“It’s Not the Teacher’s Job”: Talking About Death and Death-Related Grief with Picture Books in Classrooms by Jongsun Wee and Heather J. Fye

Introduction

Death was not taboo in children’s literature before the 20th century (Clement and Jamali 5), but its presence disappeared from after World War I to the 1970s in Western children’s literature (12). Death is still a controversial topic and difficult to talk about. Some adults may avoid discussing death as they wish to guard children from real-life issues (Bargiel et al. 482); however, the variety of children’s books that address death and death-related topics have increased since the 2000s (Corr “Bereavement” 338; Mercurio and McNamme 153). The variety of topics related to death—such as its acceptance, rituals, and visualizations—can be found in children’s literature globally as well (Clement and Jamali 12-14). In some countries, teachers and parents have taken active roles in supporting children with death-related situations (Katayama 143; Lytje 34; McGovern and Barry, 331).

Children who experience a significant loss are often referred to a school counselor (Mumbauer and Kelchner 85); however, teachers can also take active roles in helping bereaved children because they may be the first school professional children ask for help. Teachers may have difficulty broaching these topics, but picture books can be utilized when helping children with death and death-related grief (Mercurio and McNamme 154: Milton 11). With a strong belief of the importance of teachers’ roles in supporting bereaved children, we investigated how preservice teachers would respond to picture books about death and death-related grief. The following two research questions guided the present study:

  1. How would preservice teachers respond when the picture book about death and death-related grief was included as a choice for read aloud?
  2. How willing are preservice teachers to read about the topic of death and death-related grief with children in their future classrooms?

Literature Review

Reading Picture Books About Death and Death-Related Grief

Discussion of literary texts is not only a common practice in elementary classrooms, but also an effective strategy for creating a safe space for children to express their feelings and share their thoughts (Dutro 431; Wee and Price-Dennis 28). Reading and discussing a picture book may sound simple, but for bereaved children, it can be a powerful tool for teachers to use when discussing death and death-related grief. When children read about a character who is confronting an issue similar to theirs, children may realize that they are not the only ones who go through difficult life situations. Moreover, children may also learn ways to deal with their issues from the story (Berns 326; Mercurio and McNamme 159; Milton)

Renowned children’s literature authors have recognized the importance of children’s literature as a tool to discuss hard topics with children. In the essay “Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children from Darkness,” Matt de la Peña shares a story from a school visit in which he met a boy who shed tears because de la Peña’s picture book Love reminded him of his grandmother who passed away. According to de la Peña, Love did not get support from the publisher at first because of its “heavy” illustration. De la Peña’s experience implies that adults may have more difficulty with picture books with “heavy” illustrations than children do. Rather, reading such texts may give children a chance to share their emotions and let their stories be heard.

In a response to Matt de la Peña’s essay, Kate DiCamillo shares her experience at a school visit. She witnessed children finding comfort and making connections to her traumatic childhood story. DiCamillo endorses de la Peña’s view about the importance of children’s literature that deals with hard life issues. DiCamillo expressed the importance of children’s literature telling the truth about life, even though some of those truths may be sad. As stories may have power to heal wounded hearts, it is essential for teachers to select books that reflect the issues that children have, to help them recognize problems and cope with stress, anxiety and other challenges (Cook et al. 92; Heath and Cole 253).

Teacher’s Emotional Support

In today’s schools, teachers are expected to expand their roles as an increasing number of students require social and emotional support (Cook et al. 91). More importantly, the teacher’s emotional support and children’s behavior may be closely related. For example, Merritt et al. (153) found that higher teacher emotional support resulted in first graders’ positive social behavior and higher self-control. Brock and Curby (221) studied the relationship between the teacher’s emotional support consistency and children’s adaptability, which is how children perceive and respond to changes in the environment. The researchers concluded that a more consistent classroom social environment may benefit children who need help with adapting to new situations. Therefore, teacher education programs should “include an understanding of the impact of the teachers’ interactions on the emotions of temperamentally sensitive children” (223).

