Recommended books for children / tamariki and families experiencing serious illness, cancer or grief

Books are a great way to help tamariki (and yourself) begin to make sense of what you’re experiencing when it comes to serious illness, cancer or grief. 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 child you have, we’ve got a recommended book that’s suitable for them, from hardback picture books you can read together to a paperback they can read alone.


The Invisible String by Patrice Karst 

Age guide: 4-8 

Parents, 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 easily understand and embrace. 


The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside 

Age guide: 0-5 

A reassuring picture book encouraging 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 child. 


Always and Forever by Alan Duran 

Age guide: 0-5 

When Fox dies the rest of his family 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 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.


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 or loved ones cut short, but this was the reality being faced by mother of two Lisa Wells, who was diagnosed with terminal bowel and liver 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.

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 child cope with the loss of a loved one and working through grief. Heartfelt and comforting, The Memory Box helps tamariki, parents, educators, therapists, and social workers talk about this very difficult topic together. 


That’s Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

Age guide: 0-5 

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



I Miss You by Pat Thomas

Age guide: 6-8

When a close friend or family member dies, it can be difficult for tamariki 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 child to understand? Lifetimes is a moving book for tamariki of all ages, even parents 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 liiving as being born. It explains beautifully that all living things have their own special Lifetimes.


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 teenage children) came from our community. They’re personal recommendations from people who have found support and solace within their pages. 


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.


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 family 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. 


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.


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.





Helpful free resources

As well as our recommended books, Kenzie’s Gift has a range of free resources designed to help families experiencing serious illness, cancer or grief. They’ve all been thoroughly researched and written by our team of experts, drawing on international expertise and the experience of Kenzie’s Gift’s qualified mental health professionals who have worked with Kiwi families, tamariki and mātātahi (young people) for years. Read more about our resources below and follow the links to download or request them for free.


Kenzie's Gift Journey Kit for Tamariki

For tamariki who have been diagnosed with mate pukupuku (cancer), our Journey Kit is full of fun and useful things to help them understand their illness and recognise what they’re feeling. It also acts as a record of their journey, making it helpful for their doctors and nurses too. Learn more.



Kenzie’s Gift Journey Kit for Parents

The first few weeks after a mate pukupuku (cancer) diagnosis can be really stressful – our Journey Kit for Parents can help support you, your taitamaiti (child) and your whānau on your journey. It includes a comprehensive information book for parents, a diary for parents and a fun-filled diary for your taitamaiti. Find out more.


Memories are Forever

When tamariki and mātātahi (young people) lose someone special, it’s tough – grief can feel overwhelming and lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Our Memories are Forever kit is designed to help tamariki and mātātahi feel less alone. It includes a colourful, interactive diary for tamariki aged 5-12 years; a booklet full of helpful information and tips on how to get through for mātātahi; and a booklet for caregivers offering advice on how to support tamariki and mātātahi. Learn more.

Talking to Children and Young People About Cancer

If you or another parent have been diagnosed with mate pukupuku (cancer), it’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to telling your taitamaiti or tamariki. This guide can help, explaining how to talk sensitively and honestly about your diagnosis. It covers all stages of the mate pukupuku (cancer), from the first conversations through to fun activities to help them understand more about mate pukupuku (cancer). Find out more.


How to talk to tamariki about suicide

As a parent, it’s natural to feel worried about talking to your tamariki about suicide. But it’s really important to, because it helps tamariki understand and make sense of what’s happened. This guide contains helpful tips to guide your conversations, common questions tamariki might ask, and practical ways you can support them with their grief. Learn more.


How to support grieving children and young people in education

Sadly, at some point in most teachers’ careers, their kura (school) community will be affected by death in one way or another. Pupils may look to their teachers and schools, as well as their parents and communities, to support them on their grief journey. This toolkit is designed to give teachers confidence and ideas about how to deal with death and grief in lessons, assemblies and one-to-one settings. Find out more.



Additional support

These books and resources are designed to support you and your family’s journey through serious illness, cancer 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.