In one of our recent blogs, we suggested nine family-friendly ways to memorialise a loved pet. This is because children often struggle with the loss of a pet as much as we adults do and it can be helpful for them to have an outlet for their feelings.
Family pets represent friendship, unconditional love and daily routines for children of all ages. Their passing can provoke a new understanding of mortality and a maelstrom of emotions.
If you’re wondering how you can talk to your child about your pet’s death or the grief they may be feeling, there are some fantastic books written for children to help them make sense of their bereavement.
As a companion to this, we’ve put together the list below of ten of our favourite children’s books about pet bereavement. We hope you and your family find one or more titles helpful:
By Fred Rogers
Although the pictures in this book are dated, the words are timeless. Fred Rogers gently walks young children through the experience of loving a pet that becomes ill and dies, and the emotions they might feel afterwards.
The tone is matter-of-fact but compassionate. Rogers acknowledges that grief hurts and we will want to be able to bring our pets back but that we simply can’t. The message is hopeful – there will come a day when we can remember the happy memories of our pets and know that they will always be with us because of the love we carry for them.
This is a lovely book for little ones that still offers pearls of wisdom to us big ones. We also like that it features different pets.
2. Jasper’s Day
By Marjorie Blain-Parker
This touching book tells the story of Jasper the Golden Retriever, an old dog who is increasingly in pain with incurable cancer. His family (mum, dad and son, Riley) have to decide whether euthanasia is the ‘last gift’ that they can give their beloved companion. Before his final trip to the vet, the family gives Jasper one last wonderful day doing all of his favourite things. Jasper’s last day is the hardest day of Riley’s young life.
This picture book is ideal for helping four- to eight-year-olds understand what planned euthanasia is, why it is sometimes necessary and what they might feel about it.
By Corinne Demas
This story is about a young girl and her ageing dog, Lulu. It tenderly describes the decline of old age as Lulu stops being able to do all the things she loved in her younger years.
When the girl’s dad says they can get a new puppy when Lulu dies, it makes her angry. She doesn’t want a new dog, she wants Lulu to be young again.
Lulu dies one day while the girl is at school. What follows is a realistic, beautifully drawn insight into the intense grief she feels. The girl misses Lulu all the time – the thump of her tail, the smell of her. In the spring, she plants a special tree by Lulu’s grave.
Eventually, the family decide to get a new puppy. The girl knows it will never be Lulu but she will love the puppy with all her heart too.
This book is aimed at four- to seven-year-olds but most ages would get something from it. Told from the young girl’s perspective, the story is gentle and honest about the feelings associated with loss.
By Maggie Smith
For those of you wanting a cat-focused children’s book about bereavement, Desser the Best Ever Cat is ideal.
In this story, the oldest daughter of Desser’s human family tells the story of his life. The words and illustrations show how the pair grew up together and the precious moments they shared.
The story shows the family preparing for Desser’s death, talking about their good and bad memories, and burying Desser in a special spot in the garden. Ultimately, the girl and her family take in a new rescue cat with whom the girl shares her memories of Desser.
This is a poignant but realistic story that doesn’t shy away from the truths of old age and death. The message is a positive one about keeping memories alive, talking about our lost pets and knowing that, when the time is right, you can give a new pet a home without forgetting your old friend.
By Jane Yolen
This is another poignant story about pet loss that features the titular cat, Tiger Rose. Tiger Rose is very old and has grown too tired to live any longer. She spends her final day saying goodbye to all the joys and comforts in her life, from the children and dog in her family to her favourite shady patch in the garden.
This story is a celebration of life, which concludes with Tiger Rose taking a leap into the blue sky and becoming one with the natural world she has loved so much.
Unlike many of the other pet bereavement books on this list, it doesn’t feature Tiger Rose’s family adopting a new pet. This can be helpful if you’re all a bit fed up of people suggesting that you get a new companion as soon as possible.
By Judith Viorst
The boy in this story is heartbroken when his cat Barney dies. His mum and dad promise that they will give Barney a funeral in the garden the next morning and his mum asks the boy to think about ten special things to say about Barney during the service. He can only think of nine.
