Dealing with Death in the Community

Josie Leavitt - January 30, 2015

The joy of owning a bookstore in a small town is being part of the community. Bookstores are usually the first place people turn when they have significant moments in their lives. Usually these moments are joyful: finding out about pregnancy, a child learning to read, going to school for the first time, buying a home, etc. But sometimes these moments are not happy. We’ve had a spate of sadness in our little bookstore community this week.
whensomeIt’s been a challenging time at the store. A local school lost a parent earlier this week. The ripple effect from this is enormous, which just serves to remind me just how connected we all are. A father in his early 50s died suddenly from a massive heart attack on Tuesday night. He leaves behind three lovely children and his wife, who is a teacher at the school. To lose anyone is always hard, but a father who is so connected with the school his kids attend just breaks your heart. Parents are coming in asking for books about death to help their kids understand and make sense of what happened. Older kids are shell-shocked, younger ones sometimes just ask why everyone’s so sad.
A teacher at a different school asked about books about death as several kids in her class arelifet dealing with loss. Elizabeth came up with a solid selection for younger kids. Maybe the best book out there for young kids is Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Young Children. There is something about this book that makes it easier to talk about death because it covers the life cycle of many things, so little ones can understand it. And Dog Heaven and its companion book Cat Heaven are great books for celebrating the life of a pet and easing the pain of their passing. As a bookseller, I sometimes struggle with titles for older kids who are grappling with loss. There are plenty of fiction titles that deal with loss, but I don’t have a favorite book for that age and find I’m always looking good titles, so, readers, please share some the books you use in these situations.
Every day brings a new challenge, and today, as the snow falls in my small town, I will be grateful to part of my community and will do my best to support my customers who are in need, and celebrate with those who are joyful.

6 thoughts on “Dealing with Death in the Community

  1. Carin Siegfried

    Many years ago, my best friend lost her infant child. I immediately went to the closest bookstore and wiped out their bereavement section. One book I got was The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. My friend did not have other children at the time but I knew she wanted more (she had since had two daughters) and I know she has read that to them both. As for older children, it’s hard. I’d say they ought to read The Bride to Terebithia and Where the Red Fetn Grows. Not when tragedy happens, but before, to prepare them, because it is inevitable that death will touch each of us.

  2. Sarah Corcoran

    I’m not sure if you can get hold of this book in the US but the one title I akways reach for at our library in Bath, Somerset, UK is “Badger’s Parting Gifts” by Susan Varley. It is more about growing old and dying, rather than a sudden death, but worth keeping a note of.

  3. SG

    By far the best book for grieving that I have ever come across is “Tear Soup: A Recipe For Healing After Loss”, by Pat Schwiebert.
    It’s a beautiful all-ages picture book with a parable about the process of grief. It’s easy to read but deep, good for adults who aren’t up to processing a full self-help book and good for children who need to understand their own feelings or the feelings and behaviors of the grownups around them.
    I keep several copies on hand at home so I can get it in the mail quickly when someone I care about has gotten terrible news or suffered a loss. Everyone I’ve given it to has found it wonderful, and use it as a resource to help others in turn.

  4. Judy Brunsek

    I hate to shill in such a shameless way, but our book, The Flat Rabbit, is a terrific way to open a discussion about death with children. It got a stars from Kirkus ( and Booklist ( was named a top picture book of the year by them, the NYTimes reviewed it well ( it made the Brainpickings books of the year list too ( Its power is in its simplicity and unsentimentally. I urge you to take a look at the reviews if nothing else. Owlkids Books are distributed in by PGW.

  5. Ann Marie Davis

    Josie, you touched a note with your post. I find my most memorable times at the store I work in have been assisting people as they search for a way to work through life’s more difficult moments through books. It’s often gut wrenching and heartbreaking as you hear their stories, but a patient ear, a hug, and the right book can go far to help the healing. It’s one of the reasons I love being a bookseller. Keep up the good work. Your community needs and, I’m sure, appreciates your compassion.

  6. Alissa duBois

    I work at Otto’s Bookstore in Williamsport , Pa and would love to share another title on grief.
    I am adding a wonderful new title to the books on grief for young children, and really anyone. Kathy Miller’s,
    “Chippy Chipmunk: Friends in the Garden” is simply perfect in its blend of solace and explanation. An earlier book, “Lifetimes” has long been a strong choice
    when offering a title to address death for children. I personally always love those titles that strongly give a sense of wonderment and solace, and
    Kathy’s book has accomplished both so beautifully, that I have added it to my personal grief library. I believe it would be good to have this in a child’s library
    so they could enjoy the beautiful story of friendship, and loss, before they have a personal connection to death. I would encourage all my fellow booksellers
    to order in a copy and see that it really is a perfect book to offer for those hardest of times. Alissa duBois from Otto’s Bookstore.


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