Death of a Grandparent

Death is one of the hardest things for children to understand. That’s hardly surprising – most of us have trouble coming to terms with it ourselves. For many children, their first experience of death is the loss of someone old, often one of their grandparents or great-grandparents.  Stories can provide a way to talk about that death, to acknowledge it as a natural part of life and to help children understand and accept their own feelings of loss.

Not all these stories are about grandparents, but they all deal with someone in that age group.

Grandpa’s Boat
by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Sophy Williams
(Andersen Press)
Grandpas’ sailing boat, the Periwinkle, had been his pride and joy, a true beauty. He’d loved it dearly for many, many years, though not as much as he’d loved, his other ‘Beauty’, Grandma. When Grandpa gets ill and dies, the boat is left forgotten at the quayside, watched only from time to time by Grandma and the boy narrator as they sit remembering. When Dad decides it’s time to resurrect the Periwinkle, not everyone is as enthusiastic as he is. However, the final transformation, everyone agrees, is a fitting tribute to Grandpa’s memory.
The realistic, pastel seaside scenes in this picture book are suffused with warmth and sunshine.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Grandad’s Ashes
by Walter Smith
(Jessica Kingsley)
We’ve read plenty of children’s books about losing a grandparent and this is the first that’s made me laugh. The story starts with the sadness of Grandad’s funeral and moves on swiftly to his wish to have his ashes scattered in his favourite place. As he didn’t specify where that was, Grandma involves his three grandchildren in finding the right spot and doing the actual scattering. That proves harder than they expect and it’s the problems they run into that add the humour to the story. The result is a story that reads well and shows that life and laughter can exist hand in hand with grief and memories.
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The Goodbye Boat
by Mary Joslin, illustrated by Claire St.Louis Little
Subtitled ‘ A story book to help a child understand bereavement’ , this picture book looks at death not as the end but as a parting and the start of a journey by sailing boat, over the horizon to ‘ somewhere new’ . Here is a case where less is very definitely more: a seemingly simple narrative wherein two children share times with an elderly woman whose eventual departure leaves sad and lonely. In just thirty-four words, the poetic text combined with eloquent paintings whose colours reflect the changing mood, offers plenty of space for reflection, contemplation and discussion whether or not the reader comes from a worldview that encompasses the notion of paradise.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein
(Barefoot Books)
Many books about death and dying offer some vision of heaven as a way of answering ‘What happens next?” This unusual picture book is completely different because it talks of  reincarnation.. Its gentle story tells of a boy who loves kites and dreams of traveling, but he grows up to be a woodcutter and never leaves his own valley. When he grows old and dies, he’s offered the chance to live his life again. Now he can go anywhere in the whole universe, but he finally chooses to go back to his own familiar valley. The only difference is he decides to be a girl.
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Saying Goodbye: A Special Farewell to Mama Nkwelle
by Ifeoma Onyefulu
(Frances Lincoln)
Written through the eyes of Ikenna, a small boy who looks about 6 or 7, this book describes the ceremonies following the death of his great-grandmother. Emphasising the importance of remembering, this book deals with the aftermath of death rather than the death itself. (She has died before the book begins and her grave is shown but not the burial.) The excellent colour photographs provide a fascinating insight into Nigerian life and customs.
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Evie and the Man who helped God
by Michael Foreman
(Andersen Press)
The garden is a special place for Evie and Monday is a special day; it’s the day when George the gardener comes. George shows Evie the wonders to be found – frogs, newts, birds, insects as well as the plants and flowers, and how to take care of them. As they work, George and Evie
do everything with total awareness: they become a part of the garden.
The seasons turn, time passes, Evie becomes a schoolgirl seeing George only during her holidays. Then one day George does not come to the garden and her mother explains that George has died. But, Evie knows that George is still there with her in their garden.
This is truly a celebration of life. Foreman paints wonderfully with words, “The smowdrops were always first.Tiny drops of winter, smelling of spring. Then came the daffodils, golden trumpets with songs of summer.” as well as colours. A beautiful evocation of the seasons, the natural world and life itself.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Little Bear’s Grandad
by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban
(Little Tiger Press)
Fridays were special for Little Bear and his Grandad: they had tea together then, rain, shine, wind or snow climbed the ladder to the tree house to look out at the world. It’s here that Grandad gave his grandson important advice, ‘Life is a gift…Don’t waste it.’ and told him stories of when he was young. Then one Friday instead of visiting Grandad at home, his mum takes him to hospital where Little Bear and his beloved Grandad share one last story together, only this time Little Bear is the narrator. Then Grandad falls into the very deepest of deep sleeps… But one day Little Bear will be just as nice a Grandad. Beautifully and gently told and illustrated.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Grandad Tree
by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Sharon Wilson
(Walker Books)
The cyclical nature of life is prayerfully portrayed as AfroCaribbean brother and sister share with readers scenes from their beloved Grandad’s life from childhood to old age and beyond. Moving concentrically with Grandad’s tale is that of the apple tree whose changes provide a backdrop to the human drama.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth
Douglas Wood, illustrated by P.J. Lynch
(Walker Books)
A boy shares with his Grandfather and with us as readers, a woodland walk during which he learns a myriad of ways in which prayers are offered, by nature and everything touched by it. Each living thing gives its life to the beauty of all life and that gift is its prayer. But, says Grandad,
in response to his grandson’s final question on answering prayers, ‘… a prayer is often its own answer… we pray not to change the world, but to change ourselves. Because it is when we change ourselves … that the world is changed.‘ But, good things cannot last forever, everything must change and it is not until after his grandfather’s death when the world feels dark and lonely, that the boy truly hears the earth’s prayers. Then he too feels change. Reading this beautiful book could profoundly change the way we look at the world. Both illustrations and text are themselves a prayer.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Best Day of the Week
by Hannah Cole
Saturday was the best day of the week because that was when Carole and Angela visited their Granny and Grandpa. When Granny dies, life goes on but they have to find a new way of doing things without her. The children spend Saturdays with Grandpa on his own so, although it is still the best day of the week, it is different. This easy to read novel is actually three complete stories: one set before Granny dies, one where she dies and one with life after.
Ages 6-9
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