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15 picture books exploring grief and loss

Genre: Family
Age group: 0-2, 3-5
Audience: Families

Picture books are a wonderful way to help children understand what it means to lose a loved one - whether it's a family member, friend or even a much-loved pet. Here are a selection of gentle books to help little ones explore loss, and the emotions that come with it.

Cori Doerrfeld The Rabbit Listened

Taylor has been through a difficult time and one by one the animals think they have the answer to make Taylor feel better. The chicken suggests talking about it, and the bear suggests getting angry, but Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things. It’s only when the rabbit arrives and sits quietly by Taylor's side that Taylor feels like opening up. Both poignant and heartfelt, this story shows that loss and grief can come in many different forms and it gives children the space to explore those feelings.

Isabelle Arsenault Jean E. Pendziwol Once Upon a Northern Night

'Once upon a northern night, I painted you a picture.' Set against a snowy backdrop full of twinkling stars and frosted window panes, this moving lullaby is both dreamy and evocative. Perfect for cuddling up and sharing on a cold winter's night, the colour palette is stunning and the use of white space adds to the sense of calmness as you move from page to page. This isn't overtly a picture book about loss, but it can be interpreted as a story about the enduring love of those that have passed but never truly leave us.

Alan Durant Debi Gliori Always and Forever

When Fox dies, all of his animal friends are left heartbroken. But as time passes, they begin to share their memories of the funny things that Fox got up to, and this brings them all comfort. This universal book about loss can be used for a variety of scenarios – from the loss of a family pet, to the loss of a family member or friend. In whatever context it's used, the gentle, uplifting narrative and the sweet illustrations will give children a soothing introduction to the issue of loss.

Robert Munsch Sheila McGraw Love You Forever

This classic story focuses on the enduring love that lasts between a mother and her son as he grows from newborn baby to a man with his own child. Each stage of his development comes with its own challenges, but the consistent message remains the same: I'll love you forever/I'll like you for always. The use of the repetitive phrase on each page is comforting and rhythmic, and although there are moments of silliness scattered throughout, the core message about the unconditional love of a parent is beautiful.

Benji Davies Grandad's Island

Syd and his grandad set sail for an island full of wonder and adventure. But when Grandad explains that he's thinking of staying there forever, Syd must say goodbye and make the trip home alone. The bond between the two characters is genuinely heartwarming, and although there are moments of sadness, the stunning use of colour and happy animals that inhabit the island make this an uplifting story too. A great story to start conversations about where people go when they pass away.

Rebecca Cobb Missing Mummy

This poignant book explores a range of feelings as a little boy tries to understand where his mummy has gone. Told from the child’s perspective it is pitched beautifully for little ones coming to terms with a bereavement. The little boy in the story thinks it might be his fault, that he did something that made his mummy go away. But people around him reassure him that this not the case – his mummy loved him very much and still does. This tender and moving story ultimately has a lovely uplifting message and is a great springboard for talking about emotions.

Owen Hart Sean Julian I'll Love You Forever

This beautiful exploration of the eternal bond between parent and child isn’t necessarily a story about grief or loss, but its soothing nature make it perfect for sharing at times of emotional upheaval. The calming rhythm and rhyme, and the backdrop of the changing seasons, help to illustrate that love is constant, no matter what happens in life. The vast Arctic landscapes are dreamlike, and the closeness of parent and child in every illustration helps to reinforce the core message.

Jayde Perkin Mum's Jumper

When the little girl in the story loses her mum she has a difficult time adjusting. She finds her mums jumper in the things she left behind and wears it every day. She learns that grief is a thing that doesn’t necessarily get smaller but, like the jumper, she will grow into it. This sweet and touching story is a gentle way to explore loss, and with bright illustrations and lovely message, it is full of love and hope.

Melanie Walsh Goodbye Grandma

When a little boy’s grandma dies he has lots of questions about what has happened to her. His mum explains that it’s a bit like when his cat Inca died and they buried her in the garden, but they still remember her. Death is a difficult topic to talk about with young children but this book is simple and comforting, and with friendly illustrations and lift-the-flap elements there is a lot to keep little ones engaged.

Jo Empson Rabbityness

Rabbit has a unique, creative spirit and his happy nature is infectious – he fills the woods with colour and music. But when rabbit disappears, the world feels grey again. When the other rabbits discover the gifts he left behind for them, however, their feelings of hope return. This is less a story about death, but more a celebration of life, and a wonderful springboard for conversations about loss in its many forms. The splashes of colour and inky-black rabbits are hugely effective and engaging.

Britta Teckentrup The Memory Tree

In a clearing in the forest, Fox lies down in the snow to go to sleep for the last time. His friends gather round to say goodbye, and although they are all very sad, they remember the happy times they had with Fox. Beautifully drawn and with a simple, easy-to-read story, this is a lovely book that explores the theme of death, and how we honour and remember the people we love who are no longer with us.

Joseph Coelho Robyn Wilson-Owen No Longer Alone

‘I’m not shy, I just don’t feel like talking right now’ announces the little girl at the heart of this poignant story about family, loss and hope. Everyone around the girl tries to explain her reclusive behaviour, but it’s only when dad really stops to listen that she can begin to heal. This is a gem of a book, reminding us to let our children be heard and being there for them when life takes an emotional turn.

Michael Rosen Quentin Blake Michael Rosen's Sad Book

This heart-breaking account of grief at the author’s loss of his son is both devastating and poetic. The language is emotive and raw, bringing to life the overwhelming shadow of darkness that follows him through day-to-day life. But there is also hope in the shape of memories and celebration, as well as a reflection on personal coping strategies. Blake beautifully captures the all-consuming nature of sadness, and the face of grief, with his trademark sketches and use of dark and light to reflect contrasting mood and emotion.

Carrie May Claire Freedman Dreamweaver

Lyrical and soothing, this is a beautiful book for bedtime, or even to read when you want to snuggle up and have a bit of quiet time during the day. The dreamweaver has a magical sack of dreams to give to each sleepy creature as she makes her way through an enchanted land. It isn’t specifically about loss or grief but helps to explore emotions through the safe medium of a gentle picture book.

Oliver Jeffers The Heart and the Bottle

A little girl and her father (or father-figure) discover the wonders of life together – but when father’s chair lays empty one day, the girl decides that self-preservation is key. She locks away her heart, and with it, her own sense of aliveness. When she encounters another inquisitive spirit as a grown up, she decides it’s time to open the bottle. Jeffer’s economic use of words and illustration allows the reader time to reflect in this subtle exploration of how little people manage big emotions.