It is always difficult to accept and come to terms with when we lose our beloved pets, whether it’s expected or unexpected.
For children, who don’t often have the vocabulary to express all that they are feeling, or may not fully understand the strong emotions they are feeling, grief can be even more difficult and may cause a behavioral change.
For parents, explaining the complexity of death and the various emotions that come may be difficult. Your own grief may make it even harder for you to come up with gentle ways to explain death and all that comes with it.
Books can be a great resource for helping parents to explain a topic that is difficult to explain, and for children to learn to work through their emotions in the wake of their loss.
Below I described what I think are the 14 best children’s books on pet loss to read to your kids at these sad times.
Sammy In The Sky, by Barbara Walsh
I love this book. Of all the books I am reviewing in this post, this is my favorite…
Sammy in the sky is the beautiful story about a girl that loved Sammy, her hound dog. The pair did everything together. But as Sammy turns 12 years old, the family finds a bump in the dog’s neck. As time went on, the dog got very ill until one day he died.
The little girl and sister are very sad. The little sister even wants her dad to get a ladder and bring the dog down from the sky. But no ladder is that tall to get the dog.
As the summer draws to a close, the little girl’s grief changes, and although she still misses her best friend very much, she can now think of him and laugh at the good memories she has of Sammy. She knows he will always be with her in her heart.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, this is my favorite book.
It is sweet, it is gentle, but it is clear. Once the dog is dead, it can never come back;
“Can’t Sammy come back? I asked Daddy. Just for a little while? Daddy shook his head. You’ll have to remember him in your heart”.
I love how the book ends with the whole family celebrating Sammy’s life. They all go to the field where he used to run and sniff, they blow the bubbles he used to love chasing, but more importantly, they tell stories and remember the best hound in the world.
I love how indirectly the book talks about grief changing…
“As the summer days grew shorter, my chest stopped hurting when I thought of Sammy”.
I once went to a funeral where the celebrant said that grief never went away but rather it changed. I think that is exactly what this book reiterates in a gentle manner.
This is definitely a book I will keep in my house in case we one day need it.
The Goodbye Book, by Todd Parr
As a mother of a four-year-old, I love this book. It is simple but it touches on all the emotions anyone can feel from losing someone you love, and it validates those emotions as normal and ok to feel.
From feeling sad to feeling mad to not feeling hungry or with energy to play, and more. But it then goes on to explain that all those extreme emotions will eventually pass and that the good memories will then take over and life will carry on.
It is perhaps too simplistic for children older than 5 years old. But for younger kids I strongly recommend it!
When a Pet Dies, by Fred Rogers
This is a wonderful book that talks about how animals can get hurt and ill. How they are different from toys and how they can die.
The book touches on feelings such as being sad, mad or lonely. It talks about funerals and graves and finally, it talks about how time will make them (the children) feel better, and how they (the children) will be able to share the good memories with family and friends.
I truly enjoyed this book. I thought it did a great job explaining a difficult subject in a very basic way that small children could understand.
The pictures are a little outdated but hardly a problem. As a matter of fact, I actually liked them, it took me to my childhood.
The book is a very matter of fact, so if you are looking for something more spiritual this is not the book for you.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst
This is a beautiful story about a boy who loses his best friend, Barney the cat. The family arranges a funeral and the mum, dad, boy and a little friend say goodbye.
Both mum and dad are super involved in helping the kid to grief. Mum asks the kid to think of 10 good things to say about Burney in the funeral, and dad helps him realize that eventually, Barney will become one with nature helping flowers and plants grow.
There are two main points I (as a parent) love about this book.
- Both parents are clear that it’s ok to be sad, that the loss is real and that they are grieving, too, and
- In the book, there is a slight disagreement between the boy and his little friend whether Barney is in heaven or not. The book leaves it at “maybe he is, maybe he isn’t”. A reminder that different people can believe different things.
Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas
This is a beautiful story about the bond a little girl has with her dog, Lulu.
The story focuses on an old dog that can’t do the things she used to do: go up the stairs, see well, or even play.
