“I Miss You: A First Look at Death” is a non-fiction book for children around the ages of four to seven. It uses simple language and metaphors to discuss death and what happens after a person dies. It is part of the “A First Look at…”, a series published by Barron’s Educational Series that explains complex subjects like adoption or divorce.
The text of “I Miss You,” written by Pat Thomas, is gentle but straightforward. She clearly explains concepts such as the death of the body, for example, in this passage:
“When someone dies, their body stops working – they stop breathing and their heart stops beating. They can’t think or feel anymore. They don’t eat or sleep.”
Thomas goes on to talk about the different causes of death, such as old age, prolonged illness, fast-acting illness and injury. She also talks about rituals like funerals that may occur after death and what may happen to us, or our souls, after our bodies die. She is careful to explain that all cultures have their own beliefs and that no one knows for sure what happens after death.
Every few pages in “I Miss You” a question for the child appears in a red box. For instance, one question asks, “Has anyone you know died? How did they die?” If you’re reading this to a child, stop and talk about them. Not only will this keep the child interested in the reading material, it may also give you valuable information. Your child may know more about death than you realize, or you may find out that your child has some harmful misconceptions. If your child answers the question, “Grandma died because I got mad at her,” for example, you will know it’s time to explain that being angry at someone doesn’t cause them to die.
The illustrations by Lesley Harker mainly feature a Caucasian female, but secondary characters are people of many different races, cultures and religions. The pictures are done mostly in pastels, and none of the images are frightening or disturbing. However, the picture of the little girl finding a dead bird or looking at her grandmother’s empty chair may make some children feel sad.
At the end of the book, the author has listed additional resources for both parents and children.
Death is a difficult subject for adults to discuss with each other. Look at how many grown-ups put off completing living wills or health care powers of attorney. Talking to a young child about death may feel practically impossible, but it is important to do so. Otherwise, your child may learn from rumors and gossip or may make up their own ideas. Books like “I Miss You” help you start and continue those hard conversations.
“I Miss You” is short and doesn’t have too many words per page. Because there is no story line to follow, your child may get bored with it fairly quickly. If that happens, try reading just two or three pages per day. This will allow your child to think over what you have read and come back to you with questions and opinions.
If you’re looking for a way to introduce your child to the concept of death, “I Miss You” is a good way to start.