Book list: Stories to open up discussions about traumatic events

This month’s book list is from Angela Crocombe, the manager at Readings Kids bookshop in Melbourne:

I write this from Melbourne, Australia where we have had an incredibly challenging 2020. At the beginning of the year the horrific fires that engulfed our country took their toll on thousands of people, millions of animals and 7.7 million hectares of forest. Now Covid-19 has resulted in a pandemic, affecting not just Australia but the world, causing a halt to the way we live and taking the lives of tens of thousands of people.

These disasters are traumatic enough for an adult to come to terms with, let alone a small child. Yet it is so important to talk about these topics with your children – fires, climate change, pandemics, death – when they are so much in our news and lives.

The books below can be read together or alone to open up discussion about death and the feeling of sadness. They may be helpful right now or whenever a parent needs to talk about traumatic events with small children.

All the Dear Little Animals, by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

This gorgeous little book follows some children who notice a dead bumblebee and decide to give it a burial. They dig a hole, plant some flowers and compose an epitaph. They spend the day finding animals that need a proper burial. From being terrified of death and not knowing anyone who has died, our young narrator learns to comprehend its finality and the importance of ritual in mourning the end of a life.


Beginnings and Endings and Lifetimes in Between, by Bryan Mellonie, illustrated by Robert Ingpen

This picture book explains in straightforward words that death comes to every living creature, whether it may be at the end of a long life or a life tragically cut short. This is a powerful, moving book that has become a contemporary classic since its publication in 2005 and is recommended by many care giving organisations.

Death, the Duck and the Tulip, by Wolf Erlbruch

Translated from the German, this unusual story is about a duck who befriends death and learns of the close relationship that exists between life and death. This book is the opposite of the Mellonie; there are no simple answers, but a beautiful open-endedness to this magical, mysterious story much like life – and death – itself.


Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, by Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen wrote this book after the death of his son and it is very poignant and descriptive of the complex array of feelings we experience when we are processing a traumatic event. It acknowledges the importance of grieving and is a wonderful book for readers of all ages.


The House on the Mountain, by David Cox and Ella Holcombe

Inspired by the author’s own family experience in the Australian Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, this is the story of a family preparing to leave their house in anticipation of the fire front reaching them. There is the gathering of belongings, the feeling of fear, the need for haste, and the aftermath…A powerful story to get young people thinking about what it would be like being in the path of a fire.