bland illustrations might turn kids off. (Ages 3+)
  • A Dog like Jack – Meh. While this is validating to show kids that they are not alone in slowly watching an old dog fade and eventually die in his sleep, this book is just depressing. At least he doesn’t immediately replace him – but there are better books out there.
  • A Stone for Sascha – The dog’s death in this wordless book is tangential, as the story starts with the famliy grieving as they put Sascha to rest. The driving force behind the story is a sense of changing continuity, as an asteroid from the prehistoric era travels around the world, being used for various things, before coming to rest as a gift over Sascha’s grave. With no words to explain the blurry, detailed scenery, I have to admit it’s a chore to discuss as a read aloud, so stick with ages 5.5+, otherwise you’ll be answering questions well past bedtime.

Not recommended: Goodbye Lulu – her family replaces her immediately, as if she were a broken refrigerator they just dropped off at the dump. Also avoid The Rainbow Bridge, which is just reductive nonsense. Tell kids that heaven as a literal place in the sky where your pets and grandparents wait for you to kick it (so they can see you again) is creepy, misleading, and a lie. Do stories like this serve any purpose other than to allow cowardly parents to avoid explaining what death really is?

 


Next Up: Preparing Kids For The Death Of A Loved One

I’m working on it now – sign up for email notifications at the top of the page, and I’ll let you know when it’s ready.



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