Books for Kids about Aging, Illness, and Death

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Books about cancer that a preschooler would understand

March 2010

I'm looking for recommendations for picture books that discuss cancer (specifically a parent or family member having cancer/being in the hospital)at a level that a preschooler could understand. Any recommendations would be appreciated. Thanks anon

Picture books about cancer: The Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library has a wonderful section in the Children's Library dealing with family issues. The section has picture and children's books on Cancer, going to the hospital, going to the doctor, pets dying, going to the dentist, etc. The children's librarian in that branch is very helpful and can show you that section. joy

Here is a link to a book published by a cancer survivor with material from her daughter. Good luck with everything

I asked two listservs and here is a wealth of information. Good luck.

Some responses are from independent booksellers, some from authors in the children's lit field.

Hugs On The Wind is not about cancer specifically, but it is about separation. It is written so it can be used for a loved one away in a hospital, a grandparent who lives far away, a parent off to work each morning, someone who has died, etc. It has been very helpful to young ones. It's told from POV of Little Cottontail who misses his grandfather who has gone far across the Great Green Meadow. Death is never mentioned; it's just about separation and how Little Cottontail uses nature symbols to feel close to his grandfather.

The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco (from Hicklebees in San Jose)

Kathy's Hats: A Story of Hope by Trudy Krisher (Hicklebees, San Jose)

The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka is about terminally ill children. Books Inc.

Sammy's Mommy Has Cancer by Sherry Kohlberg (definitely at a pre-school level with basic but colorful illustrations) Tickles Tabitha's Cancer-tankerous Mommy by Amelia Frahm The Paper Chains by Claire Blake Good Luck, Mrs. K.! (an affecting and more artfully done book and only book by a big NYC publisher. Please note this is for k-3, as it's about a beloved elementary teacher's cancer)

Can I Catch Cancer? By Cristine Thomas
Our Mom Has Cancer by Abigail Ackerman
My Mom Has Cancer by Carolyn Parkinson

Shennen Bersani has a new book out, 'Nana, What's Cancer?' There is a news link that shows an interview with the granddaughter/ grandmother who wrote the book, and all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society. I think of the books mentioned in this thread this might be the most useful.

I looked hard, as best I could online, at the others. Since my youngest grandson was in Kindergarten when his mom was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, and even though I was a primary caregiver for her, I didn't know until recently he wet his pants at school every time she had a chemo appointment. I'm impressed this book,' Nana, What's Cancer?', was written by a survivor and the grandchild who first asked this question. So if I were to buy a book for kids on cancer, this is the one I'd purchase. In fact, I am buying a copy.

The American Cancer Soc. website has a number of books aimed at different ages about family members who have cancer including one about a mommy with breast cancer for very young children, workbooks, and books aimed at older kids. There are also books for kids who have cancer... all sorts of choices.

p.s. If any of you have cancer, or need support around that illness as a friend or family member, I can't recommend the ACS more. They are wonderful.

There's a picture book called 'When Someone You Love Has Cancer' that I've heard is good, though I haven't read it. It's on Amazon and two other titles on the subject are listed on the page. I hope this helps.

Jacqueline Golding, Ph.D. has a reference book, HEALING STORIES that compiles picture books for the big & small changes in a child's life. It does have a section on chronic illness that lists titles of PBs that apply to this discussion.

The American Psychology Association has a wonderful children's book publisher called Magination Press. They have children's books available for very many difficult topics such as cancer. I would check out this website.

Debbie Duncan's When Molly Was In The Hospital: A Book For Brothers And Sisters Of Hospitalized Children isn't about cancer but just might fit the bill. Nancy

Children's book about sick/dying grandmother?

