We Recommend: Oh Crap, It’s Death Again

OK, this one is quick and desperate, and responds to Kate in the comments who says this:

Taking my sensitive 11 year old to see her grandmother next week. She is in advanced stages of cancer. I wish there were some sort of short book I could read to her about death and dying that won't terrify her. I read a great picture book about the death of a beloved family pet (Up In Heaven), but a dog is not the same thing as a grandmother.

Wow. First, I am so sorry that your mother, or mother-in-law, is dying. You have our profound sympathy. As for a book for your girl? Well, what strikes me is that she's 11. That's too old for a picture book on what happens when we die; it's maybe even too old for anything so straightforward as a "The Year My Grandmother Died" sort of book. So I say, if possible, tell the truth but tell it slant, you know? You don't need to tell her about death. Maybe just bring along that book that offers a profound sort of comfort, maybe something she loved when she was younger, something safe and small and warm, that offers up the hope that all of life isn't quite as sucky as this, that there's some sort of solace somewhere. For me? That would maybe be Ballet Shoes. Or Paddle to the Sea. Or, now that I'm an actual grown up, Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels, which are filled with benevolent light.

But for her? Whatever brings her peace. And maybe, if things are OK for this, something to read aloud to her grandma. My grandma was profoundly comforted by hearing the stories of Isaac Babel read aloud to her as she was dying. (But not by me. She said my voice was too squeaky, my dad had to read them.) So maybe fairy tales?

This is all very idiosyncratic, though. Does anyone out there have any suggestions for this situation? Put them in the comments.

11 thoughts on “We Recommend: Oh Crap, It’s Death Again

  1. I know I’ve said it before, but Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie. She may technically be too old for it, but maybe the quiet simplicity of it would be a comfort, not a turn off. That said, I don’t have an 11 year old.


  2. The book I read around age 11 that taught me about death was Madeline L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light. But I agree that a favorite book with the right message could be best. While I think picture books can be great even for middle schoolers (and even for adults!) I think that reading one intended primarily for younger kids when you’re dealing with a subject of this magnitude and depth might feel insulting to a preteen kid – even if the level of the message is right on target. But it probably depends a lot on the kid.
    We also have an impending death of a loved one in our family so I’m curious to hear the other suggestions. 😦


  3. I go back to two books again and again in these situations… this one…
    Which is a beautiful quiet story about how different family members responded to Grandad’s death.
    And one that’s similar to this… http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Albert-Whitman-Concept-Paperbacks/dp/0807550531/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290043204&sr=1-1 and maybe take the materials to share memories and record some stories together?


  4. Check out Sun and Spoon, by Kevin Henkes. It’s about a 10 year old boy dealing with the death of his grandmother, and looking for a memento of hers to keep.
    I’m so sorry. I hope you are doing okay.


  5. brilliant call on the Henkes. I forgot to mention that this book is primarily for my daughter. I think I am handling it all very well, surprisingly. Thanks again for the suggestions. I knew a group of book lovers would understand my desire to turn to literature in times of sadness.


  6. If you can find it, the Key to Winter. It is a picture book, but it’s beautiful (and out of print). I got it when I was about 9 and loved it for much longer. It’s the kind of book I might just buy and leave around because she might feel she’s too old to have a discussion about it, but the illustrations are so great she might pick it up if it’s lying around.


  7. What popped into my head was Little Women, because when Beth dies, it’s totally traumatic and terrible, but the book goes on and you get to see them piece their lives back together.
    I think I was about 10 when I read LW, so it seems like the right age range for me, but I was also 10 when I read Gone with the Wind, so perhaps not.
    Good luck. You are in my prayers.


  8. From a thematic standpoint, maybe “Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant- has to do with the sudden death of an aunt who, if I remember right, mostly raised the narrator/protagonist; but also goes into the grieving process, desire to bring the deceased back, and ultimate bittersweet acceptance. And just generally a lovely book.
    From a not particularly thematically-linked standpoint, and I’m not sure why it came to mind but for some reason I feel pretty strongly about it- “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.” It’s not about death, really, but there’s a lot of musing on life and loss and mortality; I find it to be profoundly comforting, as the original post suggested. And I think I first read it at 12. And it’s pretty much the first book I ever encountered that made me feel right about being sort of an over-sensitive, over-thinking kind of child.
    Anyway, it’s not short and not an Issue Book, but it’s what came to mind. I’m so sorry for the impending loss, and I think you’re doing a lovely thing to try to find comfort for your daughter in a book.


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