While the little girl was sad to see how her friend was deteriorating, she wanted to help and take care of Lulu and thus did everything for her: take Lulu’s plate to her so she could eat her food, or even tuck Lulu in her basket with all her favorite toys so that Lulu could feel comfortable.
But one day the little girl comes home from school to find that Lulu was dead.
The family buried Lulu in the back garden in a beautiful spot under the tree Lulu liked to dig.
One of the things I like the most about this book is how relatable it is. The book focuses on an aging dog that slowly can’t do the things it used to, which is what many children will see with their beloved aging pets.
The book is very frank, it doesn’t offer a silver lining or a 3rd dimension such as heaven. It is very real, direct and easy for kids to understand the emotions of loss. What happens to Lulu when she goes isn’t discussed but the focus is on the emotional journey of the little girl.
In the end, this book does talk about getting another dog but don’t worry there are two blank pages before this subject is approached. Allowing you to end the reading if you do not want to address that subject yet.
If you do however decided to go to the last page… I love how the little girl makes a distinction that the new puppy isn’t Lulu, but there is no reason she can love her new puppy just as much
“you’re not Lulu, but still I love you.”
Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant
This book paints a beautiful story about dogs being happy doing what they like the most once they die.
The dogs can run all day long in big open fields. They can eat as many doggie biscuits as they want, and play with many children or rest as much as they want.
I am in 2 minds with this book if I am frankly honest.
On one hand, the child may get anxious to think that they may die and will go to heaven, the book talks about dogs playing in heaven with many children.
On the other hand, the book talks about a beautiful, happy place for our wonderful furry friends.
I will leave the decision to you on whether this is the book for your family or not.
However be aware; this book mentions God, heaven, kids playing with the dogs in heaven, and angels feeding the dogs.
So, if you are not religious or your kid is already very anxious and mentioning kids playing in heaven with dead dogs may cause more anxiety, I would skip this book.
Cat Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant
A beautiful book about the ‘purrfect’ place for a cat that has died. They eat loads of tuna and fish, they play with loads of cotton toys, they climb trees and when they want to go down from the trees, they simply fly down.
Unlike dog heaven, cat heaven does not have kids and the angels they paint in the book do not have faces.
I like this because that angel can be someone special the kid has already lost like a grandparent. How wonderful will it be for a kid to think that their beloved furry friend will be looked after by a beloved family member that has passed away. But if your family hasn’t lost anyone special then the angel can be anyone or anything. There wouldn’t be a need to explain.
The book talks about heaven and God. So if you are religious and your family has just lost a cat, this book is beautifully illustrated and the picture it paints is super happy.
Jasper’s Day, by Marjorie Blain Parker
I have not been able to read this book personally, but I have added it to my list as I love the idea that the descriptions I have read portray.
This book is the story of a little boy, Riley, that has a chance to say goodbye to his best friend, Jasper. The dog has cancer and the family has decided he is suffering too much and thus is time to put the doggy down.
To celebrate Jasper, the family has a day for him. They do everything Jasper likes to do.
The book speaks of acceptance, remembrance, and the importance of cherishing life’s every moment.
Goodbye, Mousie, by Robie H Harris
This book is the story of a mouse that dies overnight as his best friend, a little boy, is sleeping.
As the little boy wakes up and goes to say good morning to his furry friend, he realizes that something was wrong, mouise would not wake up.
At first, he goes into disbelief and doesn’t want to accept that Mousie had died. Then he accepts that he is mad with Mousie because he had died. Finally the last emotion the little boy describes is sadness as he accepts what has just happened.
But talking about Mousie, burying Mousie in a special box, and saying good-bye helps the little boy deal with his emotions until he begins to feel better about the loss of his beloved pet.
There are three main points I (as a parent) love about this book:
- the way this book explores 3 very powerful emotions while grieving: disbelief, anger, and sadness. I love how the parents allow the little boy to go through the emotions while sharing their own emotions with their son:
“I am sad too said Daddy. And he gave me another hug.”
- The explanations and clear differences the book gives between death and sleeping. A difference very important to make, to avoid confusion and the child getting scared!