After the funeral, the boy’s friend, Annie, says that Barney will be playing in heaven now but the boy isn’t convinced. Isn’t Barney just in the ground? The boy’s dad says no-one knows and that people believe different things. Annie says if heaven exists, there’s definitely room for a cat like Barney.
The boy is troubled by the idea of Barney being in the ground because this is what he believes. His dad takes him out into the garden where they plant seeds together. He talks to the boy about how seeds change in the ground to become plants. He says Barney will change in the ground too, becoming one with the soil and helping everything in the garden to grow.
The boy knows this is the tenth good thing about Barney and a pretty amazing achievement for a cat.
By Patrice Karst
This book isn’t about bereavement. It’s about the feeling of missing someone or something that we love very much when they’re not with us.
When twins, Jeremy and Liza, are scared by a thunderstorm, they don’t want to go to bed because their mum will be in a different room. Their mum gently reassures them that she’s always with them and connected to them by the ‘invisible string’ that is tied between people (and animals) who love each other.
In the story, the mum explains that when we feel a tug in our heart from missing someone, it’s the string pulling at the other end and letting us know that we’re still connected. The twins still feel the tug from their uncle who has died. The mum says people feel it for their pets too.
The message of the book is that we always carry love with us and the invisible string binds us to our loved ones, even when we can’t be together.
By Bryan Mellonie
“There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living.” This is how Lifetimes begins.
Using large illustrations and simple but clear explanations, this book explores how every animal, bird, tree, fish, plant and person has a lifespan, and that some lifespans are longer than others.
Lifetimes discusses how lifespans can be affected by when and where something lives. Living things can also become ill or get injured. The book reassures children that, in many cases, living things can get better but that death occurs when the body is no longer able to keep itself alive.
The beauty of this book is that death is treated very much as a natural part of living, an essential part of the life cycle. Birth and death are mentioned throughout but the real focus is on the lifetimes in between.
By Joyce C Mills
Although this book isn’t specifically about pet loss, it is a tender and comforting story about death.
In this tale, squirrel Amanda and her friend Little Tree come to love Gentle Willow, a tree who grows on the opposite riverbank. Gentle Willow sings songs that sound like crystals chiming as she says good morning every day. Yellow butterflies play in her branches. Her roots make the perfect hiding place for Amanda’s acorns.
But, one day, Amanda notices that Gentle Willow is changing – her bark is covered in lumps and bumps. The tree wizards tell Amanda that Gentle Willow has an illness that can’t be cured. She will be going on a journey where she will change forms, a journey humans call ‘death’.
Gentle Willow is scared but Amanda comforts her with a story about how the yellow butterflies that dance in her leaves were once caterpillars that went into the darkness of their chrysalises and emerged in a new, better form. This comforts Gentle Willow.
After her passing, the butterflies gradually return to the place Gentle Willow once stood and the whisper of the wind through the long grass sounds like her song. This reminds Amanda and Little Tree that Gentle Willow will always be with them.
This book for nursery and primary age children gives a gentle introduction to the concept of death.
A book for pre-teens and upwards
By R J Palacio
Number ten on our list is a book aimed at slightly older children – pre-teens and upwards – but will resonate with all the family.
While Wonder isn’t specifically about pet loss, this beautiful novel and its film-adaptation both sensitively explore the relationship the main character, Auggie, has with the beloved family dog, Daisy, as a key subplot.
Daisy has always been a non-judgmental friend for Auggie, a ten-year-old who has facial deformities caused by Treacher Collins Syndrome. Daisy’s death due to old age is particularly poignant for Auggie because she has given him unconditional love and been a constant presence, especially each time Auggie has recovered from surgery.
The way Daisy’s death affects the whole family feels very recognisable to anyone who has lost a family pet.
These are just a handful of the wonderful books out there written to help children make sense of pet loss and bereavement. If you’ve come across any other titles that have helped your own family, please do send us the details so we can share them with the wider Ralph Site community.
As always, know that you’re not alone.
Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support