“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.

Interview Alert: Yuno Imai

I’m excited to feature children’s picture book author Yuno Imai on Frog on a Blog today. Yuno has recently published two very timely books. In an email correspondence, Yuno said, “I specialize in writing heartwarming stories that help children and adults cope with death. I know many people have lost their loved ones and are hurting right now due to COVID-19… I hope my stories will inspire or heal readers.”

Let’s learn more about Yuno and her two beautifully illustrated books.

Why do you like to write stories for children?

I believe children have limitless potential. They’re curious and open to learn. Through my stories, I hope to inspire my readers to exercise creativity and imagination.

I’m a fan of children’s books and what they represent – family time, creativity and imagination, opportunity to get a peek into a new world. Many stories are timeless and can be passed down to next generations.

I think of children’s books as art. As an author, it’s exciting to see how my ideas take shape as books and could potentially live over a century!

What inspired you to write your two beautiful picture books The Last Meal and Trevor and Me? And can you tell us a bit about each book?

Trevor and Me is about reincarnation and friendship that transcends age, nationality and gender. It’s based on my real life friendship with my elderly friend, Trevor.

Image From Trevor and Me by Yuno Imai, illustrated by Liuba Syrotiuk

The Last Meal is about last meal requests of death row inmates. Compassion plays a big role in this story.

Image From The Last Meal by Yuno Imai, illustrated by Nadia Popova

They’re both heartwarming stories that help readers cope with death or develop a healthy understanding of difficult subjects. I got inspiration to write about death, because 1) I’m interested in the topic, and 2) growing up, my mom was very uncomfortable discussing it.

I realized that many parents struggle to find ways to explain death to their children, so I decided to write stories around difficult subjects.

“Food” is also a common theme in my stories as I’m a food writer and always intrigued by memories and feelings associated with people’s favorite food.

Image From Trevor and Me by Yuno Imai, illustrated by Liuba Syrotiuk

On your website, you describe yourself as a go-getter. How did this quality help you pursue publication? And what route did you take to publish your books?

Being a go-getter helps tremendously when it comes to pursuing your goals. Believe it or not, I’ve never had a regular 9-5 job. Being your own boss and managing your time requires discipline. I’m naturally driven and motivated, and over the years, I cultivated my professionalism and driven attitude.

Becoming an author is like a marathon. It’s an endless journey and there are always things you could do more. Being a go-getter helps you keep the fire going. 🙂

I chose to self-publish my children’s books, with plans to get picked up by publishers in the future. I initially looked for agents in the U.S. and UK, and reached out to publishers in Japan, but couldn’t seem to make it happen.

I believe in making your own dreams come true, so I decided to just go for it anyway.

It’s obviously a lot more work, but nice to take control of your own destiny in a way. Having physical copies has been helping spread the word — I’m currently in talks with Chinese publishers.

You have two different illustrators for your books, and both did a fantastic job! How did you find your illustrators?

I found both of my illustrators online.

It took me a good 2-3 years finding the right person — I asked my friends and colleagues for referrals, attended book fairs and Creator’s Expo in Tokyo, all while searching online.

After talking with countless illustrators, I had about 10 of them draw samples for me. Finally in 2019, I found two illustrators that could truly understand what was inside of my head, and put them onto paper.

Illustrations are a very important part of children’s books. I could not have done it without my illustrators and I’m so grateful for their talent and professionalism!

Image From The Last Meal by Yuno Imai, illustrated by Nadia Popova

You are also a food & travel writer. How different is that from writing for children? Are there any similarities?

In my opinion, the whole message and purpose of writing changes, depending on who you write for. When I write my food and travel articles, my goal is to provide readers with useful information. I make sure to include the basic information, like any journalistic articles would. For children’s books, I focus on showing and telling a story, instead of just providing information.

How I approach writing, though are the same whether I’m writing an article for adult readers or children’s stories for younger readers. I love puzzles, so I write in sections and pieces and move them around like I’m playing puzzles.

Where can people go to find more information about you and your books?

You can learn more about my books and order them on my website and Amazon worldwide!

Website http://iknowyouknowyuno.com/books/

Amazon amazon.com/author/yunoimai 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with everyone?

I really hope my stories will inspire, entertain or help you heal. I love getting comments and feedback about my books – please feel free to email or DM me on social media!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yunobook/ or https://www.instagram.com/iknowyouknowyuno/

Yuno Imai is a Los Angeles based children’s book author and food & travel writer.

She specializes in writing heartwarming stories that help readers cope with death or develop a healthy understanding of difficult subjects. She is originally from Hamamatsu, Japan and came to the United States alone at 17, speaking very little English, and spent a year as a high school foreign exchange student in a small town in Kansas.

Yuno is passionate about inspiring people through her stories and also bridging Japan and other countries, especially America, where she calls her second home.