It is important for teachers to recognize children’s anxiety and stress and be able to help children cope. Especially with bereaved children, a teacher’s emotional support can be critical because the impact of death can be significant in children’s lives. Abdelnoor and Hollins examined the effect of the death of a parent or sibling on children and found that children’s bereavement had a long-term impact on children’s school performances and levels of anxiety (48). Children are significantly influenced by the loss of a pet as well, because pets may be perceived as family members by the child (Kaufman and Kaufman 69; Milton). Therefore, losing pets may be just as significant for the child as losing the loved family member (Kaufman and Kaufman 69). Additionally, a child’s first death and grieving experience is likely to be from losing a pet (Heath and Cole 249; Mercurio and McNamme 154). Even if death may seem like an ordinary life event that everyone experiences at some point, children’s grieving for loved ones, including their pets, should not be ignored.

In sum, studies reviewed here indicate that children need emotional support and teachers can provide it. More importantly, the teacher’s emotional support may be closely associated with children’s development of social behaviors and their ability to adapt to new environments. We argue that a teacher’s emotional support is also needed when helping children grieve properly for their loss, regardless of the types of loss (Kaufman and Kaufman 69).

Collaboration to Support Bereaved Children

It is important to support children who suffer from death-related experience at school, especially for those who do not have a support system other than their teachers. When helping bereaved students, teachers and school counselors can work together and create a space and time in school for children to talk about their loss. When children express and share their feelings about death, their grief may lessen (Kaufman and Kaufman 68; Mercurio and McNamme 156). Also, their expressions of emotion related to death may result in preventing “the development of complicated and pathological grief” (Kaufman and Kaufman 68). School counselors can collaborate with teachers to assist children who are grieving be successful in the classroom (Mumbauer and Kelchner 87; Heath and Cole 253).

Methodology

The present study was designed to be a survey study to gather information from a group of Early Childhood and/or Elementary Education major preservice teachers on their responses to reading picture books about death and death-related grief in their future classrooms. This survey study did not aim to generalize the preservice teachers’ perceptions, but it aims to document the small group of preservice teachers’ responses with the intention to infer the possible responses from the large body of preservice teachers who have similar demographics to the current study’s sample (Jaeger 304).

Participants

The participants in the study were Early Childhood and/or Elementary Education majors enrolled in Children’s Literature classes at a small public midwestern university. We invited all students (101 females and 14 males) in Children’s Literature classes to participate in the study. As a result, 97 participants (n = 97) completed the study. Therefore, we received a response rate of 84.3%. Of those participants, 93 (95.8%) identified as white, 2 (2%) identified as Black/African American, 1 (1%) identified as Hispanic, and 1 (1%) identified as Asian. Participation in the study was anonymous and voluntary and did not impact students’ grades.

Book Selection

We selected fiction and nonfiction picture books about death and death-related grief for the preservice teachers to read. When selecting books, Jongsun applied her experience using picture books in elementary classrooms and Heather used her experience with counseling children in the school setting who experienced grief and loss. Additionally, we reviewed other scholars’ studies (e.g., Bargiel et al. 483-489; Corr “Bereavement” 341-360; “Pet” 400-412; Mercurio and McNamee 157- 158; Schuurman 416-423; Wiseman 7) and book reviews on picture books about death and death-related topics. As a result, we selected three picture books: one non-grief-related book (i.e., Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin [Moss, 2000] ) and two picture books (one fiction and one nonfiction) about death and death-related grief (i.e., Harry & Hopper [Wild, 2011] and When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death [Brown, 1988]).

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin is a Caldecott Honor picture book that describes different musical instruments in an orchestra written in poetry. We selected this book because the story delivers a light mood which is quite opposite from the mood of the picture book about death and death-related grief. When Dinosaurs Die is a nonfiction book that describes different topics related to death. This book was suggested in the recommended book titles about death (Heath and Cole 247; Corr “Bereavement” 343). Corr (“Pet”) reported that this book creates “a safe psychic distance for the discussion” (343) with the dinosaur characters. This children’s book has been recommended for adults as well (Schuurman 423). Harry & Hopper is a book about a boy who loses his pet dog. One day, upon coming home from school, Harry learns that his beloved dog Hopper has died. Harry has a difficult time after Hopper dies, but Hopper appears in Harry’s imagination. We selected Harry & Hopper because a pet’s death can be as significant in a child’s life as the loss of a friend or family member (Kaufman and Kaufman 69; Mercurio and McNamme 154; Milton). Moreover, among death-related children’s literature, a pet’s death often appears (Corr “Pet” 399).

