Middle-grade books about death and grief are important because they show grieving kids that they’re not alone. Middle-grade in general handles tough subjects sensitively — something that books for adult don’t always get right.
At the same time, though, the best middle-grade books about death and grief aren’t just soggy sad. They’re also hopeful. While grief doesn’t vanish, these books highlight that people can move forward and bear grief in a way that hurts less. Still, prepare for the tears and heartbreak.
I’ve read a good number of these books and added a ❤️ next to those I particularly loved. You’ll find books about the death of a parent or both, death of a friend, or even the death of pet, beloved teacher, or grandparent. While I’d love to highlight who dies, for some of these books, sharing that would be a major spoiler! I hope you find some you love too!
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30 Best Middle-Grade Books About Death and Grief
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise ❤️
That’s how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.
It’s also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.
Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished―the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box―she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days…without him realizing it.
Along the way, they’ll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there’s Gladys…
Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all…but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”
The Thing About Jellyfish ❤️
Everyone says that it was an accident… that sometimes things “just happen”. But Suzy won’t believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.
When Friendship Followed Me Home
Ben Coffin has never felt like he fits in. A former foster kid, he keeps his head down at school to avoid bullies and spends his afternoons reading sci-fi books at the library. But that all changes when he finds a scruffy abandoned dog named Flip and befriends the librarian’s daughter, Halley.
For the first time, Ben starts to feel like he belongs in his own life. Then, everything changes, and suddenly, Ben is more alone than ever. But with a little help from Halley’s magician father, Ben discovers his place in the world and learns to see his own magic through others’ eyes.
Ten-year old Lemonade Liberty Witt doesn’t know the answer to that question, except what her mom taught her. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But what if those lemons are so big that you forget how?
How can anyone possibly be expected to make lemonade out those rotten lemons?
Everything is different and Lem just wants to go back home. And then she meets Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives, Inc. and sole investigator for the town. He invites her to be his Assistant for the summer and she reluctantly agrees. At least until she can figure out her escape plan.
Together, Lem and Tobin try to capture a shot of the elusive beast on film and end up finding more than they ever could have even imagined.
The Line Tender ❤️
Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, collecting shark data when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her father have kept their heads above water–thanks in large part to a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport.
On one steamy day, the tide brings a great white–and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was “meaningful” but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother’s unfinished research on the Great White’s return to Cape Cod. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she’ll finally be able to look beyond what she’s lost and toward what’s left to be discovered.
Counting by 7s ❤️
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and
diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s.
It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her
adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy
life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Right as Rain
It’s been almost a year since Rain’s brother Guthrie died, and her parents still don’t know it was all Rain’s fault. In fact, no one does—Rain buried her secret deep, no matter how heavy it weighs on her heart.
So when her mom suggests moving the family from Vermont to New York City, Rain agrees. But life in the big city is different. She’s never seen so many people in one place—or felt more like an outsider.
With her parents fighting more than ever and the anniversary of Guthrie’s death approaching, Rain is determined to keep her big secret close to her heart. But even she knows that when you bury things deep, they grow up twice as tall.
The Ethan I Was Before ❤️
Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.
Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.
The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle
Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard.
An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.
Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground haven for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin and, eventually, Benny.
But will anyone believe him?
The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole
When eleven-year-old Stella Rodriguez shows up at NASA to request that her recording be included in Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, something unexpected happens: A black hole follows her home, and sets out to live in her house as a pet. The black hole swallows everything he touches, which is challenging to say the least—but also turns out to be a convenient way to get rid of those items that Stella doesn’t want around.
Soon the ugly sweaters her aunt has made for her all disappear within the black hole, as does the smelly class hamster she’s taking care of, and most important, all the reminders of her dead father that are just too painful to have around.
It’s not until Stella, her younger brother, Cosmo, the family puppy, and even the bathroom tub all get swallowed up by the black hole that Stella comes to realize she has been letting her own grief consume her. And that’s not the only thing she realizes as she attempts to get back home. This is an astonishingly original and funny adventure with a great big heart.
The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast
A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited beach. Who is he? How did he get there? The boy can’t remember. When he sees a light shining over the foreboding wall of trees that surrounds the shore, he decides to follow it, in the hopes that it will lead him to answers. The boy’s journey is a struggle for survival and a search for the truth—a terrifying truth that once uncovered, will force him to face his greatest fear of all if he is to go home.
The Warden’s Daughter
Cammie O’Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison–not as a prisoner, she’s the warden’s daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women’s exercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.
But even though Cammie’s free to leave the prison, she’s still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn’t think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she’s willing to work with what she’s got.
The Seventh Most Important Thing
Arthur T. Owens grabbed a brick and hurled it at the trash picker. Arthur had his reasons, and the brick hit the Junk Man in the arm, not the head. But none of that matters to the judge—he is ready to send Arthur to juvie forever. Amazingly, it’s the Junk Man himself who offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service . . . working for him.
Arthur is given a rickety shopping cart and a list of the Seven Most Important Things: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. He can’t believe it—is he really supposed to rummage through people’s trash? But it isn’t long before Arthur realizes there’s more to the Junk Man than meets the eye, and the “trash” he’s collecting is being transformed into something more precious than anyone could imagine. . . .
December believes she is a bird. The scar on her back is where her wings will sprout, and one day soon, she will soar away. It will not matter that she has no permanent home. Her destiny is in the sky.
