Subject: Mental Health
Age Group: EY and KS1
Synopsis: Have you ever wondered how to help children deal with a sudden death in the family? Death is never an easy subject to start a conversation about, so what can you do to help writes Wanda Gajewski from SLS Wandsworth. With carefully chosen literature about loss and grief, in particular the much-loved picture book Badger’s parting gift, you can start a discussion that explores the cycle of life and enables you to craft lasting memories with children.
Incorporating picture books into discussion about the cycle of life will help children to understand death and grief. It may help them cope with feelings of sadness after a loved one has died. Children can be naturally curious and are likely to ask many questions, so this is a good time to show children, through nature, that things die. You can use anything around you to illustrate the life cycle, for example flowers. What is the difference between a flower that is alive and a flower that is dead could be a starting point for a discussion.
These picture books about death might also be comforting for children who have not been bereaved, but have questions or anxiety about it. The books are best used with resources to help the discussion and to inspire activities that will help the children create lasting memories.
Badger’s parting gifts
by Susan Varley
This comforting book is still one of the most well-loved bereavement books for children. It tells the story of old Badger, who isn’t afraid that he is going to die soon but hopes that his friends won’t be very sad when he is gone. One night, Badger has a lovely dream that he is running on his no-longer tired legs towards a tunnel. In the morning, his friends find that he has died. The woodland folks are very unhappy, but later, they find that Badger has left them special things to remember him by.
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
This picture book uses words and pictures to express feelings that are sometimes too complicated to explain to other people. Easy to follow for children aged five and up, this is a book for everyone, whether they are missing someone who has died, or care about someone who has been bereaved. Michael Rosen wrote this following the death of his 18-year-old son, Eddie. Complex and often overwhelming feelings are conveyed with beautiful simplicity, accompanied by illustrations that also say as much.
Saying Goodbye to Hare
by Carol Lee
Inspired by author Carol Lee’s experience of supporting her own children through their father’s illness and death, the beautifully illustrated story follows young Rabbit as his good friend Hare becomes ill and dies. As with some of the best books on death and dying, it addresses questions and feelings that younger children may have about death, with honesty and warmth.
The Heart and the Bottle
by Oliver Jeffers
This story is about a little girl who begins to forget about the other things she loves when someone special to her dies. Keeping her heart in a bottle will keep it safe from more hurt, she thinks, until she meets another little girl whose infectious curiosity reminds her about how she used to be.
Always and Forever
by Alan Durant
This picture book may help children understand that feelings of great sadness can eventually give way to comforting memories. Otter, Mole and Hare are so sad when their friend, Fox, dies that they can’t help but think about all the things they miss about him. This makes them feel sadder until Squirrel pays a visit and makes them laugh about some of the happy times they spent with Fox. Squirrel also suggests something they can make in memory of Fox.
Resources in the pack:
- Badger’s parting gift Story prop
- ‘A first look at death’
- ‘Goodbye grandma – Helping children to cope with bereavement’
Activities to create lasting memories:
- Memory boxes – children decorate the box and fill it up with items associated with the person they miss.
- Patchwork comforters – making them from the clothing of someone special.
- Christmas decoration – a cufflink or earring could be included in the decoration.