Recommended books about serious illness and grief

Books are a great way to help tamariki / children (and yourself) begin to make sense of what they’re experiencing when it comes to serious illness or grief. See what we recommend.

We’ve gathered book recommendations from our team of mental health professionals and others in our community affected by these issues. They should be available on request, for free, from most libraries throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

If you’ve got a recommendation that’s not here, please get in touch.

Books for tamariki / children

Whatever age taitamaiti / child you have, we’ve got a recommended book that’s suitable for them, from hardback picture books you can read together to paperbacks they can read alone.

11 recommended book covers for talking about serious illness and grief

The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside

Age guide: 0-5

A reassuring picture book encouraging tamariki / children to open up about their fears and anxieties to help manage their feelings. It’s the ideal book to soothe worries during stressful times. A funny and reassuring look at dealing with worries and anxiety, it can be used as a springboard into important conversations with your taitamaiti / child.

That’s Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Age guide: 0-5

A heart-warming story that will comfort tamariki / children with separation anxiety, it captures parents' desire to be ever-present in this simple and touching poem offering reassurance of their aroha / love.  

Always and Forever by Alan Duran

Age guide: 0-5

When Fox dies the rest of his whānau are absolutely distraught. How will Mole, Otter and Hare go on without their beloved friend? But, months later, Squirrel reminds them all of how funny Fox used to be, and they realise that Fox is still there in their hearts and memories.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Age guide: 4-8

Mātua / parents and caregivers, educators, therapists, and social workers alike have declared The Invisible String the perfect tool for coping with all kinds of separation anxiety, loss, and grief. It offers a very simple approach to overcoming loneliness, separation, or loss with an imaginative twist that tamariki / children easily understand and embrace.

The Memory Box: A Book about Grief by Joanna Rowland

Age guide: 4-8

A beautifully written story and must-have resource for any adult helping a taitamaiti / child cope with the loss of a loved one and working through grief. Heartfelt and comforting, The Memory Box helps tamariki / children, mātua / parents and caregivers, educators, therapists, and social workers talk about this very difficult topic together.

The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst

Age guide: 4-8

This gentle story uses the same bonding technique from Patrice Karst’s book The Invisible String to help readers through the experience of the loss of a beloved animal.

I Miss You by Pat Thomas

Age guide: 6-8

When a close friend or whānau member dies, it can be difficult for tamariki / children to express their feelings. This book will help them understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them to have following a loved one's death.

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

Age guide: 9-12

When the death of a relative, a friend, or a pet happens or is about to happen, how can we help a taitamaiti / child to understand? Lifetimes is a moving book for tamariki / children of all ages, even mātua / parents and caregivers too. It lets us explain life and death in a sensitive, caring, beautiful way. It tells us that dying is as much a part of living as being born. It explains beautifully that all living things have their own special Lifetimes.

Only One of Me: A love letter from Mum and Only One of Me: A love letter from Dad by Lisa Wells and Michelle Robinson

Age guide: 9-12

Most of us can't imagine having the time we spend with our tamariki / children or loved ones cut short, but this was the reality being faced by māmā / mum of two Lisa Wells, who was diagnosed with terminal bowel and liver mate pukupuku / cancer in December 2017 at the age of 31. This tender and moving rhyming poem is both a love letter to Lisa's own daughters and a testament to the unwavering strength of parental love, a timeless message for families facing the challenges of bereavement.

Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love by Earl A. Grollman

Age guide: 13-16

This book was written for teenagers whose friend or relative has died. Earl A. Grollman, the award-winning author of Living When a Loved One Has Died, explains what to expect when you lose someone you love.

Books for adults as recommended by you

These books for adults (and older teenagers) came from our community. They’re personal recommendations from people who have found support and solace within their pages.

4 recommended book covers for talking about serious illness and grief

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book recommended by Hannah

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book chronicles Michael's grief at the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at the age of 19. A moving combination of sincerity and simplicity, it acknowledges that sadness is not always avoidable or reasonable and perfects the art of making complicated feelings plain. It’s a heartbreakingly honest account of a father’s grief for his son.

Life, Loss, Love by Lorraine Downes recommended by Jenny

Lorraine Downes rose to international fame when she won Miss Universe in 1983, an extraordinary win for a 19-year-old New Zealander. In her memoir, she shares details of her first marriage to All Black Murray Mexted, her delight in her two children and her blissful relationship with cricketing legend Martin Crowe. Lorraine has faced many challenges including rebuilding her life after divorce and Martin's devastating illness and death. She shares what got her through the tough challenges she faced.

Resilient Grieving by Dr Lucy Hone recommended by Stevie

Dr Lucy Hone works in the field of resilience psychology, helping ordinary people exposed to real-life traumatic situations. When faced with the incomprehensible fact of her daughter's tragic death Lucy knew that she was fighting for the survival of her sanity and her whānau unit. In Resilient Grieving Lucy shares her research so that others can work to regain some sense of control and take action in the face of helpless situations.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy recommended by Deborah

Charlie Mackesy offers inspiration and hope in uncertain times in this beautiful book, following the tale of a curious boy, a greedy mole, a wary fox and a wise horse who find themselves together in sometimes difficult terrain, sharing their greatest fears and biggest discoveries about vulnerability, kindness, hope, friendship and love. The shared adventures and important conversations between the four friends are full of life lessons that resonate with readers of all ages.

Additional support

These books and resources are designed to support you and your family’s journey through serious illness and grief. They aren’t a replacement for professional help, and we encourage you to reach out for any additional support you might need. Start by talking to us.