Judy’s Library Corner: A Lesson in Life and Death – The Bug Cemetery

When I was in college, studying to be an elementary school teacher, I wrote an extensive research paper about children and death. At the time, the two go-to books to help children with the grieving process were The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst, and I’ll Always Love You, by Hans Wilhelm. Both are really touching books, dealing with the loss of a pet.

But recently, as I was shelving books at work, I stumbled across a book I like even more. It’s beautiful watercolor illustrations captured me first. When I quickly read through the story, then found my eyes watering at the last pages, I knew it was a book I had to recommend.

Photo: Henry Holt

What I love about The Bug Cemetery, by Frances Hill, is that it deals with the ritual that surrounds death, as much as the loss itself. The story begins as a couple of siblings find a dead bug one day and decide to bury it. The burial grows into a full funeral procession, which is so much fun that they invite their friends to play along. The game grows as they find more and more dead bugs to bury. Soon there are many people ‘pretending to cry’ and a lemonade stand ‘for thirsty mourners’. It all seems so light hearted and fun…until Billy’s cat gets hit by a car and dies.

The Bug Cemetery

What the children discover, in such an innocence shedding experience, is that funerals are more than just ritual and ritual has a purpose. A classic page, featuring children with tear streaked faces standing at a real kitty’s grave, has these simple, weight packed words – “Funerals aren’t any fun when they’re for someone you love.”

The Bug Cemetery

The conclusion of this book is just right. It has realistic and touching closure. Although there are many new titles in the category of ‘grief books for children’ since I was in college, I personally wish this one was on the top of every list. It perfectly portrays a child’s sense of play, then shock, as life teaches its lessons.

The Bug Cemetery

If you know of a child who is dealing with grief, or just want to open dialogue with your own youngster, about death and dying, The Bug Cemetery is a great book to share.