“Picture Books for Grieving Families” by Jayne Pillemer

Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, which is more than just a day, it’s a movement dedicated to helping support grieving children. (For more information and ways that you can help, click HERE.)

One way that we can all help grieving children is by reading comforting picture books with them, which brings me to today’s guest.

Please welcome Jayne Pillemer to Frog on a Blog! Jayne turned from editing children’s books to writing them! Her touching debut picture book Still Mine, featuring soft and lovely illustrations by Sheryl Murray, came out earlier this year from HarperCollins. Congratulations, Jayne! Still Mine introduces the topic of death in a gentle and sensitive way. Jayne’s stopped by to tell us more about her book and share her top recommended picture books for grieving families.

Let’s hear from Jayne.

Grief is incredibility difficult for anyone to navigate, young or old. Helping your child process death and work through grief may feel even more overwhelming. There can be a lot of questions that you may or may not feel you know the answer to. Sometimes, a loss just puts us at a loss for words, and we don’t know what to say or how to say it.

Books can give us adults the words, to help us open conversations with our children in a natural way.  For the child, books are an equally important resource. They give children the opportunity to see their circumstances and emotions reflected back to them and help them gain deeper understanding of what they may be feeling, thinking or seeing. For children experiencing grief for the first time, books can help them to realize that they are not alone. 

My picture book, STILL MINE, was created out of a need to tell my own young children about the death of my grandmother. I wanted to gently introduce the concept of death, and my way to do that was to juxtapose loss with something that gets to stay: Love. I knew the way I felt about my grandmother would never change, and that the special activities we did together would be memories I would not only hold in my heart forever, but would also be things I could share with my children. STILL MINE depicts several kinds of losses—a parent, a grandparent, and a friend—and carries hope for the peace that can come by embracing the permanence of love. These other picture books honor the journey of grief and support this same message that love never goes away:

One Wave at a Time by Holly Thompson, Pictures by Ashley Crowley

This beautiful story follows a boy in the wake of his father’s death and delves deeper into the emotions that come with grief: sadness, madness, fear, and hollowness. These tough feelings come in big waves, and Kai doesn’t always know which wave will tumble him. With the help of a support group, his family, and memories, Kai and his family learn together how to ride these waves as they roll in. A gentle author’s note and grief support resources round out the backmatter.

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

This gorgeously illustrated book introduces us to two adorable best friends: Ida and Gus, who live in a city zoo. Their days would not be complete without playing with one another, but one day, Ida gets sick, and the zookeeper tells Gus that Ida will die soon. Together, Ida and Gus go on a journey of preparing to be apart. “There were growling days and laughing days and days that mixed them up.” If sickness is something you are experiencing or loss is something you are preparing for, this moving story reminds us that you don’t have to see love to feel it. 

Saturdays are for Stella by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan

Saturdays are the best days because George spends them with Grandma Stella. But when Grandma Stella suddenly dies, George doesn’t want there to be any more Saturdays. Ever. Just when George thinks he can’t take another Saturday, his sister Stella is born, and suddenly Saturdays with Stella have renewed meaning. This touching story is a beautiful way to remember that you have the power to give love, just as you once received it, and that can be healing in so many ways.

The Treasure Box by Dave Keane and Rahele Jomepour Bell

Grandpa and his granddaughter love to look for treasures. On their weekly walks, they discover all sorts of interesting things and store them in a secret box. When Grandpa gets sick, he can’t go on anymore walks, so his granddaughter brings the treasures to him. But when Grandpa dies, the girl is too sad to open the secret treasure box. It takes a long time for Grandma to come back over, but when she does, hugging and crying together help them both. So does looking for treasures that Grandpa would love. A poignant text and rich, textured illustrations make for a beautiful package and a tender story.

Molly’s Rosebush by Janice Cohn, illustrated by Gail Owens

This is an older title that can still be found at your local library or second-hand. Molly’s mother has a late-term miscarriage, and the whole family is grieving the baby that they wanted to come home. When I experienced pregnancy loss, this book was a favorite of my two older children, and inspired us to plant our own memory tree in our backyard, just like Molly’s family planted a rosebush in honor of their baby. While most books for young children deal with the death of a pet or a grandparent, this book addresses the loss of someone you are only looking forward to meeting, which is a different kind of love that is just as powerful as a love for someone you’ve already gotten to know. This book will hold a special place on our bookshelf forever, just as our tree does in our backyard.

A Kids Book About Death by Taryn Schuelke

A Kids Book About Grief by Brennan C. Wood, in partnership with Dougy Center

As a kid growing up, it felt like there were “child topics” and there were “adult topics,” and anything perceived to be an adult topic wasn’t usually discussed with kids. The A Kids Book About collection is changing that. My oldest son in particular has TONS of questions about everything and anything, especially about big words that he overhears. When I don’t know the right way to answer, I look for A Kids Book About. These books have been incredibly helpful in providing developmentally-appropriate (ages 5+) definitions and explanations on everything from Adoption to Boredom to Sexual Abuse. Reading these books has led to rich discussions and have opened the lines of communication between parent and child because these books tell children that we are allowed to talk about hard things. A Kids Book About Death clearly and directly explains what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead. It explores the various ways to die and the feelings that may come with it. It addresses why it is important to talk about death, why life is important, and how love is an element of life that continues even after death. A Kids Book About Grief is an excellent follow-up to this title, diving deeper into the emotions that arise following a death and reassuring readers that grief is normal. Just a note: the books in this series have no pictures, but the words are truly all you need! 

Jayne Pillemer is a former children’s book editor who now spends her days raising her children and writing! Her debut picture book, STILL MINE, was inspired by her Grandma Helen’s special love and was called “tender and touching” by Kirkus Reviews. Jayne lives in Harrison, New York with her husband and their three sons, who all love it when she makes Grandma Helen’s old recipes.

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