Book Reviews, Picture Books, Raising Readers, Resources
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Picture Books on Death (You’ll Never See)

I thought with a subject that is so dour today, I thought I could do a little inside-out reporting and tell you all about the books that AREN’T out there for your kids.  But before I do, here is a link to the post of our favorite picture books on this subject: More Picture Books on Death: 5 Recommendations.

1) Alexander and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Death.  Death isn’t natural.  That seems pretty basic, but I guess in our desire to keep kids calm and NOT see them take their clothes off and run around the room screaming about it, we want to paint death as ho-hum and normal.  But since as a culture we can’t talk about God (the only real source of comfort in death), we just make it sound sweet or even kinda fun.  Not even as troublesome as Alexander’s very bad day.  One particular approach is to tell kids death is just part of “the circle of life”.  From Disney’s The Lion King to Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie (1983), in a lot of entertainment for kids, death is just the last destination of the party wagon of life.  No need to feel afraid.  No need to get your panties in wad about eternal judgement.  No need to bother hoping loved ones might be in heaven.  Let’s stick to the facts.  A leaf is born.  A leaf falls off the tree.  A leaf is crumpled into a thousand pieces by children’s feet and will never be seen again.  Oh, but don’t feel sad, another leaf will grow next year!  As Mellonie puts it,

There is a beginning

and an ending for everything

that is alive.

In between is living.

There is something to be said for this approach, or else it wouldn’t be so popular.  We do live in a world where death is a fact, and it has to be accepted.  There isn’t much point in whipping kids up into an existential crisis about it.  But for a Christian, we need to be very careful not to convey the idea that death is natural.  For the evolutionist, death is just part of life–it’s even good, because it weeds out the weak and builds up the species.  But for the Christian, death is a result of sin, and it has come to the world as a punishment, a tear in the fabric of God’s original design, and it shows us who we are without God.  This need not make our children feel terrified. It may be stated just as simply as the evolutionist’s mantra, and has been many times in good kids’ story Bibles: All living things die because of man’s sin and rebellion against God.  But God sent His Son to save all who would believe, and if we are His children, we don’t have to fear death anymore.

2) Hell is for Real:  Kids’ books for people of faith are all about heaven.  Even a book like The Next Place by Warren Hansen isn’t Christian or even very spiritual, per se.  But it’s sweet, evocative, mildly corny poetry about heaven.  “The next place that I go will be as peaceful and familiar as a sleepy summer Sunday and a sweet, untroubled mind.”  In looking over books like this, I couldn’t help but notice there are lots of stories about people going to heaven and coming back, but no one ever seems to go to hell and report back to us.  On the radio, though, I did hear of one man who died for twenty minutes or so, but when he came back he was so shaken by not having seen the bright light that he lost his faith.  A good example of why we ought to be very careful about promoting bright light experiences over Scripture.  And here’s another one–if we expect our neighbors to believe in heaven because of people’s experiences of it, why should they believe in hell?  The obvious answer is that they shouldn’t, and guess what?  Many of them don’t.  Americans by and large believe in God but not in Satan.  We believe in heaven but not in hell.  But kids need to know that hell and spiritual warfare are very real.  The Bible teaches that if we lose our fear of God, it will be replaced by fear of man.  Thus Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:28,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

I could go on here about what’s missing on the shelves for our young ones.  I would love to see a resurgence of christian biographies for the youngest set–picture books on martyrs much in the vein of William Boekestein’s work or Simonetta Carr’s picture books for older kids.  For today, though, I think I’ll just close with a short list of picture books that helped my young children with my mom passed away:

  1. Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress by Oliver Hunkin.  I’ve written about its virtues already in a Pilgrim’s Progress post, and although it isn’t right for every family, it’s an investment most won’t regret.  You can extend the fun and instruction through our children’s guide here.
  2. Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition: Any good children’s Bible with the death of Christ at the center will help kids get used to the idea of death, but in a safe way that presents death in its full context.  We liked this one, and I highly recommend the deluxe edition with an audiobook CD.  Especially if it’s a gift purchase.  We also really like The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes Gift Edition by Kenneth Taylor.  (I had the older version as a kid, so it was nice to share it with my own kids.)

The other thing that really helped us was simply reading passages from the Bible–the ultimate kids’ book!– about death.  I’m hoping eventually to put these together in a little workbook/coloring book type format for you guys.  But no time for that this morning!

