To explain death, it is helpful to think in terms as it being part of life itself. For this reason, LIFETIMES (The beautiful way to explain death to children) by Brian and Robert Ingpen provides incredibly useful language. Talking about "life energy" lost has proven to be an understandable opening to such conversations with my preschoolers whether it is due to a human or animal family member or a classroom goldfish.
The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr is simplistic and on target for the feelings and thoughts that come after losing a loved one. Like all his books, the art and words are spare and well-chosen to reach even the youngest audience.
Grief is a Mess by Jackie Schuld explores grief, respecting it for the individual process that it is for each of us.
Finally, The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is a story about loss and ensuing grief. While it does not directly speak of death, through storytelling and lovely artwork, it beautifully illustrates how we are connected to our loved ones and why it hurts when those relationships end. There is mourning. And still hope.
For any discussions about death with young children, I recommend reading these books to yourself before tackling them with your little ones. There is a lot to digest between the covers.
Books for Children
Lifetimes – Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen
When People Die – Joanne Berstein
Love, Mark – Mark Scravani
The Kids Book About Death and Dying – Eric Rolfes
When Someone Very Special Dies – Marge Heegard
Aarvy Ardvark Finds Hope – Donna O'TooleAbout Sibling Death:
Am I Still a Sister? – Alvin Sims
Children are not Paper Dolls – Erin Linn Levy
My Brother Joey Died – Gloria McLendon
Losing Someone You Love – (older children) – Elizabeth Richter
About Parental Death:
A New Mother for Martha – Phyllis Green
Good-bye Chicken Little – Betsy Byars
How it Feels When a Parent Dies – (older children) – Jill Krementz
Geranium Morning – Sandy Powell
Books for Parents/Guardians
No Time for Good-Byes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger, and Injustice After a Tragic Death – J. Harris Lord
Beyond Sympathy: How to Help Another Through Injury, Illness, or Loss – Janice Harris Lord
Dear Parents: Letters to Bereaved Parents – Centering Corporation
How Do We Tell the Children? – Dan Schaeffer and Christine Lyons
Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child – Earl A. Grollman
Bereaved Children and Teens – Earl A. Grollman
Books and Workbooks for Professionals
Grief Comes to Class – Centering Corporation
Helping Activities for Children in Grief – Gay McWhorter
Mending Hearts – When a School Grieves – Amy Murray
When Something Terrible Happens – Marge Heegaard
When Someone Very Special Dies – Marge Heegaard
What Color Are Tears? – Marianne Vandawalker
Bereavement Support Group Program for Children – Beth Haasl and Jean Marnochoa