Books about death for older children

There are many beautiful picture books that help explain death to very young children. But what about older children?

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of compassionate and thoughtful books for 8-12 year-olds too, whether they are facing bereavement themselves or simply have questions about life and death.

We recommend five titles here — each one with a page-turning story, characters you can root for, and more than a few laughs in between the tears.

Book cover for Max Kowalski Didn't Mean It by Susie Day

Max Kowalski didn’t mean it Susie Day

Max’s mum has died, and his dad works non-stop in a series of not-quite-legal jobs to keep the family afloat. This leaves twelve-year-old Max trying to look after his younger sisters and to be ‘the man of the house’.

Max tries to do the right thing, but it never works out the way he planned. It’s hard for him to ask for help. It takes a near-disastrous mountain-top encounter for Max to face his fears and allow himself to properly grieve.

Book cover for Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

Ways to live forever Sally Nicholls

Sam and his friend Felix both have leukaemia. They know that they are only likely to live for a few months. As the two boys try to work out what this means for them, they collect facts about death, discuss the big questions of life and plan the things they want to do before it's too late. In the course of the book, Sam goes to his friend’s funeral and talks about what he wants for his own.

Without ever being preachy or sentimental, this is a book about how to live and love in the face of death.

Book cover for Anna Hibiscus

You’re Amazing… Anna Hibiscus Atinuke

This final book in the wonderful ‘Anna Hibiscus’ series is for slightly younger readers. Anna Hibiscus lives in urban West Africa with her large, noisy multi-generational family, including her twin baby brothers (called Double and Trouble), a host of aunties and uncles and her much-loved grandparents.

When her grandfather gets ill, Anna is scared. So she hides in the garden, instead of spending time with him, and misses her chance to say goodbye.

This book deals gently with the guilt and sadness that can come when someone dies, and helps children to recognise and accept the emotions they might be feeling themselves.

Book cover for The Miraculous journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates Jenny Pearson

Above all, this book is really, really funny. Sparked by the death of his gran, Freddie Yates and his two best mates set out on a madcap adventure to find Freddie’s long-lost biological dad. On their way, they end up entering an onion-eating contest, dressing up as superheroes and fleeing a criminal gang.

But it’s not all laughs. Freddie has to come to terms with a number of losses and there’s a clear message that he does so with love and support from his friends and his family.

Book cover for Tamarind and the Star of Ishta by Jasminder Bilan

Tamarind and the Star of Ishta Jasbinder Bilan

Tamarind never knew her mum, who died when Tamarind was very young. As this book begins, she travels to India to meet her mum’s family for the first time. Tamarind is desperate to learn more about her mum from them. But, at first, no one will talk about her.

This story, which is interwoven with magic and mythology, shows how healing can come when honesty and openness replace secrets.

Looking for books for younger children? Check out our list of five helpful books to explain death to children or pick up some recommendations for adults from Poppy's team in our blog about books to help you explore death, dying and the end of life.

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