Recently I was asked to be a part of The Groundswell Project Dying to Know Day campaign. Dying To Know Day (August 8th) is an annual day of action dedicated to activating conversations and community actions around death, dying and bereavement.
I am intimately acquainted with grief. The tragic death of my wild-spirited, huge-hearted little brother in 2012 shook our lives until we no longer knew which way was up and which way was down. In 2017, my beautiful and incredibly talented aunt passed away unexpectedly and mere weeks later, my husband Dan suffered a catastrophic heart attack in his sleep. Our children woke to the news that their daddy had died and I had lost the other half of myself. My family and I are extremely close and we are fortunate that we have each other and a village of people who keep us afloat, but grief is still a journey that is mostly faced alone; no one person can ever fully comprehend the incredible minutiae of emotions that overwhelm you when you lose someone you love.
As a primary school teacher I have an interest in how schools manage death and grief in their communities and as a librarian I feel strongly that literature can support young people in developing their understanding of death and dying and increase their ability to articulate their own grief journey. It is so important that young people see their life reflected in the books they read, it helps them to feel less alone and gives them a space to escape to when the actual world is just too ‘noisy’. Periods of sadness require quiet and books are quiet companions in my experience…there when you need their comfort but silent when you need space and solitude.
This is just my own story and I have no professional qualifications in this area; I am merely a collector of stories.
Since I last listed books which touch on grief or times of change (see my grief archives here), I’ve found a few more titles which I just adore, including (for young people) ‘Fly’ by Jess McGreachin, ‘Paperboy: A patchwork of memories’ by Danny Parker and Beth Macdonald and ‘The Bird Within Me’ by Sara Lundberg. For adults I love ‘Grief is the Thing With Feathers’ (full review here) and ‘Insomniac City’. These newer (to me) titles must be added to my extended list below.
‘Fly’ is aimed at an early childhood (3-7) audience and is the most uplifting (literally and figuratively!) story of Lucy and her dad, who give each other space but also nurture and love in the face of loss. Death is not mentioned at all in the text but astute young readers will find loss in the visuals. This is the perfect book to pour over, to start conversations and to discuss at length.
The Rabbit Listened’ is also for a young audience. It looks at the issue of a person dealing with grief or sadness often needing someone who will just shut the *%$#* up. The main character is surrounded by friends telling him how he should feel and what he should do. But it is not until they have gone and a little rabbit comes and sits quietly by his side, that he begins to process his thoughts and start to think and feel on his own.
‘The Bird Within Me’ is a translation, based on the paintings, letters and diaries of Swedish artist Berta Hansoon who was born in 1910. It is the most exquisite publication (which I really feel deserves to hang on the wall as a piece of art) but it also explores death of a mother, family obligation, adapting to change and following your dreams despite adversity. So highly recommended for readers 10 – 100.
In ‘Paper boy: A patchwork of dreams’ Danny Parker has created yet another deeply moving story – he has the most profound yet gentle way with words. His books always leave me misty eyed and pondering long after the last page is turned and I often gift his books to people who I know need them or will connect with them. Beautifully illustrated by Bethany Macdonald, ‘Paper boy: A patchwork of dreams’ is not specifically grief related (in fact it is about divorce) but this summary says it all: This story is inspired by the author’s personal experience as a child during a period of familial transition, but the sentiment of the book is easily translated to many challenges in life. Danny has used metaphor to unfold a story of bouncing forward when faced with adversity. The core message of this book is easily relatable for people within a number of contexts, and creates a great launching pad for learning about growth-mindedness and resilient thinking skills. (credit: Dirt Lane Press).
This list is roughly in age order from books for the very young, through to teens and then adults. Please check suitability for your reader.
*If I’m 100% honest I don’t love this one – but it’s kind of ‘THE BOOK’ that everyone knows so I thought I best include it!