Recently, my dear neighbor mentioned her concerns about her small grandson who is very attached to their aging family dog. How do you help a little person begin to understand ‘end of life’ issues? What can we do to prepare him, to find the words to explain at the right time?
By chance, a few days later, the subject was raised again to me: wasn’t it strange that so many young children have to come to terms with the death of a pet? I decided to investigate so that I could make some suggestions. Thanks to the lovely SCBWI-Illinois community and my local library, I put together this list of books that may help.
Paws & Edward by Espen Dekko, illustrated by Mari Kanstad Johnsen is one of my favorites. It a warm, loving story about a boy and his faithful old dog who is becoming so very tired, just wants to sleep. Now he only dreams about rabbits, whereas he once used to chase them. A lovely, gentle way of showing a natural end to life, celebrating the past, and cherishing memories after Paws has gone.
Stay (a girl, a dog, a bucket list) by Katie Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. This story also showcases a loving relationship between Astrid and Eli, the dog who greeted her when her parents first brought her home as a baby. We learn about the different life spans of the two friends as Astrid grows up and Eli grows old. Astrid creates a bucket list of things for them to do, although, in the end, it is the simple pleasure of time spent together that matters the most.
By contrast, Harry loses his dog, Hopper, in an accident. His sensitive dad stays nearby as, night after night, Harry ‘sees’ Hopper. However, over the course of these nocturnal visits, Hopper changes and Harry slowly comes to terms with his loss. (Harry & Hopper by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood).
In The Invisible Leash by Patrice Carst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, two friends find comfort in the love the remains after the loss of their pets.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Erik Blegvad, is an older book but a treasure. After the death of Barney the cat, a small boy is so sad that his mother suggests that he thinks up ten good things to say about his pet at the funeral. The boy lists nine good things, but the last one eludes him. As he helps his father in the garden, they talk about Barney and nature and life as the small boy discovers his final ‘good thing.’
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies tells of Evan and his dog who are inseparable friends, especially in their beloved garden. But when the dog dies, Evan ‘slashed the garden to the ground… [made it] the saddest and most desolate spot he could make it.’ Until, one day, something new started to grow…
I love and have already reviewed Ida, Always by Caron Lewis, illustrated by Charles Santoso. This picture book is about Gus and Ida, inspired by the real pair of polar bears at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. To read my review, click here. A beautiful story.
If there are any other titles that you would recommend, I’d love to hear from you.