Category: Children’s Books

Ten Essential Children’s Books about Grief for Church and School Libraries, and Home Use (+ Additional Resources)

I’m often asked, both in my role as pastor and also as an author of a book on faith and family about what resources I recommend for children who are grieving. In this post I link to ten books I recommend for children and families. Check out the age recommendations as well as a short sentence or two about the style of the book. Read to the end to find general suggestions about using the books as well as additional resources.

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

Speaks of death via analogy and transformation. Ugly bugs turn in to shiny dragonflies. This book leads the reader to hope and hopefulness. It reads like a parable. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is probably the most recommended book on the topic of death and dying that I’ve seen. If you’re getting only one book from this list, this is the one to get.



The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

Talks about being connected to the ones we care about through love (the invisible string.) Could be used to talk about all kinds of separation, not limited to death. (Moving, divorce or other transitions as well.)





Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

Geared more toward older elementary age children, Tear Soup talks about the recipe for grief. It affirms that there are many different responses to grief and opens the door for in-depth discussion about grief and grief responses.




The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story for All Ages  by Leo Buscaglia

Ages: 4-8+

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf speaks about death in a sort of “circle of life” type way, talking about the different stages a leaf goes through. Perhaps particularly helpful for those who live in climates where the trees change in visible and obvious ways.



When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

Instead of being a book with a storyline or plot, When Dinosaurs Die is sort of a guided tour through all different questions about death.  Because the illustrations are dinosaurs, it is able to convey the terms and concepts in a meaningful way that connects with children. Straightforward, and very helpful when navigating all different types of death from infant loss to war. There’s also a helpful glossary in the back.

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

The Goodbye Book is the book most appropriate for the youngest children among us of any of the books in this list. With compelling illustrations and very simple statements like “You might be very sad” and “You might not know what to feel,” the book is extremely simple, but also effective. It uses a fish who has lost his/her companion as a jumping off point.


 I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas

Ages: 4-8+

I Miss You opens the door a direct and straightforward conversation about death using the expertise of psychotherapist/counselor Pat Thomas who wrote it. I Miss You is a lot like When Dinosaurs Die in that it has less of a plot and more of a discussion about what happens in death.


Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Ages: 6-10+

A workbook rather than a storybook, Help Me Say Goodbye is a book of art therapy exercises to work through to help a child deal with loss. This book is a great companion to one of the other story/picture books listed.


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

Particularly useful in dealing with the loss of a pet, I’ll Always Love You talks about how we show love for someone we love while they are alive, and then grieve them when we die.


When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

Another one that deals with the loss of a pet, When A Pet Dies has the  straightforward and sensitive approach associated with Presbyterian Pastor Fred Rogers. The photos look dated, but the message is timeless.




Bonus Recommendation

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith (hey, that’s me!)

Ages: 5-12+

I included my own book in this list, though it’s not a book to sit down and read with children like all of the other books. I like to say that Faithful Families is a recipe book for creating sacred moments at home. There are a ton of activities to do with children that create sacred moments. The activities are divided into traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. There are several activities in the book relevant to grief and grieving: a pet funeral to mark the passing of a pet, bubble prayers to mark the loss of another family member, a memory box to mark an infant loss and more.