Procedures

The study was conducted in Children’s Literature classes offered in the Teacher Education program at a Midwestern university. The data were collected after the preservice teachers had learned about different genres of children’s literature and discussed trends and issues including censorship and banned books. During the picture book lesson, we provided Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin and one of picture books about death and death-related grief to each small group (average group of 5) and asked the preservice teachers to read them out loud. Then, we asked them to complete the survey afterwards. The preservice teachers who did not agree to participate were also asked to complete the survey because it was a planned class activity regardless of the present study. We told the preservice teachers that their survey sheets would not be analyzed if they did not agree to participate in the study.

In the survey, we asked the preservice teachers four questions:

  1. What was the experience like for you while the two books were read aloud?
  2. How comfortable are you with reading book 1 (Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin Violin) and book 2 (When Dinosaurs Die or Harry & Hopper)?
  3. Which book would you prefer to read aloud in your future classroom?
  4. How do you plan to teach the topic of death and death-related grief with a picture book in your future classroom?

The purpose of the study was not to find out whether the preservice teachers would choose a non-grief-related picture book over the picture book about death and death-related grief. We anticipated that the preservice teachers would prefer a non-grief-related book if they had to choose one for their read aloud. Nevertheless, we decided to ask preservice teachers to choose one book because we wanted to collect their reactions when they found out that the picture book about death and death-related grief was a choice. We thought that by observing their reactions, we could find out the preservice teachers’ willingness to read books about death and death-related grief with children.

After collecting data, we read what the preservice teachers wrote and conducted a conventional content analysis of their responses. We defined our codes before reading the data and re-examined the codes and revised them during the data analysis process. The conventional content analysis approach can be useful for describing a phenomenon and when “existing theory or research literature on a phenomenon is limited” (Hsieh and Shannon 1279). We intended to describe the preservice teachers’ reactions to reading picture books about death in class, but couldn’t find exiting studies on this topic. For this reason, we decided to adopt the conventional content analysis approach.

Our goal for the coding process was to establish systematic and logical rules for analyzing data between us, two independent coders, as well as to build trustworthiness on our data analysis (Glesne 151). The codes we used were positive response, negative response, and others. We tallied the preservice teachers’ written responses under these established codes. The sum of the tally was not equal to the number of participants because one participant’s answer may be tallied twice under two different codes. For example, one answer may have both positive and negative comments. In this case, we tallied the response as both positive and negative comments. The sum of the percentage of the result for each question was not equal to 100% either. We calculated the percentage independently for each code for each question. For example, for one question if the total number of responses were 97 and the total number of negative responses were 5, it was calculated for 5.1%. Once we found patterns in the data, we discussed the possible explanations of those patterns along with the issues we thought about related to the patterns. We also shared what we found from the data with an outside member who had long experience in school administration to verify if our interpretation of the data and arguments for implications sounded reasonable.

Results

Research Question One: Read Aloud Experience

Among the answers about the reading experience when the picture books were read aloud in a small group, 73.1 % of responses were positive and 6% of responses were negative on Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin (See Table 1). The preservice teachers used words such as “happy,” “uplifting,” “entertaining,” and “relatable” to describe this book. Comparing to the picture book about death and death-related grief, the majority of participants reported Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin made them feel happier. Meanwhile, 12.3% of responses were positive and 58.7% of responses were negative on either Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die (See Table 1). Words such as “sad,” “morbid,” “depressing,” and “dark” were used to describe these books. The preservice teachers also commented that Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die made them feel uncomfortable. In the negative comments, the preservice teachers indicated that they worried about children’s feelings. One participant thought the picture book about death and death-related grief was “really depressing and way too harsh for children to read.” A small portion (16.4%) of responses included both positive and negative descriptions (See Table 1). For example, one preservice teacher wrote, “It was interesting and also kind of shocking for me to read children’s stories that were a little darker.” In the “both positive and negative” category, there were comments that were neither positive nor negative such as a description of the process of reading aloud.

