Thursday, January 12, 2006

Books for the Bereaved

I’ve been reading a few stories of loss recently, though, and my immediate reaction is to recommend a book or two for the young ones. It is often said in library services to children that we need to have books about things like this to show our children that they are not alone, help them understand, and provide jumping-off points for discussion.

And so I share with you a few books on bereavement that I have found especially sensitive, beautiful in execution and sentiment, and open-minded in terms of religion or traditions surrounding death. In choosing these two titles, I have avoided the many books on the death of a father, for example, in favour of one on the death of a pet that could be applied more generally and one that takes a wider view. I think these titles are also appropriate for a wide age range, perhaps 2 to 10 years old, as they are gentle, but not simplistic in a way that would make them too young for older children.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney
By Judith Viorst, ill. Erik Blegvad.
ISBN: 0689206887

A small picture book with simple black-and-white line drawings, this book is the classic, go-to picture book about bereavement for children. Centred around the death of a cat, the young narrator is encouraged to think of ten good things to say at a simple backyard funeral. The child (sex unclear?) argues with a sister about whether Barney is in heaven or in the ground, a debate that is left open by the intervening father, who tells them that we don’t really know about heaven. I like that this leaves the subject open for valuable discussion between parent and child, allowing for use by people of many faiths or none at all. The father then talks, as he and the child garden, about how things change in the ground and how Barney will help grow flowers. That, he says, is a pretty nice job for a cat, and the boy agrees. So do I, for that matter. I also like the simplicity of this book, the way the ten good things are ones a child might think of. I think it really talks on a child’s level, not down to them.

Lifetimes By Bryan Mellonie
ISBN: 0553344021

This gorgeously illustrated book is described as “a beautiful way to explain death to children,” and so it is. Poetic, repetitious language depicts death as part of life for all beings, plant, animal, or person. We all share, as the book puts it, “beginnings and endings, with lifetimes in between.” It discusses some of the reasons for death, some of the responses to death, and the rituals we observe after death in broad, general terms that allow room for discussion and various different traditions while remaining straight-forward. This is my favourite book on the topic for its wonderful combination of soothing rhythm and direct answers to many of the questions a child might have.

For these and other books on the loss of a loved one, visit your public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.