“Dead said Daddy, is very different form sleeping. Dead is – NOT a live I shouted. And I started to cry”
- Finally, I love how the little boy is allowed to add in the box, Mousie’s favorite foods, crayons, and an activity book, and a picture of himself; to avoid his friend from getting hungry, bored or lonely. The little boy is also allowed to decorate Mousie’s final resting place box. All these allow the little boy to say his final goodbye allowing him to feel better and come to terms with what has happened.
I’ll Always Love You, by Hans Wilhelm
This is the story of a dog, Elfie, and her special boy; who progressed together in life. They did everything together: they ran together, they slept in the same bedroom and they played together all the time.
As Elfie grew older she wasn’t able to go up the stairs to the little boy’s room where her bed was. But that didn’t matter because the little boy will take her up every night. Her best friend will help her get to bed. Until one day the dog didn’t wake up.
I think the story is sweet. I especially love how the little boy takes care of his best friend in the moment of need. How he would carry her up the stairs to get her to bed.
I love the progression the book shows in Elfies life. She went from being a dog that ran the fields, jump in the water, and played all the time with her favorite human, to a dog that was old and had difficulties walking. Many kids will be able to relate to this.
Like all the other books in the list, I love how the whole family cried from losing their beloved pet. To me this is important as it shows kids empathy, and more importantly that it is ok to cry when you are sad.
In general I think the story is sweet. But my biggest problem, and the major reason I would not get this book for my family, is the guilt the book can spring on a kid that is already burdened with sadness from losing his / her pet.
In the story the boy says:
“My brother and sister loved Elfie a lot, but they never told her so. I was very sad, too, but it helped to remember that I had told her every night, “I’ll always love you”
Those words could induce a massive amount of unnecessary guilt, and weigh heavy on a sensitive and grieving child’s conscience, if they are old enough to realize they did not say I love you; to their pet every single day.
Goodbye Mog, by Judith Kerr
This book is the end of an era. Many adults would have grown up with Mog and her adventures. But this book says goodbye to Mog.
This is a beautiful story about Mog dying peacefully at home, of old age and fatigue. But the cat’s spirit lingers around to help the new family kitten adjust to the family.
This story can soothe children that have lost a pet. It shows that remembering can help with the sadness as Debbie and Nicky reminisce about their gone furry friend and the funny things she used to do.
The story is sweet as the old cat helps the new cat learn the ways of the family and stops her from being too scared.
I love how the new cat, who is scared about everything and doesn’t want to be held or play, is given time to adjust rather than rush to change it for another one.
I love how the whole family cries after they find Mog dead. This is a great way to explain to kids that crying when sad is ok. That even adults cry when they are sad.
In general, I think the story is sweet. But I have a few concerns with the book:
- The story talks about Mog going to sleep forever. I am a big advocate of using the correct words with children to avoid confusion. Going to sleep forever can cause concern to children that may think if they go to sleep, they will go to sleep forever. Or what will happen if mommy and daddy go to sleep? Will they go to sleep forever? This can cause anxiety in kids.
- A ghost lingering around. This can cause concern for children too. I know my four years old would have been scared to think that Pancho’s spirit could be at home potentially watching her.
- Finally, the book is all about how Mog helps a new kitten adjust to the family. The concept is sweet if you want to get another pet straight away. But if like me, you are not ready to get another pet the concept can cause issues as the seed is planted in your kid’s mind.
The Rough Patch, by Brian Lies
This is a sweet story about a fox, Evan, and his dog. The two friends were inseparable. They did everything together: they play together, they eat together, but what they love to do together the most was to look after their prize-winning garden, which grew big and beautiful.
But one day the unthinkable happens – Evan’s dog died.
Without his best friend, Evan didn’t want to do anything and the garden was abandoned. Weeds grow higher and higher.
But amongst the overgrown garden, a twisting vine turned into an immense pumpkin. This drew Evan out of his isolation when he decided to attend the county fair.
There he had fun; he met with old friends, he rode the roller coaster and he ate loads of yummy foods. In the pumpkin competition, he won third place. The prize? either $10 or a secrete price in the box. Evan chose the money but later decided to look in the box. In there he saw a beautiful puppy.
