Communication about dying, death, and bereavement: A systematic review of children's literature

Marina N.F. Arruda-Colli, Meaghann S. Weaver, Lori Wiener

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Children's books have the potential to facilitate communication about death for children living with a serious illness and for children coping with the death of a loved one. Objectives: This study examines the content of children's literature relevant to the topic of dying and death and identifies books providers can share with children and their families. Design: A search of children's literature was conducted using four electronic databases and one additional search engine using the word "Death" or "Dying." Storybooks about dying, death, and bereavement published in English, French, or Spanish between 1995 and 2015 were included. Measurements: Each book underwent content analysis by at least two independent reviewers. Strict PRISMA standard was followed. Full protocol is available as PROSPERO #CRD42016042129. Results: Two hundred ten books met inclusion criteria. The dying subject was primarily a grandparent (n = 78) or pet (n = 44). Books on the experience of a child dying were scarce (n = 5). The word death or dying was used in 75% of the books (n = 158), while others utilized euphemisms. The majority of books featured animals (n = 40) or Caucasian subjects (n = 122) and included spiritual elements such as heaven (n = 122). Less than one-quarter of the books included tools for readers to address the topic of death. Conclusions: Storybooks can be a helpful tool to introduce communication about dying and death with children. Gaps exist in current children's literature to effectively enable children to reflect on their own dying process. A general summary of available books is provided to assist those caring for children and families facing end-of-life issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-559
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017


  • bibliotherapy
  • children's literature
  • death
  • dying
  • grief

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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