Research Question Two: Comfort Level

When we asked about the comfort level of reading the picture books, 78.3% of responses indicated comfort with reading Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, and 5.1% of responses indicated discomfort with reading this book (See Table 1). Interestingly, the fact that Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin was a work of poetry that included rhyming words was the reason for both positive and negative responses. While one participant wrote Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin was “the perfect children’s book with lots of bright colors and fun rhyming words,” another wrote “a lot of tongue twisters that made it hard to read aloud.” When it comes to Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die, 22.6% of responses indicated that they felt comfortable reading these books, and 49.4% of responses indicated they did not feel comfortable (See Table 1). In the positive comments, a participant thought it was “important for kids to learn about death and how to cope with it well at an early age.” Some wrote that When Dinosaurs Die approaches the topic of death in “lighthearted” way and allows children to think about “losing loved ones in a more positive way.” Some preservice teachers appreciated that there were materials “to a help ease the mourning process for kids.”

The negative comments on the picture book about death and death-related grief were similar to the answers from Question 1. The preservice teachers indicated that they felt uncomfortable reading either Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die. They worried that children may get scared or be sad after reading the book. On top of uncomfortable feelings, the preservice teachers strongly expressed that they did not want to read picture books about death and death-related grief in their future classrooms. One preservice teacher wrote, “I would NEVER read When Dinosaurs Die to my class of small children. It is nothing I can teach them without offending them and their parents.” Another preservice teacher wrote, “It’s not the teacher’s job to educate their students on death” and “That’s a parent’s job to tell them.” The preservice teachers who gave negative comments on the picture book about death and death-related grief agreed that death is “a very difficult topic” and they “would want the children to talk to their parents about it.” Even regarding a pet’s deaths, some preservice teacher wrote that they did not know “if it would be the teacher’s role to talk about the death of a family pet.” Therefore, when the family’s pet died, “it would be up to the individual families to talk about what it means to lose a pet that their child was close to.” Four preservice teachers indicated conditional agreement. They wrote that they would read the picture book about death and death-related grief if there were a need in a classroom.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin Harry & Hopper

or When Dinosaurs Die

Positive Negative Other Positive Negative Other
Question1

What was the experience like for you while the two books were read aloud?

71 (73.1%) 6 (6.1%) 0 12 (12.3%) 57 (58.7%) 16 (16.4%)
Question2

How comfortable are you with reading book 1(Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin Violin) and book 2 (When Dinosaurs Die or Harry & Hopper)?

76 (78.3%) 5 (5.1%) 0 22 (22.6%) 48 (49.4%) 0

Table 1. Responses to Questions 1 and 2

Research Question Three: Book Preference

When the preservice teachers were asked to choose a picture book to read aloud in their future classrooms, 80.4% chose Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, 13.4% chose Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die, and 4.1% chose both books (See Table 2). Reasons given to choose the picture book about death and death-related grief (Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die) over the non-grief-related book (Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin) were because “using a dog or pet is a way that most children can relate to the loss of a loved one,” so they “could talk about handling grief or death of a loved family member or pet.” The book also went “over many complicated things in a way that kids can understand,” and they “could teach a lot of valuable lessons” with the book.

The reasons for not choosing Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die were similar to the negative comments from the Question 2 and there was strong resistance to reading picture books about death and death-related grief as shown comment like, “I would never read this book to my future class.” Just like in the Question 2, in this question, the preservice teachers mentioned that it is not their place to teach children about death; it is children’s parents’ responsibility. They also worried that they would “get in trouble” if “parents disagree with the book.” They thought that the picture book about death and death-related grief is not for “an entire classroom of young students”; rather, it is for “more personalized situation.” They also wrote that they wouldn’t choose Harry & Hopper or When Dinosaurs Die because they thought children would be uncomfortable and not at the appropriate age to learn about death and death-related grief.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin Harry & Hopper

or When Dinosaurs Die

Both
Question 3

Which book would you prefer to read-aloud in your future classroom?

