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Books to help children when a friend dies
Another person's death is always hard to bear, but the death of a friend is devastating. It shatters our assumptions about the world we live in and what we have come to expect from it. The death of a friend can feel very isolating to a child. Besides experiencing extreme loss, the child often feels that no one else has had this experence or can understand what he is feeling.
Books also help adults talk to children and adolescents about the difficult subject of grieving over the loss of a friend. Discussion can follow or, if the child won't talk about his feelings, he can certainly feel connected to the experience of someone else by reading about it.
The books described below can be borrowed from the public library or purchased at a bookstore or through an online service such as amazon.com (some may be available by special order only). You are welcome to reproduce this article and distribute copies to families in your practice when they find themselves faced with the death of a friend.*
Marion Dane Bauer: On My Honor. New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publ., 1987. Joel hopes his father won't allow him to ride his bike with Tony to the state parkJoel really doesn't want to go, but doesn't know how to tell Tony. On the way, Tony decides to stop by the river, even though he knows it is dangerous to be there. Joel doesn't want to seem scared, so he challenges Tony to race him to a sandbar. Tony drowns, and Joel must face his grief along with a terrible guilt. Ages 812.
Mary Bahr: If Nathan Were Here. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, Mich., 2000. Illustrated by Karen Jerome in soft watercolors, this book tells the story of a boy whose best friend, Nathan, has died. As he grieves, he remembers their times together. Ages 712.
Candy Dawson Boyd: Forever Friends. New York, Puffin Books, 1986. Preparations for the entrance exam at a prestigious private school are disrupted when Toni's friend is killed when hit by a car. Toni is overwhelmed by grief and must cope with her loss. The book contains good descriptions of early adolescent grief and traditional African-American rituals. Ages 1014.
Eve Bunting: Blackwater. New York, HarperCollins, 2000. Thirteen-year-old Brodie Lynch and his cousin Alex go down to the Blackwater River, where they see Otis and Pauline. A prank turns deadly, and Otis and Pauline drown. Alex covers up what really happened and Brodie goes along with it. Later, Brodie must live with his guilt over having lied or tell the truth and accept the consequences. Ages 12 and up.
Eve Bunting: Rudi's Pond. New York, Clarion, 1999. Rudi's best friend and classmates commemorate his death from a congenital heart defect. They build a beautiful pond in his memory and use the bird feeder Rudi helped them make to feed hummingbirds. Inspired by a true story. Ages 58.
Nancy White Carlstrom: Blow Me a Kiss, Miss Lilly. New York, Harper and Row, 1990. Sara loved to visit Miss Lilly, her elderly neighbor, and Miss Lilly's cat Snug. They told each other stories, worked in the garden, and made things together. Whenever they left each other, they would blow kisses. After Miss Lilly dies, Sara takes care of Snug and shares her memories of Miss Lilly with friends and family. Ages 48.
Dorothy Carter: Bye, Mis' Lela. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. This beautifully illustrated book is about an intergenerational relationship between Sugar Plum and Mis' Lela, the woman who takes care of Sugar Plum while her mother is at work. When Mis' Lela dies, Sugar Plum observes the customs of her family and community. Her mother takes her to the wake and talks to her about death. Sugar Plum remembers all her times with Mis' Lela and realizes she always will have them with her. Ages 48.
Judith Caseley: Dorothy's Darkest Days. New York, Greenwillow, 1997. Dorothy Kane is assigned to a school biography project with Andrea Marinoher least favorite classmate. During their presentation on Florence Nightingale, Dorothy becomes angry with Andrea for upstaging her and vows never to speak to Andrea again. Later that afternoon, Andrea is killed by a drunk driver and Dorothy must deal with her feelings of grief and guilt, and is helped by her parents and teacher. Ages 710.
Janice Cohn: I Had a Friend Named Peter. New York, William Morrow and Co., 1987. Betsy's special friend, Peter, dies after being hit by a car. Betsy is comforted by her parents and teacher, who urge her to grieve and to remember. The book also provides information about children's grief for adults who read the story. Ages 510.