General Tips for Selecting a Book on Death and Grief to Use with Children

  • Read the book through in its entirety, at least once, before reading it with your child(ren). Just because I (or some other resource) recommends a book doesn’t mean that it’s the right book for your family or situation. You know your family situation and children’s personality best. Return books that don’t suit your needs.
  • Consider whether you want a straightforward “nuts and bolts” book or one that takes more of  a sideways approach: Of the books above, When Dinosaurs Die and I Miss You are both very straightforward about death: what it is, what it means to die,  what happens to our bodies, etc. Books like The Invisible String and Waterbugs and Dragonflies are more metaphorical and indirect. I recommend reading books from both “camps.” There’s no “one size fits all” book for this.
  • Don’t put too much weight in to the age recommendations: Ages are listed as guidelines. As you’ll notice, though, in each case I’ve put a “+” at the end. Who among us can’t benefit from a story designed for a younger child? I tend to think there is no upper limit to the ages for each of these books. As for the younger end of the spectrum… that’s variable too. Read the book in advance and decide what’s best for your child. The book in this list that’s the simplest for very young children is The Goodbye Book. 
  • Supplement with your theological perspective: You might have noticed that none of these books is an overtly spiritual/religious book. This is for a few reasons: 1. There’s considerable variation among religious beliefs about life after death depending on a person’s religious/spiritual tradition. 2. Too much talk about heaven/angels/life after death can be very confusing to young children who understand things quite literally. 3. All of the books listed above are appropriate for those of any spiritual tradition (or none at all.)
  • Follow up with practice: Either Faithful Families  or Help Me Say Goodbye provides activities that can be done to help the child further process his or her grief. There’s also a photo activity included in I’ll Always Love You for use after a pet dies. Oftentimes just reading a story doesn’t provide the closure or interaction that can be so helpful to healing.

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

When Families Grieve   – An online resource from PBS with links to games and parents guides, as well as other resources.

Maria Papova’s of brain pickings has a delightful list of other children’s books on death, grief and mourning, along with detailed reviews of each.


Note: Links in this article are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase on Amazon after clicking on the link, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

Christmas Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist: A Review and Giveaway!


Last week when I posted about Advent Calendars, I mentioned that I’m planning on doing the “book a day” calendar with my children, starting on December 1. I’ve already wrapped all of the books (um, it took more time than I anticipated, but I was watching The West Wing, so it’s all good.) and we’re ready to go! The boys have already seen the huge stack of wrapped books and are ready to read them! For the first 20 books, I wrapped and then labeled with numbers randomly, so they’ll be a surprise, even to me, when we open them. For the last five, though, I selecadventbooksted the five most special books from the collection, five books that I think exemplify the Christmas message the best. These are the books that I want to be reading with my kids after school is out, and when we can snuggle up on the couch and savor them. The very last book, the most special book I wrapped up this year is Glenys Nellist’s book Christmas Love Letters from Godadventbooks2

This book is SO precious, y’all! There are seven separate Christmas Bible stories, each with a kind love letter directly from God, to your child. There’s even a blank so that you can pre-fill the child’s name in the book, if you’d like. The recommended age for this book is 4-8, so my two are right in the “sweet spot” for this book, but, honestly, I think it’s a great message for all ages. I’ve even recommended it to folks who are looking for a book to read to the congregation on Christmas morning. The reason is this: each and every story and letter is wrapped up in a single theme: God’s love for us. Everything is connected to that single theme. Is there any theme more important than God’s love for us? For me, that’s the message I want my children to hear time and time and time again. God loves you. You are lovely and beloved. All of these stories we read on Sunday mornings are about this one thing: God’s love. To me, this is the beauty of Christmas Love Love Letters from God.  

I also think you’ll love the beautiful illustrations of this book. To get a taste of it, take a look at the video here.


Pretty, eh?

In addition to Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys Nellist wrote the original Love Letters from God  (I reviewed it HERE) and LITTLE Love Letters from God (the board book.) She also wrote Snuggle Time Prayers  and Snuggle Time Psalms, both of which my family uses and loves! Any one of those books would make a great Christmas gift or addition to your library.

I also encourage you to keep up with Glenys on her Facebook Page and Blog for information on what’s coming next in her fantastic line of children’s books!

Now for the fun news! The author, Glenys Nellist is graciously giving away a copy of Christmas Love Letters from God to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter, just comment on this post and say who you’d give the book to (or whether you’d keep it!) and a random winner will be chosen on December 5 at noon! 


UPDATE: I used the simple “random number” generator to generate the winner which was #12, Deana! I used the email address you put in the comment to let Glenys know, and she should be contacting you about your book! Congratulations!


