Picture books that comfort kids after the death of a pet – without minimizing their grief.
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- This was a blog post that I ran out of time and couldn’t finish. So it can live here until I get back to it.
- We’re working from a framework of death positivity, which I’m still new to. We’re focusing on books that help kids with bereavement, acceptance, and resilience
- Processing death is an opportunity to help kids become more compassionate and resilient.
- Also see our public book collections pertaining to anatomy and death
- Our family pets (and their deaths) matter
- We’re not going to minimize the death of a pet as if it’s worse or better than the death of say, a beloved family member. For many kids, learning about the death of a pet will be the worst day of their lives, so let’s honor that.
- These books don’t use metaphors for death “they’re sleeping / going to live on a farm” and we don’t lie about what death is and how hard it will be
- Any book that replaced a book right away did not make this list. Our loved ones are not replaceable.
Quick & Messy Book List:
General Books Validating Grief & Saddness
These are not pet related, but they were great books to scaffold kids with before and after they experienced the death of a neighbor.
- The Rabbit Listened
- Cry Heart, But Never Break (grandmother dies in this one, but it’s very death positive)
- The Duck And The Tulip
- Heart In A Bottle – For kids who are stuck in that numb space of grief, also might be helpful for depression.
- Goodbye Mousie
- Ocho Loved Flowers
For Preschoolers & Kindergartners
- The Tenth Good Thing About Barney
- My Forever Dog
- I’ll Always Love You
Books By Pet Type
If it helps to get specific!
- 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+)
- 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.
- 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+)
- 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. This is my favorite book for honoring found corpses like roadkill and birds that fell out of nests.
- 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.
- 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?
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