But then she’s placed with foster mom Eleanor, a kind woman who volunteers at an animal rescue and has secrets of her own. December begins to see that her story could end a different way – but could she ever be happy down on the ground?
Waiting for Augusta
Eleven-year-old Benjamin Putter has a lump in his throat, and he’s certain it’s a golf ball. He knows it sounds crazy, but everything’s been topsy-turvy since his father died last month. And he doesn’t know how to fix it.
Then, one day, something starts tugging at Ben, telling him to hurry to Augusta, Georgia—home of the most famous golf course in the world.
Ben might be going a little crazy, but escaping Hilltop, Alabama, sounds like a darn good idea. (And just maybe it will make that lump go away.) As he makes his way to Augusta, Ben partners up with a mysterious runaway named Noni, and they embark on a journey full of strange and wonderful surprises—and possibly magic—at every turn.
Bridge to Terabithia
Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia.
One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.
The Center of Everything
For Ruby Pepperdine, the “center of everything” is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors in her donut-obsessed town of Bunning, New Hampshire, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi’s hug. That’s how everything is supposed to be—until Ruby messes up and things spin out of control.
But she has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear Ruby read her winning essay. And it depends on her twelfth birthday wish—unless she messes that up too. Can Ruby’s wish set everything straight in her topsy-turvy world?
Pie in the Sky
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
The Question of Miracles
Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died.
When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.
Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him
Sunny: Track, Book 3
Sunny is just that—sunny. Always ready with a goofy smile and something nice to say, Sunny is the chillest dude on the Defenders team. But his life hasn’t always been sun beamy-bright. You see, Sunny is a murderer. Or at least he thinks of himself that way. His mother died giving birth to him, and based on how Sunny’s dad treats him—ignoring him, making Sunny call him Darryl, never “Dad”—it’s no wonder Sunny thinks he’s to blame. It seems the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. But Sunny doesn’t like running, never has. So he stops. Right in the middle of a race.
With his relationship with his dad now worse than ever, the last thing Sunny wants to do is leave the other newbies—his only friends—behind. But you can’t be on a track team and not run. So Coach asks Sunny what he wants to do. Sunny’s answer? Dance. Yes, dance. But you also can’t be on a track team and dance. Then, in a stroke of genius only Jason Reynolds can conceive, Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard beats of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. But as he practices for this new event, can he let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside?
Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshiping, basketball star his sons look up to.
A novel in verse with all the impact and rhythm readers have come to expect from Kwame Alexander, Rebound will go back in time to visit the childhood of Chuck “Da Man” Bell during one pivotal summer when young Charlie is sent to stay with his grandparents where he discovers basketball and learns more about his family’s past.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet
It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.
Caitlin has Asperger’s. The world according to her is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Before, when things got confusing, Caitlin went to her older brother, Devon, for help. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin’s dad is so distraught that he is just not helpful. Caitlin wants everything to go back to the way things were, but she doesn’t know how to do that. Then she comes across the word closure–and she realizes this is what she needs. And in her search for it, Caitlin discovers that the world may not be so black and white after all.
Maybe a Fox
Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, more than best friends, they’d be identical twins if only they’d been born in the same year. And if only Sylvie wasn’t such a fast—faster than fast—runner. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the river they’re not supposed to go anywhere near to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, she runs so fast that no one sees what happens…and no one ever sees her again. Jules is devastated, but she refuses to believe what all the others believe, that—like their mother—her sister is gone forever.
At the very same time, in the shadow world, a shadow fox is born—half of the spirit world, half of the animal world. She too is fast—faster than fast—and she senses danger. She’s too young to know exactly what she senses, but she knows something is very wrong. And when Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and shadow worlds collide.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths
Eleven-year-old Stella misses her (unreliable) mom, but she loves it at great-aunt Louise’s house. Louise lives on Cape Cod, where Stella hopes her mom will someday come and settle down. The only problem? Angel, the foster kid Louise has taken in. The two girls live together but there’s no way they’ll ever be friends.
Then Louise suddenly passes away one morning—and Stella and Angel decide not to tell anyone. Now they have to depend on each other for survival. Now they are forced to trust each other with the biggest secret ever.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one-of-a-kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan, more of a quest, really, to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.
kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes.
When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.
Annie Richards knows there are a million things to look out for—bicycle accidents, food poisoning, chicken pox, smallpox, typhoid fever, runaway zoo animals, and poison oak. That’s why being careful is so important, even if it does mean giving up some of her favorite things, like bike races with her best friend, Rebecca, and hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Everyone keeps telling Annie not to worry so much, that she’s just fine. But they thought her brother, Jared, was just fine too, and Jared died.
It takes a new neighbor, who looks as plain as a box of toothpicks but has some surprising secrets of her own, to make Annie realize that her plans for being careful aren’t working out as well as she had hoped. And with a lot of help from those around her—and a book about a pig, too—Annie just may find a way to close her umbrella of sadness and step back into the sunshine.
Beverly, Right Here (Out Sept 24)
Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself.
Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes.
There they are: 30 of the best middle-grade books about death and grief. If you’re in the mood for a sad, but hopeful read, or know a kid who needs a book about death and grief, put one of these recommendations in their hands.Check out these 30 middle-grade books about death and grieving. Selections include stories featuring the death of a parent or both, a friend, grandparent, pet, and even a beloved teacher. Click To Tweet
How about you? What are your favorite middle-grade books about death and grieving? Do you think kids should read sad books? Which of these books have you read and enjoyed? Do we share any favorites? I’d love to know! My last middle-grade book list was this one with books about mental illness.