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Friday Five: Death | Atomic Bee Ranch

Friday Five: Death

I am part of a group on Facebook that is for a bunch of moms (and a few dads). We ask all kinds of questions about kids and about life and use the hive mind to help us through parenting. One question that has come up at least three times are picture books that deal with the subject of death. Here are five books that can help you talk with your child about death, plus three bonus books since I feel like you can’t have too many in the arsenal to help you through a difficult discussion. Plus there is bound to be one that will work for your family.

Hugs on the Wind1. Hugs on the Wind wirtten by Marsha Diane Arnold and Vernise Elaine Pelzel, illustrated by Elsa Warnick

In this book a small bunny and his mother spend the day together in a field. As they go about their day the little bunny expresses sadness over missing his grandfather. His mother helps him see that he can send his grandfather hugs and thoughts through the wind, the stream, and the grass. It isn’t stated if the grandfather has moved away or if he died, but it certainly works in either case. The soft pastel illustrations reinforce the gentle tone of the book.



My Father's Arms2. My Father’s Arms Are a Boat written by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson

A small boy tosses and turns in his bed after being tucked in by his father. The boy returns to the living room to find his father also struggling to sleep. The two discuss the birds outside and the foxes. Then, tentatively, the boy asks if his mother is also asleep and will never wake. After confirming the truth, the father gathers the boy up in his arm and carries him outside for the two to enjoy a few minutes outside in the cold night. Then they come in and curl up together.

The black background and small, subtle color accents in the cut-paper diorama illustrations create a sombre tone in the story. The slumped posture of the father and the gently closed eyes drawn on their faces give the reader a sense of the weight of the death. The book is not flashy or obvious, in fact it’s quite contemplative. I think My Father’s Arms does a really lovely job of showing how grief can be shared between loved ones and celebrates the simplicity of a child’s understanding of death. 

Duck, Death and the Tulip3. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch 

This book is particularly philosophical. Death appears one day behind Duck. Death is a charming small child-like body with a skull for a head and face wearing a checkered robe and skirt, black slippers and carrying a black tulip in it’s black hands. At first Duck is leery of Death, but slowly she comes to accept Death’s presence and discovers Death is not frightening. The two talk and visit the pond. Duck even offers Death a kindness and warms him. The two discuss what might happen after death. As summer comes to a close Duck begins to feel cold and asks Death to return her favor and keep her warm. In a moment Duck has passed. Death gently carries her to the river, places the tulip oh her breast and pushes her down the river. As Death watches Duck disappear he muses “But that’s life”. So true. The illustrations have few embellishments and feature the Duck and Death very prominently. Erlbruch does an incredible job showing emotion and expression on the faces of the their faces considering they have few facial features and change very little from one page to the next. 

Cry Heart4. Cry, Heart, But Never Break written by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi

Along the same lines as Duck, Death and the Tulip is Cry, Heart, But Never Break. In this story three children are living in a house with their elderly grandmother. Death arrives on their door step one evening and in an attempt to prevent him from taking their beloved grandmother they try to keep death awake all night with tea. The soft watercolor illustrations are washes of grey, black and small pops of color. This soft palette and the flowing lines of the paint set a quiet, thoughtful mood for the book. Death, knowing the children are stalling, tells them a parable to help them understand that without death life has very little meaning. As the children grasp his meaning they allow him to take their grandmother. 

This is such an amazing book. It does such a good job of explaining why death is a necessary part of life and why life should be celebrated when we have it. It also encourages readers to mourn for their loss, but not to be consumed by it. 

Rabbityness5. Rabbityness written and illustrated by Jo Empson

In this book Rabbit is loved by all his friends. He is creative and fun. But one day he just isn’t there. The rabbits mourn for their loss of their friend, but realize he has left them with the gift of creativity in their hearts and they feel close to him despite his absence. The bright splashy illustrations match the upbeat presentation of death. 



Bonus books:

Sonya's ChickensSonya’s Chickens written and illustrated by Pheobe Wahl

A newer book about a girl who raises chickens from chicks. One night a fox sneaks into the coop and takes a chicken. Sonya is devastated until her father explains that the chicken nourished the fox and his family. It’s all in how you think about death in nature. 


Boats for PapaBoats for Papa written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

This is a story where it isn’t apparent that the father is dead. A little beaver send boats he has made out to sea for his papa to find. He believes that if the boat does not return to shore by morning it means his father has found them at sea and kept them. Over the course of a year he sends many out until one day he discovers his mother has been collecting them off the beach and stashing them. From this the beaver makes new meaning realizing that while he misses his papa he is grateful for his mother who has supported him and created a loving home. 

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