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How to Talk to Kids About Death, According to Picture Books

Do you remember when you first understood, first knew, that someday
you were going to die? I don’t, but I can recall the next worst thing:
walking home from kindergarten one sunny afternoon by myself (that’s how
it was done in 1963) and realizing that, someday, inevitably, my mother
would die. I wish I could remember what prompted this realization;
whatever it was, it descended upon me, unbidden and terrifying.

I ran all the way home (not far), where my mom assured me that, yes, she
would die one day, but that that day was far, far away, and nothing for
me to worry about now. I probably ought to have wondered, How does she
know? But her answer must have soothed me well enough because, decades
later, with the shoe on the other foot, I fobbed the same parental

boilerplate off on my own young children. I did feel a twinge of guilt
over making a potentially false promise, but so far, so good. Knock

It is hard enough to be honest with ourselves about death, and
exponentially more so with kids. Yet, euphemisms about sending missing
pets to farms upstate notwithstanding, kids are well aware of it, just
as they are of sex. For those of us who are parents, one of our jobs is
to help our children understand the end of life, to whatever extent—if
any—we ourselves do. And, for those of us too faint of heart to engage
the subject head on, there is an entire category of children’s literature that has aimed to help, though not always in
the way one might hope.

When the very notion of

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