Before I close, here is one other book I found useful, but not for my own family: Josh: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Friend. This was a gift I gave to a family I met at my daughter’s gymnastics class.  The family was African American like the characters in this book, and weren’t especially Christian but weren’t opposed to it either.  I felt it would challenge them in an important way but not be so Christian that they wouldn’t use it….the Lord only knows whether it accomplished that purpose.

In researching this post, I found quite a number of books I’d like to review more closely.  Randy Alcorn’s book on death for kids, or What Happened When Grandma Died by Peggy Barker.  But that will have to be another post!

Do you guys have any recommendations?  Would love to hear about books you think are good or not so good….

              

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12 Comments

  1. Susan_in_LA says

    When my father-in-law died, two resources that I found very helpful were Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland and The Catechism for Young Children. They both have sections that discuss what becomes of men at death, what becomes of the righteous, what is heaven, etc. These resources helped me talk to the children both before & after their granddaddy’s death.

    • Emily says

      Thanks, Susan. I actually meant to mention Leading Little Ones but just forgot when it came time to post. Thanks so much!

  2. We, too, spent MUCH time going over the catechism questions with our children when we lost my husband’s grandparents in recent years (especially talking about the “soul as well as a body” questions). Important: my kids already KNEW those questions, so we were able to review with them and remind them of what they’d already learned. We can’t just save these kinds of conversations until something unexpected happens.

    I mused over death in children’s literature a few weeks ago on Literaritea: http://literaritea.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-in-childrens-literature.html

    But the only picture book I mentioned was Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie DePaola. Not a “Christian” book per se, but a wonderful treatment of death in picture book form.

  3. sunny says

    Thank you so much for this post. I generally read your blog regularly, but have been away dealing with my own father’s death last week, so I have missed several posts. I have been trying to find age-appropriate material for my 8 and 6yo children to reiterate what we have been discussing over the past few weeks, so this post is quite timely. We have (and love) the Jesus Storybook Bible, butI will be checking out the other suggestions as well as following the additional replies.
    Thanks again,
    Sunny

  4. Emily says

    Sunny, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I’ll certainly pray for you and your family. And I wish I had the perfect book to recommend, but if you’re kids are already pretty theologically in tune, a lot of times what you need in a book like this is just something to start a conversation. The book about Josh might be ok for that purpose, or a lot of other theologically nebulous books might as well.

  5. Nancy says

    Here are two books about heaven which I found helpful for review by you and your readers.

    Heaven, God’ Promise for You by Anne Graham Lotz

    and

    Tell Me About Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

  6. Nancy says

    Correction for the first title:

    It should be Heaven, God’s Promise for Me.

  7. Emily B says

    I just read Tokens for Children by Cotton Mather. It is a very intense book, self-described as , “Being an exact acount of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives, and joyful deaths of several young children in two parts.” I think that we might use it for our family devotions, but take it in small chunks (like one story a week) because I think that too much of it at once might turn my children morbid. I highly recommend parents reading it first (even one story will give you the overall feel for the book) to decide what age your child will be ready for this.

  8. Emily says

    Emily B, Cotton Mather’s book sounds like a pretty rich resource. Where did you find it?

    I’m now looking for a good book dealing with the death of an animal, if anyone has any suggestions.

  9. Connie says

    In the fiction category, how about The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis ? This was my favorite book before I even became a Christian and still is after 25 years of Christ following. I know now that I love it because I am made for the “real Narnia” after life in this one is over. In my opinion Lewis’ ability to put theology into word pictures is unrivaled

    For non-fiction I recomment Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn as agood resource. It would be a good read aloud to younger children. (I also recommend adults work their way through his Heaven).

    • Emily says

      I appreciate these suggestions very much. I actually haven’t read The Last Battle, so I’ll have to pick it up. And I did recently get a chance to look over Alcorn’s book on Heaven for kids. It’s one of the best ones I’ve seen for older kids. As soon as I get a little room on the calendar, hope to revisit this topic with some of the books I was able to review since writing this.

  10. My husband and I own and operate a funeral home in a small town. I personally think Randy Alcorn’s books are probably the best, but another good one is “Someone I Love Died” by Christine Harder Tangvald. It is a smaller, quicker read, and has some parts where kids can actually write in the book about their loved one. We keep a stack of these and give one to every family we serve who has young children. It presents the plan of salvation, and is simple enough that even a parent who has little or no faith background could read and discuss the book with their child (and maybe even benefit themselves).

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