We Recommend: Pet-Mourning Edition

It's time for We Recommend, where you can e-mail us to get book recommendations, and we'll do our best to find the one that works. So please, avail yourselves. And that's all I can really say right now, because this one is really sad.

Oh dear. How very apropos, unfortunately, that just as we are writing of comfort and where to find it, we get a request from a most wonderful reader of this blog (and writer in her own right)[link now fixed, sorry!] for a book to comfort, as follows:

Can you recommend a good book for my 5 year old (and me) that deals with death of a pet? Preferably with a female protagonist and a cat. I've heard of Cat Heaven, and I'll take a look at it, but I was hoping for something more secular. We're going to have to send my old cat to "cat heaven" sometime soon, and I thought I should be prepared.

We had a very near-cat-death experience at our house this summer, though we were very lucky and grabbed her back from death at the very last second.* But in those moments before the reprieve, it was just as devastating for my kids as I have always secretly feared it would be, though I can't know how things would have gone later, I suppose.

As we noted in the previous post, it's not so easy to know what will bring comfort. And perhaps the comfort here, which the mom seems to need just as much as the kid, might come more from reading Winne the Pooh together in bed at night (one of my most comforting rituals) than from anything that touches more directly on death and all that.

But while that may be true, it's not exactly helpful for someone who is 5, who needs to understand where the cat went. What's tricky about this, of course, is that many of us don't feel we have any really good answer for where the cat went. I do know that many's the child who has been soothed by the direct: the cat is in heaven now. This has been said by many nonbelieving parents in the spirit of, Well, I don't think it is, but what do I know really?

But there are also many people who would rather begin their child on the road to understanding death as an inevitable part of life, a natural process, not to be feared and dreaded (good luck with that) but to be accepted. If anyone knows of any Buddhist books for kids about death, hey, have at it.

I know, I know: I haven't recommended anything. Yet. This is partly because my guess is that there is probably some very straightforward book like "The Berenstain Bears and the Death of Miffy" that would be helpful in that great, non-neurotic matter-of-fact manner that I covet but can never quite manage. If there is such a book, again, have at it.

Truly, though, the only thing I can really think of is this. It isn't about a real pet, but it is about real love and loss and the hope of comfort.


Yes, the Velveteen Rabbit. Not exactly a secret. And I know, I know, it's not exactly secular. But it does give comfort, and it does let you cry, which you need to do, too.

But really, I feel that I have failed in my task. Readers—what should she read? Let her know, in the comments.

15 thoughts on “We Recommend: Pet-Mourning Edition

  1. This isn’t a cat death book, but just a really wonderful general death book (non-religious):
    Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie
    We lost my aunt last winter and lost a fish a couple weeks ago and I really appreciated this book. I’m not sure it will really help because it’s not about coping with death, but more that life is a cycle and some lives are long (people) and some are short (fish, animals) and it’s normal. It’s reassuringly peaceful and calm. I appreciated it so much because the story wasn’t “my grandpa died and I am sad” or that, plus “and now he’s in heaven” Even if another book helps with the coping more, this is a nice one to have around.


  2. There are a couple of Charlotte Zolotow titles that would be good, although they’re not about cats:
    My Grandson Lew
    The Old Dog
    And this isn’t specifically about death, but rather the natural cycle of things: When the Wind Stops.
    I also have to put in another plug for the lists from the Cooperative Childrens’ Book Center at UW-Madison. They have a grief/loss list. http://bit.ly/CCBCgrief
    Must stop now, b/c thinking of pets dying is making me cry.


  3. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst.
    The protagonist is a boy, not a girl, but it’s about the loss of his cat and how his parents help him deal with it. It is a wonderful book and pretty much the most appropriate for your situation right now.


  4. Remembering Crystal, a new picture book. A duck and an old turtle are friends, and the turtle dies. The duck goes throguh mourning and remembers her friend. Its a lovely story.


  5. I don’t have one that hasn’t been mentioned, but I just wanted to say that when our dog died “Dog Heaven” was the best thing. For me and for my kids. I always buy either Dog Heaven or Cat Heaven for my friends when their beloved pet dies. (I was also going to mention The Tenth Good Things About Barney.)


  6. A new book by Mo Willems, City Dog country Frog is really simple with beautiful watercolor illustrations (by Jon Muth!)… deals with City Dog’s friend Country Frog who plays for a season but isn’t around after Winter. The dog is sad but makes a new friend, but it isn’t overdone or sentimental. We have it new in our school library and it prompted a great discussion about the cycle of life.


  7. Mog, of “Mog the Forgetful Cat (1970)” fame eventually, at the literary old age of 32, departs this world in “Goodbye, Mog (2002)”


  8. I also want to chime in for The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. It is wonderful, sweet, very appropriate for a child that age. I kind of well up just thinking about it.


  9. Yeah. The answer to this question is clearly The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, which is probably the best book ever written about pet death and on my list of the all time great picture books even aside from being an “issue” book.


  10. I’m also chiming in to say “The 10th Good Thing About Barney.” It was especially refreshing to have a non-religious approach to death written for kids. We read it to our 1 year old when we had to have my cat put down (she was 16 and dying of kidney failure) and she kept looking for Lady.


  11. I think ‘Lifetimes’ is a wonderful, normalising look at death. ‘John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat’ is a children’s book that approaches the acceptance of death in a very indirect way. The illustrations are beautiful. Goodbye Mog is great too.


  12. The Tenth Good Thing sounds like a perfect fit, but I’ll also mention “The Forever Dog” by Bill Cochran. It’s about a boy whose dog dies and his struggle with the emotions that come along with loss. It has helped a few kids I know work through that tough situation.


  13. Oh, thank you all so much! I read online reviews, but wanted the passionate advice of the DITW community. (Hey, you guys like being referred to as such? Sounds very grass roots, yet powerful, no?) Also, the post on my blog about Tru, the elderly kitty in question, is now under at least one new post, so scroll if you like. And again, thanks for the advice. I’m sure the books will comfort me as much or more than my resilient daughter.


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