Prisha trudges into the classroom and, even though she’s wearing a mask, I can tell by her body language that something is different. Typically, she’s bounding into the room, excited to tell me all about her dog’s latest escapades, but not today.
I walk over, lean in, and quietly ask, “How are you feeling today?”
Prisha looks up from her backpack and replies, “I’m sad.”
“Do you want to tell me more?” I wonder.
“Not right now,” is all she’s ready to share.
“I’ll be here to listen when you’re ready,” I whisper, smiling with my eyes.
At this moment, I know that I’m going to change my read-aloud plan for the day. I’ll share a book or two that might make Prisha feel seen and heard. Below find my ideal books about sadness for students like Prisha.
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Loss of a Pet
Blue, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The book begins with a puppy and a baby boy sleeping on a blue blanket. Readers watch as they both grow up, the dog ages, and then, sadly, passes away. On the next page, the young man meets a girl with the dog, and we’re left to imagine what happens next. Invite your learners to look carefully at illustrations to infer what is happening in the story. Also, watch as the blue blanket becomes the dog’s neckerchief.
What’s the Matter, Marlo?, written and illustrated by Andrew Arnold
Marlo and Coco are inseparable best friends. On this particular day, when Coco asks Marlo to play, he replies, “Go away.” She tries to cheer him up with dog jokes, but this only upsets him more. Eventually, she discovers the problem—Marlo’s dog has passed away. Coco comforts Marlo the way that kind friends do, with a hug.
Leaning on Friends and Family
I’m Sad, written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Flamingo is sad. Flamingo’s two friends, an empathetic girl and a wise-cracking potato, stick by its side. Together, the three wonder why sad things happen and come to the conclusion that it’s OK to be sad. The characters’ dialogue is written in three different colors, offering the opportunity to discuss point of view or perform as a reader’s theater. If your readers enjoy this book, check out the others in the series I’m Bored, I’m Worried, and I’m Sorry.
Jenny Mei is Sad, written and illustrated by Tracy Subisak
Jenny Mei’s friends stand by her side through thick and thin─even when Jenny Mei’s sadness causes her to lash out at a classmate. This story is told from the point of view of the supportive friend, making it ideal for conversations about how to be a good friend. After reading, offer time for students to reflect on these questions:
- What did her friend do to comfort Jenny Mei when she was sad?
- What can you do for your friends when they are sad?
My Friend is Sad, written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Piggie tries every clever disguise she can think of in order to cheer up her friend Elephant, but he’s still sad. Not realizing that the disguised characters are his friend Piggie, Elephant shares that he’s sad because he can’t enjoy the fun with his friend. One of our favorite books about sadness, this one is also a humorous starting point for a conversation about noticing and naming sadness and the power of caring friends.
Ten Beautiful Things, written by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
Lily, who has encountered some kind of life-changing event, journeys with her grandmother to their new home. During their car ride to Iowa, Lily’s Gram encourages her to find ten beautiful things. Though skeptical at first, Lily begins to enjoy the game and takes comfort knowing she’s going to be living with her grandmother.
Finding a Space for Sadness
When Sadness Is at Your Door, written and illustrated by Eva Eland
Sometimes sadness creeps in when you least expect it. That’s exactly what happens to the child in this story. Instead of hiding the sadness or being afraid of it, the child chooses to listen, draw with it, and take it out for a walk. In the end, the child finds comfort in knowing that sadness is a part of life.
A Shelter for Sadness, written by Anne Booth, illustrated by David Litchfield
A boy builds a shelter for his sadness, gives it space, and cares for it throughout the seasons. In the end, he and his sadness discover the beautiful world together. Anne Booth was inspired to write this book by the words of Esther “Etty” Hillesum, a Jewish woman and victim of the Holocaust, who believed that we have to give “sorrow the space it demands …” (Dedication page) While reading this book aloud, you might spark conversation with questions like:
- Why do you think the boy says that “sadness has a right to be there?”
- What do you suppose the boy is trying to help us understand about sadness.
At the end of the day, as the kids are packing their backpacks, Prisha walks over. “I’m ready to tell you why I’m feeling sad. I feel just like Marlo and the boy in Blue.” At that moment, I know. Prisha’s beloved dog has passed away. I give her a hug and thank her for sharing. Then, I silently thank Andrew Arnold and Laura Vaccaro Seeger for writing the books about sadness that Prisha needed on that particular day.