Ralph Fletcher: Flying Solo. New York, Clarion, 2000. Ever since Tommy Feathers died, Rachel White has refused to speak, instead communicating by notes. When the substitute sixth grade teacher fails to arrive one day, the students run the class. Suddenly Rachel speaks, and reminds the class that today marks the six-month anniversary of Tommy's death. As she helps the class share their memories of Tommy, she finds her voice again. Ages 812.
Marilyn E. Gootman: When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens about Grieving and Healing. Minneapolis, Free Spirit Press, 1994. Filled with advice and counsel, this book speaks directly to teens about the death of a friend. Some sections are written by the author; others by teens who tell how they have coped with events and feelings in their lives. Ages 12 and up.
Karen Hesse: Phoenix Rising. New York, Henry Holt and Co., 1995. Nyle's life with her grandmother on their Vermont sheep farm changes radically the night of the accident at the Cookshire nuclear power plant. When Ezra Trent and his mother are left homeless, they come to live in the back bedroom of Nyle's home. Ezra suffers from radiation sickness; Nyle is afraid Ezra will die and is reluctant at first to befriend him. A friendship blossoms, and Nyle supports him through illness and death from leukemia. Ages 12 and up.
Davida Wills Hurwin: A Time for Dancing. Boston; Little, Brown; 1997. Julie and Samantha have been friends since they met at dancing school at age 9. Now they are 17 and are performing with a ballet company. When Julie is given a diagnosis of lymphoma, the girls' friendship becomes even stronger. Julie and Samantha alternate narrating Julie's battle with cancer that leads, in the end, to her death. Ages 12 and up.
John Knowles: A Separate Peace. New York, MacMillan, 1960. This is a classic: the story of the friendship of Gene and Phineas at prep school in 1942. Phineas is hurt in an accident, and Gene must deal with his guilt and feelings that he was responsible. Ultimately, he must grieve for Phineas. Ages 12 and up.
Elizabeth Laird: Secret Friends. New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1999. The teasing begins when Lucy calls Rafaella "Earwig." Because other children don't like Rafaella and leave her out of games, Lucywho wants to be popularstays away from Rafaella during the school day, even after they become friends. When Rafaella dies under anesthesia during surgery, Lucy must deal with her grief and guilt over how she had treated her friend. With the help of Rafaella's family, Lucy begins to have a deeper understanding of friendship. Ages 1014.
Claudia Mills: Dinah Forever. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. Eighty-three-year old Ruth Briscoe is a friend to 12-year-old Dinah, who feels she can talk to Ruth about anything, including her poetry. When Ruth has a heart attack and dies, Dinah misses sharing all that is happening in her life. Dinah, asked to read one of her poems at the funeral, writes a special one for Ruth. Ages 912.
Katie Ouriou: Love Ya Like a Sister. Toronto, Tundra Books, 1999. A true story from the author's life, the book tells of Katie, who lives in Paris with her family for a year. During that time, she exchanges letters and e-mail with her best friends, Ashley, Maude, and Heather. At age 16, after only a few days' illness, Katie died from a swift and rare form of leukemia. This book comprises Katie' s journal entries, letters, and e-mails to friends and celebrates her life and friendships. Ages 12 and up.
Katherine Paterson: Bridge to Terabithia. New York, HarperCollins, 1987. Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke have a special friendship. Together, they create Terabithia, an imaginary secret kingdom in the woods. Leslie dies suddenly in a tragic accident at the creek, and Jesse is overwhelmed by grief. Later, Jesse overcomes his loss when he memorializes Leslie in a special way. Ages 1014.
Doris Buchanan Smith: A Taste of Blackberries. New York, Harper Collins, 1988. A young boy tells this story about his best friend, Jamiea daredevil who loves adventure, telling jokes, and asking questions. One day, as the boys are picking blackberries together, Jamie is stung by a bee, has an allergic reaction, and dies. The narrator is shocked, and must learn to cope with his friend's death. Ages 812.
Bookshelf: Books for children when a friend dies. Contemporary Pediatrics 2001;10:134.