Working in a public library, it’s quite common to be asked for books that will help explain difficult subjects to children - life events like birth and death, illness, natural disasters like bushfires and floods, and so on.
Telling stories enables discussion of these kinds of subjects by making them less confronting and putting them into a context appropriate for different ages and experiences. The stories can demonstrate potential scenarios, offering children an opportunity to ask questions and make sense of something they may not have encountered before, and to explore their feelings on the subject.
This is demonstrated in two stories by Australian author Margaret Wild, which introduce death at each end of the age spectrum. Jenny Angel is the story of a young girl and how she copes with the fact her brother is dying. Old Pig is about a grandmother who is aging and, recognising her time is near, is preparing for the change to come. Both explore the topic without being too didactic.
In a similar way, discussing the effect of recent bushfires can be initiated by reading stories like Where There’s Smoke by Robin Lovell and David Miller or Bushfire by Tricia Oktober. Where There’s Smoke explains how firefighters prepare for an advancing bushfire, building firebreaks for example, and what a young boy and his family must do to protect themselves, while Bushfire looks at the effect of fire on wild animals and plants.
Often, these kinds of books go out of print quickly and are not able to be found in bookstores for long, but that's what libraries are for, so remember to check them out and ask the librarian about their range of books.
If you'd like to look for some more picture books dealing with the subject of death, try Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, Granpa by John Burningham, Grandma’s Bill by Martin Waddell, and Frog and the Birdsong by Max Velthuijs.
Some other picture books about bushfires include: Bushfire by Margarite Hann Syme and David Cox, Bilby and the Bushfire by Joanne Crawford and Grace Fielding, and Iso and the Bushfire by Jamie Shaw and Fusae Ikeda.
Sarah Steed is our Consultant Librarian and reviewer. A former Children's and Young Adult Librarian, she has more than 18 years' experience working in public libraries. Sarah comes from a family of readers and has shelves full to bursting with books.