BLOGS  >  AUGUST 4, 2021

Turning to Books in Times of Grief


It is never easy as a teacher to navigate a classroom community through loss. Whether it be a student, student’s family member, staff, or a beloved pet, death is something that a teacher will have to address with students at some point in their career. And in our current circumstances of a global pandemic, it is even more heavily on the minds of educators and children.

So what can we do when these heartbreaking situations come up? How can we help support students through grief and loss with a sense of empathy and support for remembrance? We can turn to picture books to guide our way.

Every school year, I get questions or see posts asking about good picture books on loss to share with a class or gift to someone who is grieving. It can be hard -- as educators are not social workers or counselors -- to know what to do, and many teachers are afraid of messing it up and making it worse. Sometimes the best thing to do is talk about it. Sometimes the best thing to do is not talk about it. Sometimes the best thing to do is a combination of both. I do believe in the power of #ClassroomBookADay to be responsive to the needs of the kids in a particular classroom, and that means I can’t just keep pushing forward with books I have planned when tragedy befalls our classroom, school, or broader community. I need to be able to use the choices of read-alouds to support the emotional needs of students and staff. Sometimes that will mean bringing in a picture book that might help us laugh and feel normal again. And other times it means we will need to face it head-on.

When someone experiences a loss, we often see prayers for comfort and peace. I believe that through sharing any of these 20 picture books, those moments of peace and comfort in the memories can be found, as well as the support for knowing they are not alone in feeling sad or angry or helpless as well. Because when tragedy happens, I turn to books to say what I sometimes don’t know how to say myself. I hope these books will be useful to you. I hope you will find some comfort in them. And I hope they will help you to guide students, or yourself, through stages of grief in a supportive way.

Check out the Full Book List

Jillian Heise

Jillian Heise, NBCT and MLIS, is currently a K-5 Library Media Teacher in southeastern Wisconsin. She previously taught Grades 7 and 8 ELA in the Milwaukee area for 11 years. Jillian is the founder of #classroombookaday and dedicated to supporting all student identities and lived experiences through access to inclusive literature. She brings her literacy expertise and knowledge of kidlit to her role as Chair of the USRA Children's Literature Committee. You can find Jillian online at Heise Reads & Recommends and @heisereads.

Read all Jillian Heise #ClassroomBookADay articles here.

Watch webinar recording presented by Jillian Heise, Building Community: #ClassroomBookADay Read-Alouds.

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