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Two Children's Books About Death

It might not surprise you to know that I think about death these days. More than sometimes, less than every day, but not infrequently.

Actually, that has always been so – that I think about dying. Maybe not as pointedly as now that it is almost close enough to touch but it has shadowed me for all my years. Maybe yours too.

For most of my life such thoughts were accompanied by heart-pounding fear and for two or three decades, I pretended I was the one immortal. You would die, but not I.

Of course, such fantasy is unsustainable past middle age even without a terrible disease. Psilocybin late in 2017 smoothed out the rough edges of my dread. (It really does do that).

Or, perhaps living with a terminal illness for three years now one comes to think of death as a not unfriendly visitor – even, at times, a companion.

There's a book about that – about death being a not unfriendly visitor. Cry Heart, But Never Break is classified as a children's book but as with many of them, writing for children sometimes seems to be a way of reaching adults more easily.

I had given my original copy to a friend with a young daughter but recently realized I want to read it again (and, probably, again etc.) so I tracked down another copy online. (Not so easy these days; it is often out of stock.)

It seems to be about how to say goodbye to loved ones who die – and it is that. But it is also reassuring to the one doing the dying (to me, anyway). It is written by Danish children's author, Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Danish artist, Charlotte Pardi.

Here is a reading of the book I found on YouTube:

Of course, death in inextricably linked with life along with the reverse, and The Fall of Freddy the Leaf makes that clear. It is written by the late Dr. Leo Buscaglia who died in 1998.

A friend dismissed Freddy the Leaf as sappy and unoriginal. But you know, death itself is unoriginal – it happens to all of us, even planet Earth itself eventually, and in my current predicament, I find it soothing to read.

Here is a lovely and well-done reading of The Fall of Freddy the Leaf from YouTube:


Another book for children that is special to me is "The Next Place" by Warren Hanson. It is a beautifully illustrated, non-restrictive, non-religious message of farewell from someone who has loved and been loved much. I've requested it be part of my Celebration of Life, when the time comes.

The first book, Cry Heart, But Never Break............great, a good story, and gets it's point across with words and visuals. The second, a bit too long and talky and heady, I think, for children. And too skewed toward the masculine. Having complained, let me say that I'm grateful for both books being available to children, who will, beyond doubt, encounter death. Just to have a book in their hands about the subject is positive. Enough of prevaricating with children to save ourselves the discomfort and effort of getting it somewhat right.

Death is ultimately an unselfish act, as it makes room for others to have their place in life and hopefully progress man on into enlightenment of the oneness of everything.

I too think about death at 73, but I use to feel I feared it, but in fact it’s regret for not knowing the future

I really like "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" - "Cry Heart but Never Break" was a good story as well, although the grim reaper freaked me out a little bit (and I am a 20 some year retired mortician!). He kind of lurked around the edges, but his explanations were wonderful.

I have also enjoyed Tomie dePaola's books about death - "Nana upstairs and Nana Downstairs" and "The Clown of God".

All of these books are very thoughtful and give helpful explanations. In my experience I have found that children tend to deal with death as well as the adults around them, therefore, these books would help to explain the mystery of death and promote resolution for children and adults.

Thank you for your insight Ronni.

I'd like to share these lines from poet Charles Bukowski, from 'thoughts on being 71.'

It's better now, death is closer,
I no longer have to look for it,
no longer have to challenge
It, taunt it, play with it.
it's right here with me
like a pet cat or a wall calendar

Here is my death story, or myth, and it comforts me. Death is a beautiful soul, my guide, my muse. She accompanies me throughout my days. She reminds me that I have a limited amount of time left, and, if there's something I want to do, she encourages me to do it, reminding me I might not get another chance on another day. We laugh together, dance together, enjoy life together, and sometimes cry and bitch together. She is my constant and mysterious friend. As an artist, she helps me dig deep into my own soul to create that which I sense. When I'm down or afraid, she reminds me that she will be with me when it's my time to go. Since she knows where I'm going, she'll be a good guide. My myth comforts me. I've endured three cancers in 30 years. I'm now 77 . Life is good, even when it's difficult.

tear jerkers, both. one of my main complaints about getting older is i am getting ever more sentimental; i resist but lose a battle every now and then. thanks a lot Freddie :)

Well I have a lump
In my throat and tears in my eyes and a heart full of gratitude to these two authors and their loving insights. And for you Ronni. You continue to be just the inspiration I always seem to need. Thank you.

I enjoyed the soft almost Jamaican sound of the Freddie book. Listened to another one not as good, anyway, it is how we learn about the circle of life, isn't it.

We're all gonna die! B

The first poem I ever read about death was Emily Dickinson, which should be no surprise, since she wrote so much on that topic. I often think of the opening words of her iconic poem -- "Because I could not stop for Death, " otherwise known as #479, since she did not actually title her poems. It's often been a comfort to me to roll those words around in my head, and think what a relief it might eventually be to know that Death has come to call. The only part about it that bothers me, well actually there are two -- leaving behind work undone and perhaps not having the awareness of the relief and eternal rest that it's believed by so many to provide.

Thank you to Sulima for sharing the name of another children's book. "The Next Place" is quite lovely. I can imagine that listening to that book, gently and slowly read, perhaps with some soft background harp or chimes, might be very pleasant at the end of one's life.

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." John 3:36 (King James) Bible

I have a fondness for The Dandelion Seed.

And my Zen teacher says, "Leaves undo themselves."

I've never been in fear of death itself--and I'm still not at 83. I'm an atheist-leaning agnostic so where I end up is not an issue with me since I believe all creatures return to the greater universe one way or another. I'm also a no fuss/no feathers type and have specifically requested (in writing) that there be no funeral or "celebration of life". When I'm gone, I'm gone.

However, as I've said many times, I am concerned about what I may face along the road to the end. This is true especially if I just become increasingly debilitated and dependent but do not develop a terminal illness with a 6-months or less prognosis to qualify for my state's M.A.i.D program.

I don't think of death as the end of life - just a stage of life. So I'm wondering What's next?

Another wonderful gift along with all the thoughts & gifts you have given us these last months.

At my age as a senior citizen and widow, I think about death fairly often. I am going to order that first book you suggested, for me. You are an inspiring person to me.

My dad said he just wanted his body to go from the hospital to the crematorium then "just stick me in the ground", no fuss no ceremony, but the Social Worker at the hospital told me it was more important to think what those left behind needed. That filled me with relief and people we hadn't seen for years came to share stories of Dad. Everyone's love for him made it an enriching experience and I'm glad we have that as another memory.

I'm sure Dad would have had an enormous grin on his face if he'd been watching.

Not a book, but a moving and inspiring article in The Guardian written by a 31-year-old man.
“I have come to see growing old as a privilege. Nobody should lament getting one year older, another grey hair or a wrinkle. Instead, be pleased that you’ve made it.”

NOTE FROM RONNI: Links are not allowed in comments. You can search the article title: "At 31, I have just weeks to live. Here's what I want to pass on"

Ronni, I just saw where Lake Oswego is under evacuation alert. Hoping you are safe and can remain so. Although we are safe in Fresno, we are covered in smoke and ash from the fires in our surrounding hills. The air is so bad, especially for those with breathing problems, as I know you are dealing with.


So far, we are relatively safe in Lake Oswego with a level 1 evacuation alert. I have a bag packed and plans made with two neighbors to leave together if it comes to that and a destination.

Let's hope not. The smoke here is awful - the air is the weirdest color today. Thank you for checking in...

Freddie is a terrific way to help young children through death of someone they care about. I highly recommend all Leo Buscaglia's books. He was a fabulous faculty member at USC.

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