Interested in more information like this? Sign up for my email list. It has resources to family faith books, blogs and other goodies like this. Emails go out about once per month and the addresses are never sold or shared!

Note: This post contains affiliate links and I also received review copies of the books listed. I only link to products I personally use, love and would recommend.


Do Little Girls and Little Boys Need Different Bibles?

One of the things that I’m keenly aware of as a recently published author on spiritual practices for families is how I’m now part of the world of Christian marketing. As I’ve written about before, I believe only people can be described as Christian. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “Christian music” or “Christian books” or “Christian art.” There’s only music, books and art by and for Christian people. As much as marketers try and label everything from breath mints to financial services as “Christian,” what they’re trying to do is get Christian people to buy their products which may or may not be any better or different than products by so called “secular” retailers.

My desire to write and publish Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life was born out of a desire that I think most Christian parents share: to connect with our children, pass on our values and provide meaningful ways to practice our faith together. Since its release, I’ve been interested in other books and products that I might be able to recommend to readers of Seamless Faith. I perked up whenever I find a new book, CD or game aimed at helping families practice their faith together. Enter the Little Girls Bible Storybook for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Bible Storybook for Mothers and Sons:


Suffice it to say, I have a few concerns about these products, but I’ll focus on the two most troubling:

First, in a world where every single product marketed to children is gender specific, it makes me cringe to see a Bible storybook following this trend. In the introduction to the Little Boys Bible Storybook, the author even explains that raising boys and girls are different and that the little boys storybook is more “rough and tumble” than the little girls Bible. I think this is extremely problematic thinking. While my boys may or may not be more active than their girl classmates and friends, the faith that I want to share with them is a faith where gentleness and kindness are of utmost importance. Similarly, I want the girls I minister to (I don’t have daughters) to know that they are free to be strong like Queen Esther and trailblazers like the Daughters of Zelophehad. Incidentally, the story about Queen Esther in the Little Girls Storybook Bible is “Esther Wins a Beauty Contest.” This fact made me simultaneously laugh out loud and and want to cry. What is the message we want to send our little girls?

The second problem I have with the Little Girls and Little Boys Storybook Bible is that both products are marketed to mothers only. Though I’m certain the authors would agree that fathers, grandparents, stepparents and other family members have an important role in sharing faith, the fact that the title of the work is “for mothers and sons” and “for mothers and daughters” implies that it’s the mother’s job to pass on these stories. I much prefer a model whereby the whole family is involved in sharing faith together, and I know many families do too.

For those looking for a great storybook bible for boys and girls, moms and dads (and everyone in between) I recommend

The Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.


What do you think? Does the Little Girls Storybook Bible for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Storybook Bible for Mothers and Sons serve a purpose, or are there some real problems here that need to be addressed? 




Traci Smith is author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which was published earlier this year by Chalice Press. You can sign up for her monthly email newsletter with practical faith tips for families here

What I’ve Been Reading — Summer 2013 Edition

Things have been so quiet here and over at Mrs. Smith Cooks, that one can actually hear the crickets chirping.  Here I am to help correct that! I hope that now that my manuscript has been turned in to the publisher, I can spend some of my writing time here and at MSC!

Though I was disappointed with the volume of books I was able to read this summer (re: above writing project and some other projects this summer) I wanted my first post back to be about what I *did* read because there are a couple of gems in there.  As I did in the Spring Edition, I’ll give my brief review and my “stars” out of five.

The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp – Best book I read this summer by a landslide. This is a mother’s story of the very short life of her son Ronan who was born with Tay-Sachs disease. The book is agonizingly beautiful in its prose and its descriptions of her beautiful boy. The depth of pain in this story is overwhelming at times, as one can only imagine. I recommend this book to anyone, but particularly highlight it for anyone who is a minister, counselor, or just wanting to be a better friend to someone who is losing (or has lost) a child. Ms. Rapp does a fantastic job of explaining what she needed from friends or helping professionals as well as some of the things that were said or done that deeply wounded her. Love this book and give it six stars out of five.

Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows Jay Bakker Somehow, even though the book was written in 2001, I had never heard of it. Furthermore, I never made the connection that Jay Bakker, cool progressive pastor of Revolution Church was the son of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. (Guess that he succeeded in making his own path apart from mom and dad, eh?). When I made the connection and learned of the book, I had to read it. I was fascinated by Jay’s story growing up with Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, and to hear some of the details of his experience. Particularly moving for me (in a sad way) was hearing his sense of isolation and abandonment from Christians who cut him off or otherwise abandoned him throughout the scandal that rocked his family. It’s a wonder he returned to faith at all. A wakeup call for Christians to act like it. I give it 3 stars out of 5. The reason for the ho-hum rating despite the great content is that the writing is, well, ho hum. I recommend it for the content but you won’t find yourself glued to the seat.

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by H Wallace Goddard – Clayton is getting to an age where he is learning how to say “no!” assert his opinion, express his wants and desires. In short, he’s learning to communicate. I was looking for some solid advice about parent/child communication that I could use in the long haul. This book is a classic and recommended by sources I generally trust for parenting advice. Perhaps it’s because I had overly inflated hopes for this book, but I was disappointed in it. (The same thing happens when someone describes a movie as an *amazing* movie. I see it, often and think “eh, it’s fine”). I found it to be mostly common sense (“listen to your child, don’t order her around.”) followed by examples that were painfully redundant. “This is what it means to listen to your child…”) It’s not that the content was bad. (In fact, it was quite good) it was that I was hoping for more. There were select passages where I found myself nodding along or reflecting on what I hope my approach will be in the future, and the book was good reinforcement for some things that I already hope I will put into practice, but it was not life changing. (Perhaps this is because the ideas have spilled over into common theories on parenting? Not sure of the reason, but this was my experience. I give it 3  stars out of 5.

Brim: Creative Overflow in Worship Design by Suzanne Castle and Andra Moran. Awhile ago Chalice Press (the publisher of my upcoming book…. yay!) had a free digital download sale. Did someone say free book? Yes please. I had this book on my list of books to check out and I’m so glad I read it. It’s full of imaginative ideas for worship. The context of your church will determine when these ideas would best be implimented. For my church, I’m planning on rolling some of the ideas out during our quarterly contemplative services. The services have creative prayer stations along with some really fantastic communal liturgies. There is a ton of brilliance in this book. I spent my time thinking “I would go to this service and feel completely at peace and at home.” and then I would turn the page to the next idea and think the same thing. I oohed and ahhed over this book. I give it five stars out of five.

Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It by Mark Devries I had this book sitting on my desk for months and picked it up one day when I was needing to clear my head for a few minutes. It was engaging and I felt like it spoke to some of the specific problems our church (and so many churches) face. The problems, Devries suggests, have a lot to do with structural componets (job descriptions, planning calendars, databases, etc) and less to do with well designed programs. Without the structure, the program fails. The book is full of very practical ideas and plans. The book also references a study where youth were asked to list the things they think makes a youth group successful. “Having a Sr. Pastor that likes and understands youth” was ranked at #2, higher than almost anything else on the list. I recommend this one to my youth ministry and ministerial colleagues, highly. Five stars out of Five.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell – Have you ever bought a cheap version of something only to have it break and have to replace it, only to have the replacement break and have to replace that, and then realizing “If I would have bought a quality one of these in the first place…” This is where the book Cheap begins. The book explores the US fascination with cheap goods and the industry created to deliver them. I though the book was interesting and worth reading, but I was bored at times. There is excellent information, however. For me, it led to some thoughtful reflection that will result in action. Three and 1/2 stars out of five.

Children’s Books I’ll end with a couple of children’s books my boys adore, as I did in the last review. We’re still in board book land around here. I’m going to highlight two bilingual editions, because there’s a few important things to highlight about bilingual editions.