On the last page the car is driving away with Evan and a puppy in the car.
I love this story. It is sweet, it shows kids that being sad is ok and normal, but that one-day things will look better, and that even though things will not be the same; you can have fun and do all the things you used to do.
There are two main points I love about this book:
- The fact that when the dog dies the book simply says “but one day, the unthinkable happened” and the dog is shown on his bed laying down.
This leaves it open for you – the guardian – to approach the subject as best as you see fit. You can add the word the dog has died, or you can simply leave it. Or you can ask the child what do you think the unthinkable is?. Opening a gate for a conversation with your child. It really depends on the age of the child and what you think is best to do. And
- In the end Evan says he will take the money but then looks at the box. On the last page Evan is driving away with the dog. This again leaves it open for you to decide what you want to do. If you are not ready for another pet then you do not have to mention that Evan got the dog at the end. If you do want to get another pet, you can mention that Evan changed his mind and choose the dog. It is up to you to decide.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bryan Mellonie
This is a book with beautiful illustrations that talk about life cycles in all living things; plants, people, birds, fish, even for the tiniest insects.
It discusses how everything in life has a beginning and end, and in between is living.
I love how this book talks about death in a matter of fact, without being heavy-handed.
I love the illustrations, even if they do look a little bit outdated.
However, this book talks about everything having a beginning and ending, including people.
I guess this book will be very much of a personal choice and/or age of the child. That is because this book may enhance fear in young children if they start thinking that mum, dad, grandad, grandma or any special person in their life will also die.
Did I read it to my 4 year old? Yes I did as I like how it explains the life cycle. However, I read it to her at a time when there is no grief in her life.
Will, I read it to her if she was grieving for a pet? Probably not at 4 years old, as I know how sensitive she is and how the book may enhance fear for losing someone in her life.
Will I read it to her if she was grieving for a person? Absolutely. I think the book is great at how it handles death.
If your kid is dealing with the loss of a pet and they are 6 years old upwards; then I recommend this book for your family.
If however, your kid is dealing with the death of a pet and they are younger than 6 years old, I will probably get it from the library or go to a book store and look at it first. This book may not be for you.
The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend, by Jan Berenstain
This is the story of Sister Bear who loved her goldfish, Goldie.
Sister Bear was very fond of Goldie and took good care of her fish pet. She cleaned Goldie’s fish tank with care and love, she fed Goldie every morning and she set up Goldie’s home with beautiful stones and a beautiful castle.
But one day when Sister Bear was at school Goldie died.
To prevent Sister Bear from having a heartbreak, Papa Bear bought a new goldfish to pass as Goldie. But Bear Sister knew her favourite pet very well. In no time she realized that Goldie was not in her tank anymore and that the fish in the tank was not Goldie.
At that point, Mother Bear had to own it and tell bear sister of goldie’s passing. The whole family then had a ceremony for Goldie, and they buried her.
I love the Berenstain bears books, but I must say this one did not do it for me.
I love how the book talks about Bear Sister taking good care of her fish. I think this is an important message for kids. I love how the book talks about goldfish not having a long life. For young kids this is important to know and understand.
However, I load how the parents tried to lie to Bear Sister about Goldie’s passing. While I understand the sentiment behind it (we all want to protect our kids from heartbreaks). Lying is not something I will recommend. I think honesty between parents and kids is super important, and death is a part of life. An ugly part that we all have to learn to deal with. So for me, this book will not be one that I will add to my collection.
Books are a great aid, to help us adults explain a very complex subject to our children. Some books show and explain the different emotions that we all feel while grieving, some show that accepting a new pet into our hearts is ok, others may show that while everything looks dark in the first few days of losing our furry friends, the light will come through and life will carry on.
Of the 14 books described in the above list my favorites are:
- Sammy in the Sky,
- The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, and
- The Rough Patch.
But as this is a very personal decision I have given you many books with my honest opinion so that you can decide what is best for you and your family.
I do hope that the list can help your family go through this very difficult time, and know that the grief you and your kids are currently feeling will change; time is a great healer.
Sending you many virtual hugs.