78 (80.4%), 13 (13.4%) 4 (4.1%)

Table 2. Response to Question 3

Research Question Four: Future Plans to Teach Death and Death-Related Grief

When asked how the preservice teachers planned to teach the topic of death and death-related grief with picture books in their future classrooms, we noticed that they had various teaching ideas. For example, reading aloud with a follow-up discussion, opening up for questions about the topic, comparing the character’s experience with their own experience, journaling, putting on a little play, and doing an activity that honors the loved one were the examples of teaching ideas that the preservice teachers suggested. One preservice teacher suggested Goodbye, Mousie by Robbie H. Harris as an alternative picture book. Some preservice teachers said they would teach the topic of death and death-related grief with picture books because “it is a way that young students are best able to relate to this [book] and it [death] needs to be introduced to them early on.” They wrote they would help children to understand and cope with death and death-related grief instead of left them being so blindsided. Some preservice teachers wrote they have “never really thought about teaching death and grief in a classroom” or “never realized that this was a topic” that they would need to bring up in their own classrooms, but “find it important.”

The preservice teachers mentioned that they would “send a message out to the parents beforehand” or “talk to the principal at the school” to prevent upsetting parents when reading picture books about death and death-related grief. In Question 4, some preservice teachers consistently said that they would not teach the topic of death and death-related grief because it is not their responsibility to teach it, and “it should be more the parents’ job.” A conditional choice was also found in the Question 4. Some preservice teachers wrote that they do not plan to teach about death and death-related grief “unless there was a student in the school or class who passed away” or “it was required.”

Discussion and Implications

It is Not a Teacher’s Responsibility

From the preservice teachers’ responses to the four survey questions, we saw the preservice teachers’ resistance to read picture books about death and death-related grief in their future classrooms. About a half of the preservice teachers who participated in this study reported negative feelings on the picture book about death and death-related grief, and they expressed discomfort at the idea of reading it. When preservice teachers had a choice between the non-grief-related picture book and the picture book about death and death-related grief, about 80% of the preservice teachers chose the non-grief-related picture book as their read-aloud choice. We think that it is natural for the preservice teachers to choose the non-grief-related book over the picture book about death and death-related grief; however, a unique finding was the number of preservice teachers who would not consider a picture book about death and death-related grief for reading aloud in the classroom (Bargiel et al. 482).

It was interesting to find a contrast among preservice teachers’ responses. We anticipated that preservice teachers may not feel comfortable to read a picture book about death and death-related grief because of the sensitive topic, but we did not anticipate such strong opposition to reading them in their future classrooms. The common reasons for opposing reading picture books about death and death-related grief were concerns about children’s feelings and upsetting parents, on top of believing that it is not a teacher’s job to talk about death. Among the negative comments of reading picture books about death and death-related grief, the preservice teachers said that they would never read such picture books or teach that topic, because it is not their responsibility to teach it. We wonder if they would still choose not to talk about death and death-related grief when some children in their classrooms suffer from a death-related experience. It is possible that children may be exposed to death and death-related grief outside their homes like through their friends or the media.

There was a strong resistance to reading picture books about death and death-related grief, yet some preservice teachers were willing to read those books. The participants agreed that picture books would be helpful to talk about death and death-related grief with children, and they recognized the importance of supporting children in their classrooms. Participants also offered ideas about how to talk about death and death-related grief with picture books. We believe that preservice teachers applied the reading activities that they learned in their teacher education program to the picture books about death and death-related grief. The present study implies that teacher-educators can help preservice teachers become aware of their current perceptions of picture books about death and death-related grief and help them think about what would be missed if this kind of books would be banned in their classrooms. In the table below, we listed some examples of picture books about death that we found from our review of literature. We agree that these books may help children discuss death and death-related grief.

