This question was posed to all the storytime ninjas, rather than our March featured ninjas, in order to find the best responses possible. Please add your thoughts in the comments.
Hi, Ninjas! I have a really sad question. We got a call today from a preschool teacher who had a student pass away from terminal illness. She wanted a book to help the kids understand what happened to their classmate. I had to make do with what we had in house at the moment, so I gave her Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories and hoped for the best. It has me wondering, though, do you have any go-to books for terminal illness and/or death? Given the age of the children, the subject matter, and the school setting, I wasn’t even sure that reading a book to them would be the best thing to do–seems more like parent territory to me. What are your thoughts?
I have found this website to be helpful in dealing with the question on helping children cope.
From Lisa (a.k.a. The Library Lady):
I think that the teacher is asking for a really bad situation in reading ANY book to these kids about the loss of their classmate. No matter how adroitly the books handle it, you have a variety of kids coming to this with different experiences, be they religious training, family experience, etc.
So this is something for parents to talk about at home with their kids, and for the teacher to be ready to help handle at school as needed, hopefully with the help of some sort of counselor experienced in this sort of thing. Helping the kids express their grief and answering their questions is important, but handling it badly would be far worse.
The book I’d have handed her, and have handed a lot of parents and teachers is “The Grieving Child,” by Helen Fitzgerald, herself the sort of counselor needed here. It has wonderful chapters on how to talk to kids, but more importantly, on how kids perceive death at different ages and stages, and how to answer the questions bound to come up.
Always and Forever by Gliori is one of my go-to grief books for preschoolers, and it might work well with a group – but there are other books that are good for one-on-one. So maybe recommending a booklist to share with parents would be good, too.
I love the book The Next Place by Warren Hansen. It explains death is a gently and not scary way. I bought it for myself as an adult after my father passed away. Personally, I am not sure doing it in a school setting may be the best place for it. I usually have parents asking for these types of books. I would suggest to the teacher that she reach out to the parents and ask them if they want her to discuss it in class or not.