 Where Is the Green Sheep? / Donde esta la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo  – The Illustrations on this book are adorable. Brilliant, in fact. It’s a simple, sing songy story about finding the green sheep at the end. Part of the charm of the story, though, is that it rhymes in English. Obviously, when translated, it doesn’t rhyme. It’s not a bad book experience when it doesn’t rhyme (you’re still looking for the green sheep) but it makes less sense as a bilingual book. I think it would have been smarter to publish an English version and a Spanish version, because the resulting bilingual rhymes in one but not another mish mash is less successful, in my opinion. For the book itself 5 stars, for the bilingual edition 3 stars.

Mi Amor Por Ti/My Love for You (Spanish Edition) By contrast, My Love For You is a perfect candidate as a bilingual book. Great illustrations, great simple counting and repetition. I have a lot of love for this book and love to snuggle up with my boys and read it to them. Five stars.

What I’ve Been Reading — Spring 2013 Edition

Between work and home and other endeavors, I don’t read as much as I would like to, but I’m always looking for interesting things to engage my brain and imagination. I’d like to post on what I’ve been reading from time to time. This first edition covers Spring 2013. Hope you enjoy these short reviews complete with my “star rating.”

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I found a lot of useful information about women leaders from this book. It’s well written, backed up by personal anecdotes as well as research, and it’s an easy read.  I was familiar with the author, Sheryl Sandberg, because of her wonderful TED talk. I was not disappointed. I recommend this to everyone, not just professional women. Women who work at home will benefit from this book as well as men who work in and outside the home. I give it four and a half stars.


Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – This is the story of a Neurosurgeon who had a near death experience while he was in a coma. I expected to like this book much more than I actually did. I enjoyed hearing about the details of his illness and peering in to what happened for him while he was in the coma, but I was much more interested in hearing how this newfound belief in heaven or an afterlife changed his life, and he talks very little about this in the book. There was also a few details that come up in the end that feel forced to me and more than a little unbelievable. (I’m being deliberately vague because, although it wasn’t my favorite book of the spring, others might still want to read it, and I don’t want to give anything away.)  I give it two and a half stars.


Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

Awhile ago in an online discussion group I am a part of, someone mentioned this book. I was intrigued because the person recommending it mentioned that it was filled with sermon illustration type material and that it was a very quick read. I’m needing books that are quick reads these days. This book could easily be read in an afternoon. It’s the story of, well, two old women, who are left behind by their nomadic tribe in their old age. Will they give up and die alone, or will they fight to survive? It’s a tale of friendship and survival, and it takes the reader to far away places. I give it four and a half stars.


The Racketeer by John Grisham

This is the first John Grisham novel I’ve ever read! I’ve seen a lot of the movies, however, and when I saw this at the library, I checked it out on a whim. I was hooked at the beginning and really curious to find out what happened at the end when it started to take some detours from where I thought it was going. It was tough for me to plod through the middle of the book, however. I started to feel sort of ambivalent toward the main character. I didn’t dislike him, but I wasn’t really rooting for him either. I would recommend this book for beach reading, but I hesitate to be much more enthusiastic than “Eh, it was ok.” I give it three stars.


The Immigrant Advantage by Claudia Kolker

This book takes the reader through various customs immigrants from other countries bring to the US. It shows how these customs lead to greater health and happiness for the groups that practice them. It does not discuss immigration policy or politics. I loved reading about these different customs and cultures and found the book very worthwhile. I give it four stars.


What is God’s Name? by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Three things I love about this book

1. The illustrations are amazing

2. The story and theology are profound, yet very simple for even a small child to grasp.

3. The author reminds parents in the front cover: “… each child develops an image of God by age five with or without religious instruction.”

I highly recommend  this one. Five stars.


Llama Llama Nighty-Night  by Anna Dewdney

 This book is amazingly charming. It has a special place in my heart because Clayton is learning to talk and repeat things and he says “wwaaaaaama waaaama niiiight niiiiiight” which is heart-meltingly adorable, but I love the simple rhyme and the illustration. I will be looking for Llama Llama Misses Mama next time I’m at the library!

That’s it for now… what did you read this Spring?

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