I had a sad task this week. I had to look for good children’s books about death.
Two students at my school, from two separate families, each lost a parent in unrelated, tragic accidents. These students, as well as their friends and classmates, will be asking -- or surely thinking about -- the kinds of simple, basic questions that can be most difficult to answer: What is death? Why does it have to happen? How do we cope with our feelings? What happens to our loved ones after death?
Adults struggle with these same questions. One-size-fits-all answers are hard to come by, all the more so, distilled into words and concepts a six-year-old can understand. It’s one thing to explain the death of a beloved pet, or an elderly grandparent, or even someone younger who has been seriously ill. But accidental deaths come without preparation or any sense of transition or notion of fitting within the natural cycle of all living beings.
Wearing my librarian hat, I found several books that deal with the death of a pet or a grandparent. A couple approach death in general as part of the life cycle. But unmitigated tragedy? That’s a tough one, most likely because it’s so difficult to write about.
When I put on my writing hat, I realize how hard it is to think about. How would I approach the topic in a way that kids could relate to? I don’t get very far before my brain starts to fizzle.
My respect and appreciation go out to writers who can fill the need for those books.