Title Author Illustrator Year Publisher Type of Loss
Always and Forever Alan Durant Debi Gliori

 

2013 Harcourt Friend (animal characters)
Bluebird Summer Deborah Hopkinson Bethanne Andersen 2001 Greenwillow Grandma
Ghost Wings Barbara Joosse Giselle Potter 2001 Chronicle Books Grandma
Harry and Hopper Margaret Wild Freya Blackwood 2011 Feiwel & Friends Pet
Saying Goodbye to Lulu Corinne Demas Ard Hoyt 2009 Little Brown and company Pet
That Summer Tony Johnston Barry Moser 2002 Harcourt Sibling
When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death Laurie Krasny Brown Marc Brown 1998 Little Brown & Co. Nonfiction about death (animal characters)

Table 3. Examples of Picturebooks about Death

Teacher Education Program

In the survey, some preservice teachers wrote that they never thought about bringing the topic of death and death-related grief in their own classrooms, but they found it important. This kind of comment made us reflect on our teacher preparation program for Early Childhood and/or Elementary Education. It is possible that the topic of helping grieving children is covered in a class that we do not recognize. However, we could not find a place where preservice teachers could talk about how to support children who experience death and death-related grief in the current program in our institution.

In contrast, school counselors are trained mental health professionals who incorporate bibliotherapy into their practices with students who have experienced a loss (Mumbauer and Kelchner 86). Bibliotherapy is an effective intervention when children have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings about their loss (Berns 324) and helping cope with difficult situations (Prater et al. 6). For grieving children, bibliotherapy is used “to normalize a children’s grief reactions to loss, support constructive coping, reduce feelings of isolation, and reinforce creativity and problem solving” (Berns 324). Classroom discussion of literature and bibliotherapy are fundamentally different, from their purposes to their execution. We do not suggest that Early Childhood and/or Elementary teacher education programs should teach bibliotherapy, but we suggest that at least preservice teachers should be able to broach the topic and support children who may be having a difficult time due to death-related experiences and loss (McGovern and Barry 331). For example, in a Children’s Literature class, books about death and death-related grief can be introduced, and the class can discuss how such books can be read and may help students go through hard times (Mercurio and McNamme 156: Milton; Wiseman 11). Since school counselors have training in bibliotherapy, they may be a helpful collaborator or ally to teachers when broaching challenging topics in the classroom. Therefore, inviting a Counselor Educator to Early Childhood and/or Elementary Education classes may help students learn about how they can appropriately incorporate these books into their classrooms as early as during undergraduate training programs. We think that at least preservice teachers should be willing to talk about death and death-related grief with their students when their students need support in school. In order to do so, preservice teachers should know what their resources are and able to utilize them (Haeseler 116; Kaufman and Kaufman 69; Milton) instead of avoiding talking about death and death-related grief and saying it is not a teacher’s responsibility to teach children about death.

Limitations and Future Study

A major limitation of the study came from the population sampled. The majority of the participants were white female Early Childhood and/or Elementary Education major preservice teachers at one university located in a small town in the Midwest. Diverse preservice teachers with different ethnic backgrounds who live in a larger metropolitan area may have different responses to the same questions we asked; however, the demographic of the current study sample reflects today’s demographic of teachers, mostly white and female (Education Week).

The survey questions also may have limited the study results. After analyzing the data, we reflected on our survey questions and thought about giving a case study scenario to the preservice teachers, which would give them a particular context to consider. For example, a child in their classroom is having hard time after her grandmother passed away, or a child is missing her dog so much since the dog died, or the child heard the news that there was a shooting in school, etc. We wonder if this kind of scenario was given, more preservice teachers would choose a picture book about death and death-related grief for read aloud; however, even though we did not mention a specific scenario, some preservice teachers wrote that they would read a picture book about death and death-related grief if they saw a need in a classroom. Some preservice teachers were proactive and wrote that they would read a picture books about death and death-related grief because it is part of children’s lives which we cannot blindfold for them, and children need to get support wherever they are.

We also did not specify the grade level and type of loss. The preservice teachers might feel comfortable talking about the loss of a pet with upper elementary students rather than talking about the loss of a family member with lower elementary students. In a future study, it will be interesting to examine preservice teachers’ willingness to read picture books about death when a specific age level and the situation are given.

