REPRESENTATION National Grief Awareness Day


In the US, National Grief Awareness Day falls on August 30 whilst in the UK, we have set aside an entire week at the start of December for grief awareness. Eva Wong Nava takes a look at how children’s books can help young readers cope with their emotions when it comes to experiencing loss.


Grief is the most common and enduring emotion of the human condition, it can be said. Perhaps another way of looking at it is this way; human beings are born into loss since death (both figurative and metaphorical) is inevitable. At some point in our lives, we will all experience grief.


As creators in the children’s book world we have, each of us at some point, read, written, or illustrated a story where the main character has to grapple with losing someone they love, though this loss doesn’t always have to do with physical death. A character may have to move far away and in that process leave their friend behind, or their BFF leaves for another school, or they experience their first break up.


Goodbye Mog, published by Harper Collins Childrens

When my children were little, they loved Mog the cat. The world that Judith Kerr had created in her Mog series was safe, warm, and welcoming. Mog lived in our house through Kerr’s stories. But one day, on a book trawl, I came across Goodbye Mog. I flipped quickly through the book. My heart tightened, my chest constricted, and swallowing became hard. I put the book back on the shelf, refusing to believe that there will no longer be any Mog books. I walked away from the book store teary-eyed.


A few hours later on the same day, I went back and bought the book. Some weeks later, I read it to my elder daughter who was five then. She had a friend whose grandmother had recently passed on, and she had asked me where her friend’s nan had gone. My favourite thing about Kerr’s story was how her picture book helped Sophie process loss in the way only a book can.


Fast forward many years. The children are now bigger. They’ve had their fair share of experiences dealing with loss: moving around the world because of their father’s work meant that friendships made in one country had to be cut short because it was time to move again. The elder one survived her first break-up, and then COVID happened. Their world split into the Before and After. Thank goodness for the internet, Snapchat, and of course, books to help them navigate the After.


Friends Are Friends, Forever, published by Henry, Holt & Colt

Suddenly, a novel kind of picture book concept was born to reflect the reality of many of our lives: Friends Are Friends, Forever by Dan Liu, illustrated by Lyn Scurfield. I bought myself a copy when it was released. The book covers themes such as immigration, moving homes, and friendship (leaving old friends and making new ones). The story resonated with my younger daughter, deeply. We read it together and at the end of the book, we locked eyes and looked at each other knowingly. My favourite thing about this book is its reference to Chinese paper art, something I used to do with the children when they were little. That day, Raffaella and I cut out some paper shapes whilst reminiscing about the friends we'd left behind and the new ones we’ve made. I wish this book was available when we first moved away.

Dadaji's Paintbrush, published by Andersen Press

Speaking of wish lists, I also wish this book: Dadaji’s Paintbrush, by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane was in print when the children’s grandfather passed away in September 2021.

Magicborn, published by Usborne 


Fast forward many more years. I am a children’s book author. I’ve made new friends and one of them writes about being magic-born. Magicborn by Peter Bunzl took me on a wonderful journey. There was a fairytale feel about the story and I was hooked from the start. The book deals with many things, but one theme that struck me was loss. Magicborn is about many things: friendship, co-parenting, adoption, prejudice, self-discovery. My favourite thing about this middle-grade novel is its compelling narrative voice.


Of Myths and Men, Published by Random House

Another book, this time a YA novel, deals with another type of bereavement through the author’s contemporary prose. Catherine Dellosa’s debut novel, Of Myths And Men, deals with parent abandonment, where the main character tries to find closure for her father leaving her when she was just ten years old. My favourite line in the novel is this: “I think of how his presence remains even after he has left.”


Books can help us process our emotions at every stage of our lives because in every story, there is always an element or theme dealing with change, loss, and self-discovery. Growing up is all about change and loss, which makes us grieve for what was. In my books, when someone discovers a new self, it is because an old self has passed. You’ll have to forgive me for this sudden existential angst. But some books tend to do this to me. Change involves death and renewal. Renewal means growth, and processing these stories help us all find catharsis. I may not be completely healed, but I am not alone in mourning loss.


*Header image by Gary Fabbri 
* Cover images provided by the author



Gary Fabbri was born in Rhode Island and lived in London for many years before moving to Stockholm, Sweden. He has illustrated, written and directed ads, promos, and image films for numerous companies as well as as being responsible for the pan-European on air branding and the transition from Fox Kids to Disney. He is now a full time Writer, Artist & Creative Director of his own company - Shed9. Gary is represented by Essie White



Eva Wong Nava
is a child of the diaspora. She lives between two worlds and is a citizen of many universes. She writes across age ranges, but her preferred writing age is between 4 and 8. She is the Feature Editor of Representation at Words & Pictures. Email Eva at W& and find her @evawongnava.

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