When I was 9, I lost my mother to cancer. It was a loss not only for me, but for my entire family, neighborhood and school. There are a variety of ways to cope with loss. I believe books help us imagine what those coping mechanism may be. They also help us build an empathy for kinds of loss we have not personally experienced. Death and separation will touch every being in some way. The youth I work with experience death of relationships or communication when a family member dies, is imprisoned, and when someone they love is deported or excommunicated. All of these books do not have the loss as the central focus, but the loss, much like in real life, changes the psyche, perspective, decision making and intentions of the characters. Loss has a way of opening one’s eyes to what is truly present.
For the chapter books, I have given more description because loss is not the central theme for all of them. Also, not all books are appropriate for all ages. The Content Warning (CW) is to help educators and literacy specialist know what may come up that will require further discussion. The Content Praise (CP) similarly lets leaders know what great discussion points can be made and what may be of particular interest to marginalized communities. The graphic novels and picture books have a featured book with a description. I also have included books that can be found at Detroit Public Libraries.
Young adult novels
Benjamin, Ali, The Thing About Jellyfish, Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
Middle school girl dives into an investigation after the death of a classmate seems implausible in her mind. CW: none. CP: accessible, educational, mention of a gay relationship, relatable. Great read for dealing with guilt and regret. Also teaches a lot about jellyfish. Could pair with a stem activity. It includes factual information intertwined with fictive narration that centers on friendship and dealing with death. This book is available at Main Library, Chase Branch Library, Conely Branch Library, and Knapp Branch Library.
Butler, Octavia, Fledgling, Seven Stories Press, 2005.
A young Ina awakens in a dark cave. As she gains consciousness, she seeks out humans for both love, protection and blood as she uncovers the truth about the murder of her family. CW: some scenes of explicit adult sex, illusion of pedophilia as a brief subplot, some vulgar language, violence, vampires. CP: Black vampires! This is a black science fiction at it’s finest. Polyamorous, pansexual relationships. Deals with racism, white supremacy, ancestry, genocide, and matriarchy. Available at the Main Library as an audiobook.
Butler, Octavia, Parable of the Sower, Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993.
Lauren is in her late teens when her father dies and her community is attacked in the middle of a national crisis exacerbated by global warming. CW: Adult sex, sexual violence, de-humanizing, adult language, captivity. CP: Futuristic thinking at its finest. Alternative spirituality, gender queering for survival, environmental awareness issues of social justice.
Butler, Octavia, Parable of the Talents, Seven Stories Press, 1998.
This is the follow-up to Parable of the Sower narrated by the surviving daughter of Lauren Olamina living in a dystopian future. The daughter reads from her mother’s journals chronicling her mother’s fatal efforts to build a spiritual community in times of trouble. CW: Adult sex, physical and sexual violence, captivity, adult language, de-humanizing. CP: This book offers a new theistic approach to surviving and thriving in impossible times. It deals with racism, misogyny and death of family, community, identity, and freedom. Also, for LGBTQ youth, there is brief mention of a sexual relationship between women.
Danticat, Edwidge, Claire of the Sea Light, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2013.
Claire’s mother dies in labor, and her poor father worries he can’t care for her. Claire awaits the day when her father will give her away to a wealthy woman who also is experiencing a death of someone very close. CW: sexual behavior. CP: lead characters of color, poetic, takes place in Haiti.
Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, The Antislavery Office, Boston, MA, 1849
Who knows loss better than an American slave who reached for and captured freedom? Douglas experiences loss of family and community repeatedly throughout his life. The strength and insistence on literacy is a great read and lesson for children and adults. Not only is this a lesson in history, it is a story of repeated victories overpowering losses. Elegant, raw and unforgiving. Also, kids will learn that contrary to our President’s inference, Douglas is no longer physically living, but his contributions to black thought are everpresent. CW: Well, it’s slavery, ya’ll. Violence of all kinds, dehumanizing language. CP: Historical account of how to combat systemic racism. Shows the complexities of slavery. Does not leave the reader feeling powerless. This book is available at the Main Library.
