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Help Children Cope with Tragedy

When a tragic event strikes, how do you talk to your child about what happened? How much do you say? How do you explain that scary events do occur while still making your child feel safe? Below is a sample list of books that will help children work through feelings and find ways of coping with loss of all kinds.

California Department of Education also has helpful resources on their website to assist schools in helping students to cope with tragic events.

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The Purple Balloon by Christopher Raschka, 2007

When a child becomes aware of his pending death (children tend to know long before the rest of us even want to consider it), and is given the opportunity to draw his feelings, he will often draw a blue or purple balloon, released and unencumbered, on its way upward. Health-care professionals have discovered that this is true, regardless of a child's cultural or religious background and researchers believe that this is symbolic of the child's innate knowledge that a part of them will live forever. In disarmingly simple and direct language, accompanied by evocative potato print illustrations, Raschka in conjunction with Children's Hospice International (CHI), creates a moving, sensitive book that is also a phenomenally useful tool to talk about death.

Preschool and up

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A Terrible Thing Happened by Maragaret Holmes, 2000

This gently told and tenderly illustrated story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode, including physical abuse, school or gang violence, accidents, homicide, suicide, and natural disasters such as floods or fire.

Preschool - Grade 2

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What's Heaven by Maria Shriver, 1999

What should parents say when a loved one dies? Heaven is a difficult subject that always comes up at tough times, and Maria Shriver has written a very special book precisely for these stressful moments. What's Heaven? is the story of Kate, a little girl whose great-grandma has just died. She seeks answers, and her mother helps her learn about Heaven.

Kindergarten - Grade 1

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The Cello of Mr. O by Jane Cutler, 1999

In a war-torn city, a little girl learns about courage and faith from a crabby old man as he continues to use music to bring joy and hop to the people, even after his dearly loved cello is destroyed.

Kindergarten - Grade 3

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I Miss You by Pat Thomas, 2001

When a close friend or family member dies, it can be difficult for children to express their feelings. Written by psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas, this book helps children 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.

Kindergarten - Grade 3

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Sammy in the Sky by Barbara Walsh, 2011

A deeply affecting tale of love, loss, and remembrance-- told in clear-eyed prose by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and illustrated by a renowned American painter. A little girl tells about her special pet, Sammy, "the best hound dog in the whole world," and how, after he becomes sick and dies, she comes to know the truth of her mother's words, that Sammy's spirit is everywhere.

Kindergarten - Grade 3

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The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, 2011

When his mother dies, a little boy is angry at his loss but does everything he can to hold onto the memory of her scent, her voice, and the special things she did for him, even as he tries to help his father and grandmother cope. With tenderness, touches of humor, and unflinching emotional truth, Charlotte Moundlic captures the loneliness of grief through the eyes of a child, rendered with sympathy and charm in Olivier Tallec's expressive illustrations.

Kindergarten - Grade 3

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Lifetimes: a Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children  by Bryan Mellonie, 1983

A pet, a friend, or a relative dies, and it must be explained to a child. This sensitive book is a useful tool in explaining to children that death is a part of life and that, eventually, all living things reach the end of their own special life

Kindergarten - Grade 4

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Sad Isn't Bad: a Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss by Michaelene Mundy, 1998

Loaded with positive, life-affirming advice for coping with loss as a child, this guide tells children what they need to know after a loss--that the world is still safe; life is good; and hurting hearts do mend. Written by a school counselor, this book helps comfort children facing of the worst and hardest kind of reality.

Grade 1 and up

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All those Secrets of the World by Jane Yolen, 1991

A poignant, beautifully told story about a young child whose father goes to war, and the special secrets about the world she learns while he is gone.

Grade 1-3

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We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy by Maurice Sendak, 1993

Sendak combines two Mother Goose rhymes with his powerful visual images to comment on homelessness. This is a stunning work that resonates with hope and human resilience in the face of unbearable hardship.

Grade 1-3

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Bad Stuff in the News: A Guide to Handling the Headlines by Marc Gellman, 2002

Discusses how such problems as terrorism, child abuse, natural disasters, violence in sports, and hate crimes are reported in the media and some things that individuals can do to address these problems.

Grade 5 and up

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Verbal First Aid: Help Your Kids Heal from Fear and Pain and Come Out Strong by Judith Simon Prager & Judith Acosta, 2010

What you say to your child in those first moments of pain or fear could make all the difference. Using techniques the authors have taught to doctors, nurses, and first responders, the book explains how words can be used to promote healing from burns, bruises, nightmares, asthma attacks, and more. It provides scripts and tips on how to short-circuit traumatic memories, sometimes just by speaking a sentence or two. This revolutionary book gives parents the responses they need to immediately stabilize their children's emotions. And these methods will build a foundation of confidence and inner strength that will help kids heal at the deepest level, and weather whatever hardships and difficulties they encounter throughout life.

Adult