Conclusion

Children are exposed to death, as it is part of their lives to encounter unfortunate events such as shootings, natural disasters, and other accidents. Children suffer from death and death-related experience, and they need to get support from adults—not only from their families, but also from their teachers. Death is a difficult topic to talk about with children. The present study supported previous findings (Dutro 431; Mercurio and McNammee 154: Milton; Wee & Price-Dennis 28; Wiseman 11) in which children’s books can be a tool for children to discuss hard topics as they can make connections to the characters and share their stories.

The present study highlights a concern that preservice teachers may have about picture books related to death and death-related grief. However, it is our goal that preservice teachers will include picture books about death and death-related grief in their future classrooms. In our view, it would be a misjudgment if preservice teachers undermine picture books about death and death-related grief and do not trust child readers to learn from those kinds of books. Preservice teachers should recognize the value of picture books about death and death-related grief, and respond, “It IS my responsibility” to support children who may be experiencing loss and death-related grief. When preservice teachers do this, picture books may become tools for teachers to help children cope.

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Kaufman, Kenneth R. and Nathaniel D. Kaufman. “And Then the Dog Died.” Death Studies, 30, 2006, pp. 61-76.

Lytje, Martin. “The Success of a Planned Bereavement Response – A
Survey on Teacher Use of Bereavement Response Plans When Supporting Grieving Children in Danish Schools.” Pastoral Care in Education, vol. 35, no. 1, 2017. pp. 28-38.

McGovern., Marguerita, and Margaret M. Barry. “Death Education: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Perspectives of Irish Parents and Teachers.” Death Studies, vol. 24, 2000, pp. 325-333.

Mercurio, Mia Lynn and Abigail McNamee. “Healing Words, Healing Hearts: Using Children’s Literature to Cope with the Loss of a Pet.” Childhood Education, vol. 82, no. 3, 2006, pp. 153-160.

Merritt, Eileen G., et al. “The Contribution of Teacher’s Emotional Support to Children’s Social Behaviors and Self-regulatory Skills in First Grade.” School Psychology Review, vol. 41, no. 2, 2012, pp. 141-159.

Milton, Jan. “Providing Anticipatory Guidance for Our Children — Loss and Grief Education.” Primary Educator, vol. 5, no. 3, 1999, pp. 13-16. Accessed through WSU Library Homepage.

Mumbauer, Jayna and Viki Kelchner. “Promoting Mental Health Literacy Through Bibliotherapy in School-based Settings.” Professional School Counseling, vol. 21, 2017-2018, pp. 85-94. doi: 10.5330/1096-2409-21.1.85

Prater, Mary Anne., et al. “Using Children’s Books as Bibliotherapy for At-risk Students: A Guide for Teachers.” Preventing School Failure, vol. 50, no. 4, 2006, pp. 5-13.

Schuurman, Donna L. “Literature for Adults to Assist Them in Helping Bereaved Children.” Omega, vol. 48, no. 4, 2003-2004, pp. 415-424.

Wee, Jongsun and Detra Price-Dennis. (2016). “Faithful Elephants: Practicing Critical Literacy with Multicultural Children’s Literature.” The Missouri Reader, vol. 40, no. 1, 2016, pp. 24-30.

Wiseman, Angela M. “Summer’s End and Sad Goodbyes: Children’s Picturebooks about Death and Dying.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 44, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-14.

 

Children’s Book Cited

Brown, Laurie Krasny. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. Illustrated by M. Brown, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 1988.

Demas, Corinne. Saying Goodbye to Lulu. Illustrated by A, Hoyt, Little Brown and Co, 2009.

Durant, Alan. Always and Forever. Harcourt, 2013.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Bluebird Summer. Illustrated by B. Andersen, Greenwillow, 2001.

Johnston, Tony. That Summer. Illustrated by B. Moser, Harcourt, 2002.

Joosse, Barbara. Ghost Wings. Illustrated by G. Potter, Chronicle Books, 2001.

Moss, Lloyd. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin. Illustrated by M. Priceman, Aladdin Picturebooks, 2000.

Wild, Margaret. Harry & Hopper. Illustrated by F. Blackwood, Feiwel & Friends, 2011.

 

Learn more about Jongsun Wee and Heather J. Fye on our Contributors page

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