Reynolds, Jason, Ghost, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
A basketball player who can’t seem to stay out of trouble shows off his running skills to a local track team before going home to his mom and the memories his dad. CW: mention of domestic violence, gun violence. CP: accessibility, humor, black male lead. I just thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The narration is refreshing, humorous and honest. Ghost has a curiosity and interpretation of his world that makes this an enjoyable read. Great read for kids who seem to always be in trouble. This deals with a jailed father, domestic violence and gun violence. Yet, the language is the book is completely appropriate for most reader over the age of 10. This is a book to start a conversation about where anger and inappropriate school behavior may be stemming from and offers solutions without being too corny. It also models mentorship and community as a way of dealing with grief, violence and loss. This book is available at Main Library, Chandler Park Branch Library, and Chase Branch Library.
Ruby, Laura, Bone Gap, Harper Collins Publishers, 2015.
Two brothers abandoned by their mother and father deal with the loss of the friend who showed up one day to grow happiness into their dim lives, and then suddenly vanished. CW: violence against women, sexual behavior, language. CP: allusions to Greek mythology, magical realism, strong female characters, ways to cope with bullying. Available at the Main Library, Chase Branch Library, Conely Branch Library, Lincoln Branch Library, and Wilder Branch
Brisson, Pat, I Remember Miss Perry, The Penguin Group, 2006.
This book is about Stevie and his classmates before and after the unexpected death of their teacher, Miss Perry. CW: None. CP: Illustrations include diversity of students in terms of race as well as references to typical elementary school topics such as bees and James and the Giant Peace. This is simple and easy to read. It is a great book for students who lose a teacher, administrator, or coach or mentor. This book is available at Main Library, Bowen Branch Library, and Monteith Branch Library.
Bourrowes, Adjoa, Grandma’s Purple Flowers, Lee and Low Books, 2000.
A young girls loves spending time with her grandmother.The death of her grandmother leaves the narrator sad, but spring brings new hope and view. Available at the Main Library and Skillman Branch.
Danticat, Edwidge, Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, Penguin Random House, 2015.
Sanya’s mother is in sent to an immigration detention center. Sanya listens to the bedtimes stories her mother leaves on the answering machine. This book is relevant for children who have relatives in detention centers or fear their parents may be deported.
Durant, Alan, Always and Forever, Random House Children’s Books, 2013.
A Mole, Hare and Otter mourn the death of their best friend. Great for young children who have lost a friend. This book is available at the Skillman Branch.
Heide, Florence Parry, Gilliland, Judith Heide, Sami and the Time of the Troubles, Clarion Books, 1992.
A Lebanese boy lives in his uncle’s basement to survive the war-torn country. His mother does her best to remind her kids that life has not always been about war. This book is written for kids 5-9, but more suitable for late elementary and junior high students.Great resource for starting or supporting a discussion about refugees and children who experience the violence and loss of war.
Higgins, Melissa, The Night Dad Went to jail: What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail, Captstone, 2013.
This book is a great opportunity to teach kids what to expect if a parent is taken to jail. My only critic is this calm of the officers is not what many children of colors experience.
Karst, Patrice, The Invisible String, DeVorss & Company, 2000.
A young child worries about separation from his mother. She offers a metaphor for keeping loved ones close no matter where they may go.
Laínez, René Colato, Del Norte Al Sure, Lee and Low Books, 2013
A young boy misses his mother after she is deported to Mexico. He wonders when he will see her again. This book is especially great for those in the Southern California area who may have relatives deported to Tijuana. This book is available at the Campbell branch.
Williams, Karen L., Mohammed, Khadra, My name is Sangoel, A Sudanese refugee comes to the US with his remaining family after the death of his father. His homesickness increases when none of his new peers can say his name. This book is great for refugees and students sharing classrooms with immigrants or people with non-Christian or popular American names. This book is available at Conley Library.
Stevenson, Noelle, Nimona, Harper Collins, 2015.
Rebellious shape-shifter tries to join forces with a top-notch villain as he plots against super-hero and his former partner at the Academy for aspiring heroes. Not everything is as its seems in this adventurous graphic novel. CW violence, language. CP: strong female lead, captivating illustrations, suggestive gender and relationship queering. Nimona is punky, evil, ambitious and hilarious. Also, it’s great for kids who don’t typically enjoy reading or necessarily feel comfortable talking directly about their grief or painful history. It deals with the loss of a friendship (or is it more?) And provides a opportunity to talk about betrayal, making apologies, and defending others. While the author did slip in a few swear words and sexually suggestive jokes, it’s a fun visual adventure that never stops exciting. Yet, it’s a great read for talking about depression and anger.
Chast, Roz, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir,
A couple is in the process of dying, and their daughter is responsible for their death services. This book is available at the Main Library.