Death in children’s literature has changed over the last few hundred years. In the 18th and 19th century, death was so common and frequent that it was included in children’s literature narratives as a regular occurrence, an article bearing address but without much note, a quick glance of review and then discarded. Ahem.

In the present, medical technology, living conditions and diet has improved to the point where death is an event that is exceptional, worthy of contemplation. As such, helping children understand the finality and loss is critical in helping development.

The books reviewed here are curated to purposely exclude religious reference or content.

book cover for the childrens book circle in the sky featuring an illustration of a fox and birds

The Circles in the Sky

Written and illustrated by Karl James Mountford

Fox is kept from slumber after a night of hunting by a strange bird song from a flock. Intrigued, he follows them as they fly toward an unknown destination. When they arrive, they gather around the body of a dead bird. Fox approaches as they fly away and is struck by the state of the bird.

A nearby moth observes the fox and seeing his confusion offers a gentle explanation of death “in small pieces”. The fox demonstrates confusion and frustration as a child might, but the patience of the moth perseveres and soon the fox begins to realize the concept of being in a different place, never to return. The pair bid a testimonial goodbye and lay the bird amid wildflowers. The moth then accompanies the fox on the journey home.

The illustrations use lines and simple shapes and flat tones rendered digitally for a striking effect to contrast the monochromatic fox and moth.

Published in 2022 by Candlewick Studio, an imprint of Candlewick Press.