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:
- 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.
- 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….