picture books on loss

While I love the joy of picture books, I also like the sad ones. The simple, straight to the heart ones about life and loss and heartbreak. Like these three.


Rabbityness by Jo Empson. On losing a friend.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Erik Blegvad. On losing a pet.

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec. On losing a parent.



First, Jo Empson‘s exquisite, exuberant illustrations. Second, a rabbit who likes both rabbity things and non-rabbity things (like painting and music-making). Then, the rabbit disappears.


The woods go from exuberant to gray and sad and lonely. Until. Until! Until the other rabbits discover the gifts the other rabbit left them.


Final Rabbityness 4 & 5



Final Rabbityness 10 & 11


Final Rabbityness 18 & 19


Final Rabbityness 22-23

Thanks to Jo Empson for the images.


It’s as though loss isn’t even the subject of this book, the way it touches it so gently. But it is. Because when we begin this book we have no idea we’re going to lose this rabbit we’ve just been so charmed by. But we will. And we’ll be okay. We’ll even paint and make music thanks to him.




140185The Tenth Good Thing About Barney

“My cat Barney died last Friday. I was very sad,” the boy tells us in the first lines of this one from 1971.

Who wouldn’t be sad? I love how this book offers a great coping mechanism: remembering the good. The boy’s mom tells him to think of ten good things about Barney the cat. At the funeral, he  recites nine.

After talking to his dad and his friend, the boy thinks of a tenth. And the tenth is about Barney in the present, in the backyard. The tenth one is acceptance.




11449551The Scar

Boy is this one heartbreaking. But it’s also told  honestly and beautifully and even, at moments, with humor. Even so, there’s no getting around that this is a story of a boy  who loses his mom. The first line is a bit of a shock: “Mom died this morning.”

The special perfect part of this book (aside from Olivier Tallec’s red and white and black drawings) is the boy. The way he assumes that with his Mom gone, he has to take care of things and take care of his dad. He feels this great responsibility that shows his empathy, his grief, and the way he’s avoiding his own sadness.






THE SCAR. Original text and artwork copyright © Père Castor/Éditions Flammarion, 2009. Translation copyright © 2011 Candlewick Press. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Flammarion Jeunesse.


This book could be helpful if a child has lost someone or if they know someone who’s lost someone. It’s fiery, red, difficult subject matter, but it tells us that we’ll all bleed. And that we’ll wear the scars.


And on a bit lighter note, I give you my series on books to overcome the doldrums for a dash of hope!



11 Responses to picture books on loss

  1. I did not know Rabbityness, but will be looking for it. The others are wonderful! Do you also know, My Father’s Arms are a Boat, or this one: http://www.amazon.com/Badgers-Parting-Gifts-Susan-Varley/dp/0688115187

  2. I have Rabbityness on my wish list, but have not seen the others. And how about Oliver Jeffers’s The Heart and the Bottle. I guess there are probably a lot of PBs out there about loss. Interesting.

  3. shelley says:

    A beautiful list. I can’t wait to check them out. Books on loss have a special place in my heart. I worked on a book called Klinger — a gift to all military children who lose a parent. It’s a more literal book (I love these more abstract approaches to loss here), but I will never forget the hundreds of little faces that I stared into on the day of our book launch, Memorial Day 2010. Some things you remember forever.

  4. I love Rabbityness! And Barney makes me cry even though you know how I feel about those feline things.

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