Teaching Kids about Loss through Books

velveteen rabbitThis week at the Debutante Ball, we are blogging about loss and remembrance. I first learned about loss from books, long before I ever experienced it in my own life. And now, as a parent, I sometimes shy away from reading books to my son that I know are sad.

The older he gets, though (he’ll be 3 this summer), the more I realize that I can’t–and shouldn’t–shield him from all books that dance around the topics of death and loss. I believe that books are an appropriate way for kids to explore those concepts, and the complex feelings that go with them. These are the books that first taught me about loss. I plan to read them to my son when I think he’s ready.

The Velveteen Rabbit. This children’s classic was first published in 1922, but is still a favorite today. I think it remains popular because the message it carries is an important one: that loving someone and being loved is difficult–it will wear you out and make you “loose in the joints and very shabby”–but it is worth it and the only real way to live.

Charlotte’s Web.  Oh, Charlotte and Wilbur, how you made me weep. Who doesn’t love a story of unlikely friendship? Here, it’s between a spider and a pig. When Charlotte dies at the end, after spinning messages into her web that save Wilbur from being made into bacon, she demonstrates that acts of kindness and love are remembered even when someone is gone.

Are there books you remember from childhood that taught you about loss?

Image credit: Design Mom



Author: Susan Gloss

Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

6 Replies to “Teaching Kids about Loss through Books”

  1. Oh my goodness, The Velveteen Rabbit and Charlotte’s Web definitely top my list. My son is just a few months younger than yours and it’s so hard to know when the right time to teach him about loss is. I hadn’t even thought of doing it through books! What a wonderful idea. Thanks!

  2. Definitely Where the Red Fern Grows. Still can get choked up if I think about it too much. Old Dan was bad enough, but Little Ann staying on his grave? See, now I have tears in my eyes. For my kids, it was probably Bridge to Terebithia. These are both for older kids than your son, so the earliest would be Charlotte’s Web. Then there was this one about dog heaven that my daughter received from a 1st-grade friend when our dog died. That was GREAT!

  3. Charlotte’s Web was my literary introduction to loss. Also, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. Later, i wept over Little Women.

    I completely agree with you, Susan, that books are an appropriate way to explore tough topics–and tough feelings. Even as adults this is true. I’m not a big believer in the cookie-cutter happily-ever-after outlook we get from Disney. Give me an original Grimm’s fairy tale any day.

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