So we set out to find some of the best books on death for preschoolers.
Maybe it’s because Death is a tough subject, and one we too often want to avoid. Saying, “We go to Heaven”, is a lot easier than trying to explain something we might not fully understand ourselves.
And it’s sad. Even if the person or creature lived a full lifetime, or your child is just naturally curious about death, dying is a sad, difficult subject to discuss.
The last thing we want to do as a parent is to make our kids sad, or worse, traumatize them with the wrong words.
But when your preschooler starts insisting on answers to questions like the following, it’s time to offer them some age-appropriate information and discussion.
Below you’ll find our favorite books on death for preschoolers. We’ve worked hard to find the most helpful and well-written books, but our Winner is the one we recommend you purchase first.
WINNER: Books On Death For Preschoolers
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way To Explain Death To Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen is the one we know and love the most. In the meantime, keep reading to understand what your preschooler needs from you when talking about death and dying.
Death is not the happiest subject, but great books on death for preschoolers set the groundwork for answering questions in an age-appropriate manner.
Runner-Ups: Books On Death For Preschoolers
These other books come highly recommended and are very well-rated.
Start with The Invisible String if you’re not ready to talk about lifetimes (remembering that if your child is asking, they are ready). The book introduces children to the idea that a mother and child can be connected, even when they’re apart.
But we still recommend Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way To Explain Death To Children as the one to open the conversational doors. I promise it is not sad!
Is It Time To Talk About Death?
Is your child asking?
- Will you die?
- Will I die?
- What happened to [insert name]?
- When will you/me/they die?
- What happens when we die?
- Where do we go when we die?
Or maybe they’ve asked in the past and you’re not fully satisfied with the explanation you provided at the time? (They always manage to catch us off-guard…my first conversation about death with my four-year-old was walking by a statue of Jesus Christ while on vacation!)
Are You Answering?
If your preschooler is asking questions about death and dying, it’s tempting to brush off the question or offer the following responses:
- Don’t worry, you/I/they won’t die for a long time
- We go to Heaven
- He/She is in Heaven
- Don’t think about it
Stop right there!!
The Assumption We Parents Make
Adults associate death with sadness, pain, grief, and often religion.
But that doesn’t mean kids feel the same thing when they are thinking about death or dying.
When my daughter first asked about death as a 3-year-old, the subject came up in various ways over a period of months. She mentioned her Grandmother’s daddy died and it made Grandma sad. She asked about religious figures dying. She asked about bugs dying.
She asked…and asked…and asked…
What happens when we die? Would I die? Does everybody die? When do they die?
I DON’T KNOW!
Through it all, she never seemed upset. She asked the question like she would ask for an explanation of how milk falls into a glass without spilling.
I handled each inquiry separately. My grandfather’s death was due to sickness, everybody dies eventually (Worst.Answer.Ever.), and don’t worry we will live a long time first.
But none of my answers answered my daughter’s question, so she kept asking the same questions.
I knew I was making it too individual – this person sick, this one not – and finally realized she was trying to ask me a much simpler question:
What Is Death?
Keep an open mind: Your child might not even know to be upset about death or dying – they might simply be asking for a definition or thinking aloud.
So I started looking for books on death for preschoolers.
I found, after much research and intense debate, that we can explain Death by explaining Life.
Without Life, there is no Death.
Without Death, there is no Life.
(This is getting heavy, right?) This search brought me to the best book I’ve found that helps children understand what Death is, by beautifully explaining what Life is.
Lifetimes, The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children
I ordered the book and waited. When it arrived, I read through it before my daughter could see it.
It’s a good idea to this with any book, but especially ones with heavy topics like grief.
- The book is beautiful. The images are hand drawn, colorful, and delicate.
- It’s secular, with no mention of religion – this is simply an introduction to death.
- The book is written in prose, similar to a poem. It is easily readable.
- It’s the right length, not too short or long.
A couple of things made me nervous about the book:
- One page depicts a butterfly with broken wings
- Another page mentions human life expectancies.
I took issue with the book noting that human lifetimes ranged from 60 to 70 years old, which is true in many places, but not where we live. After all, her grandmother is 65…
Then I stopped and looked at it from my preschooler’s point of view.
60 to 70 years? She’s still learning to count to 20.
The broken butterfly? It was simply that – a broken butterfly. No different than the moths that flutter into lamps and find themselves trapped.
The First Reading
My partner read it to her the first time, right before bed. She paid close attention, noting the pictures, both good and bad (no mention of the life expectancy). I hovered outside the door, worried it would upset her and I would win Worst Mother of the Year Award.
The book was read, finished, and set aside for the night’s sleep.
She seemed… satisfied.
This books works. Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way To Explain Death To Children turned a potentially depressing conversation into an uplifting talk and book reading.
She brings me the Lifetimes book when she’s thinking about the subjects of death and dying. Not often, but often enough that I’m glad she can reach for a comforting book.
The Concept of Death, Explained
She started to understand the concept of Death by first understanding what Death is not.
Stay with me, it’s not a riddle – it’s the point of the book.
Death is not a body within reach.
Death is not living forever.
Death is not Life.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way To Explain Death To Children offers children a window into the understanding they are searching for when it comes to death.
The Problem With Heaven As An Answer
You might be wondering we don’t recommend a book that includes Heaven in its explanation of death. The reason for this is that Heaven is an abstract term.
That means Heaven is not something we can hear, see, touch, taste, or smell. Heaven is not (yet) a developmentally appropriate response to preschoolers’ questions on death and dying.
While you might believe in Heaven, if your child cannot use his senses to reach it, then he cannot understand it.
Preschoolers are in the infant stages of developing abstract thought. They develop the ability to think abstractly about things they cannot use their senses to locate by imaginative play. Their brains need time to mature, and it’s not until about 6 years old that a child is capable of thinking in abstract terms.
Explaining death to children is not as easy as saying, “We go to Heaven,” because Heaven cannot be reached by us.
Preschoolers learn with mind-body connections. They touch, manipulate, and explore things with their eyes and bodies to learn.
To believe takes abstract thought. Preschoolers understand concrete thoughts, like rules (if this, then tat).
To decide takes abstract thought. Preschoolers can want, need, or choose, but decisions come later.
Further Recommended Reading
Please note this includes a combination of religious and non-religious books on death for preschoolers. All books come highly recommended.
If Lifetimes feels like a bit much for you as a parent (keeping in mind your child is ready if they’re asking) then ease into this subject with your child by purchasing The Invisible String. This book is about the invisible string that runs between a mother and her children, so that they are always together, even when apart. Award-winning and a great read.