Aug 2006

My friend's mother has cancer and may pass away. My friend has two boys, ages 2 and 4, and is looking for a children's book relating to this issue that presents it in a non-negative light. She's not looking for a religious book but isn't opposed to a discussion of ''heaven'' if its not too involved. She asked me to find one for her. Any recommendations would be great. Thank you

This was not among the books listed previously, but I have recommended this one before. It is ''Badger's Parting Gifts'' by Susan Varley, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is great for the age group (well at least the 4 year old) you have in mind and is good for any age really Anon

Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. It manages to be non-religious but uplifting--I think it comforted me as much as it did my child. good luck!

Maria Shriver has a fairly current and very popular book on the subject. -Heather
[I think this is called What's Happening to Grandpa? -Ed]

My son has really liked ''I miss you: a first look at death'' by Pat Thomas. It's very matter of fact, explains about death and the emotions that go along with it, and the illustrations carry a sub-plot about a little girl whose grandmother dies. All around, it's very well done best wishes

Good for you for helping support your friend! Here are some of the books I looked into when my kids' great-grandfather died last year. ''Liplap's Wish'' talks about grieving from a child's point of view, and is suitable for 2-4 year olds. ''Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs'' by Tomie de Paola talks about aging and death. ''The Tenth Good Thing about Barney'' is about a pet rather than a grandmother, but it answers children's questions about death in a very gentle way. You might also check out Marc Brown's ''When Dinosaurs Die.'' I was initially concerned that a couple of pages were too intense for my kids, but they took away only the information they neded and just had no interest in the rest Jennifer

How thoughtful of you to help your friend. I'm a former librarian and have several suggestions for preschool level books. My Grandson Lew, by Charlotte Zolotow (about to be reprinted, but available at libraries) is a lovely story about a 6-year-old boy who learns long after the fact about his grandfather's death. His mother had not told him of the death because he was only 2 and she thought he would not miss or remember the grandfather. They learn remembering together is healing. In the book My Grandpa Died Today, by J. Fassler, the grandfather prepares his grandson for his death (''I'm not afraid to die because you are not afraid to live.''). But one of my favorites is Annie and the Old One, by M. Miles. It's a tale of a Navajo child who tries to prevent her grandmother's death by secretly unweaving the rug the grandmother is trying to finish before she dies. The grandmother helps her understand the circle of life. A book about the death of a pet can also help start a conversation. Try The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst. (Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by de Paola, already mentioned on a previous post, is also excellent.) Please talk to a children's librarian for other suggestions, including some non-fiction titles. Here is a link to a list of books on death and dying for children of various ages: And here's to improving health for this child's grandmother Lisa

there is the book ''anna and the old one'' which i found quite nice, about a child whose grandmother knows she is old and passing away soon and how the child tries to stop it, and then, with her grandmother, learns to accept it. i didn't see the original post, so i don't know what age child(ren) the books are for, but it is a very nice book. anon

There's a book called ''Flip Flop'' about a little rabbit who's sad after being reminded of his grandmother who has recently died. Not religious at all. At the end, he is happy knowing that she's the brightest star in the sky and he can look up to her and remember her. I don't know the auther offhand, and if I go into my kids' room, I may wake them. I definitely recommend it for your friends' kids after their grandmother passes away. I hope someone has a good book for right now. paula

Maria Shriver has a popular book on this subject. Heather

I have a fantastic book to recommend about a grandmother who dies. It's called ''Ghost Wings'' by Barbara Joosse and beautifully illustrated by Giselle Potter. The theme is about a mexican family with a little girl who experiences the death of her grandmother. Dios de las Muertas plays a part in this wonderfully told story! Can't say enough good things about this book! dessa

Books about grandparent's death

Nov 1998

For the parent wanting recommendations for books on aging and the elderly:

I highly recommend Tomie de Paola's book, Nana Upstairs-Nana Downstairs. While it's about 20 years old, and can be checked out of the library, he also recently re-did the illustrations, so you should be able to find it at the book store. It's based on his own childhood experience when he was four years old. Suzanne

One of my favorites is Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, or something like that, by Tomie de Paola. The relationship between the little boy and his great-grandma is wonderful. She dies at the end, though, and you may not be ready to talk about *that* just yet! Sarah