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Deaths in children's literature that we will never get over

Posted by Kate on Mar 04, 2013

We noticed that #fictionaldeathsIwillnevergetover was trending on Twitter this afternoon, and a few of us in the office had a chat about the deaths in children’s literature that have affected us.

Here are our nominations for most moving fictional deaths in children’s books:

Me: Matthew in Anne of Green Gables, Beth in Good Wives, the mum in A Monster Calls and Manchee in The Knife of Never Letting Go (and I don’t even like dogs much). I’d also mention the mum in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions: despite the fact that she’s dead throughout the book, the moment when Damian meets her and loses her again makes me very sad.

Louise: Tarka in Tarka the Otter

Tom: Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, Badger in Badger’s Parting Gift, the tree in The Giving Tree… “and Dumbledore, obviously” (at which Camilla shrieked, “Dumbledore DIES?!?!?!”)

Camilla: Ginger in Black Beauty, Mog in Goodbye, Mog, Rue in The Hunger Games

Mary: Bridget in Under the Hawthorne Tree

Imogen: Charlie in Private Peaceful

Kristina: Grandpa in John Burningham’s Grandpa, Callum in Noughts and Crosses

Steph: Jim and Hilda Bloggs in When The Wind Blows

There was debate over Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – but we agreed that though his death was sad, the fact that he’s not, as it turns out, dead for long disqualifies him.

We also discussed Watership Down, but we said that so many rabbits died that we felt a bit desensitised in the end. Still, Hazel is worth a mention.

We then started talking about deaths in children’s books that the writer encourages you not to care about, because they’re villains, or because the tone of the book isn’t one that takes death seriously: these are fictional deaths designed to be got over. They include: Bernard in Not Now Bernard, Aunt Spike and Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach and Voldemort (at which Camilla shrieked, “Voldemort DIES?!?!?!?”). And, of course various wolves and witches and dragons and ogres in various versions of various fairy tales.

So… which deaths in children’s literature can’t you get over… and which don’t bother you at all?

Comments (22)

  1. I had come here to mention Tom Robinson in "To Kill A Mockingbird", but you have reminded me of Bridget in “Under The Hawthorne Tree” and now I must cry in a corner somewhere.

    Cethan Leahy Monday March 4, 2013 #

  2. Dobby!

    Jo Monday March 4, 2013 #

  3. as a television drama producer and now script editor/writing mentor, I am fascinated by what stays with us after the drama is over, and the story book closed. Bambi’s mother being shot was a (literally) killer moment in my young life – I could not believe that Bambi would ever get over it and his cry as the shot rang out is something I have never forgotten.

    yvonne grace Monday March 4, 2013 #

  4. Fred Weasley – especially as Ron has to have his “moment” with Harry and Hermione at the end of the book, which seems wrong in light of the fact he has just lost his brother.

    A Taste of Blackberries makes me cry from start to finish – a young boy loses his friend at the beginning and it is about him trying to adjust to that.

    Sarah Monday March 4, 2013 #

  5. I laughed like a drain at the “skeletons of boys who hav crept away to die” in Willans & Searle’s How To Be Topp. Still do.

    Philip Downer Monday March 4, 2013 #

  6. Zach from Goodnight Mr Tom. Everytime I read it I start to cry about a chapter before it actually happens. A character so full of life it seems impossible that he could ever die.
    Now I’m getting all glum writing about it!

    Amelia Monday March 4, 2013 #

  7. It has to be Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. Even now, many, MANY years later, it’s the one death that ALWAYS reduces me to tears. I still feel as devastated as an adult that I did as a child. Now that’s what I call a good story.

    Rhiannon Monday March 4, 2013 #

  8. Leslie Burke in the Bridge to Terabithia. I have yet to get over this death, and the guilt Jesse had to live with for leaving her behind.

    Breana Monday March 4, 2013 #

  9. I know it’s not exactly children’s literature, but I remember reading Animal Farm as a child. I found it on the shelf and expected a Blytonesque take of ginger beer and buttercups, only to be left distraught as Boxer was carted off to a glue factory. Oh…it’s all come flooding back to me now…

    Tom Monday March 4, 2013 #

  10. Charlotte for me too, and The Little Match Girl – they both still make me cry. I think the latter may also have been behind me burning my little hand after playing with a box a matches… Oops…

    Rose Appleby Monday March 4, 2013 #

  11. My older child (13) offers: 1017’s “one in particular” in Monsters of Men (impressive Patrick Ness showing here, and this death is remembered rather than happening in the course of the action of the book), Sam in Ways to Live Forever (can’t believe I forgot him), Hans Hubermann in The Book Thief and the grandmother in Walk Two Moons.

    Kate Wilson Monday March 4, 2013 #

  12. So many I could not even begin to list them all, but to name of a few: Manchee, the mum in Noah Barleywater Runs Away, Tessa from Before I Die (cried for hours over this one)

    Library Mice Monday March 4, 2013 #

  13. I already responded on Twitter, but couldn’t resist adding to the list as someone who loves to write a death scene. Beth in Good Wives was one of my first, and the image of Hazel leaving his body under the hedge haunts me still. The ‘His Dark Materials’ series has some fantastic deaths, but for me the moment when the spirits of the dead are released through the window which Will has cut, and each disappears like smoke is one of the very best. I’m welling up just typing about it. I may have to go and find it to read again. (Why do we do that? It should make no sense but we do…)

    Sue Ransom Monday March 4, 2013 #

  14. Younger child (12) acknowledged that it’s not a children’s book (though it is a great teen/immediately pre-teen read), but said that Lennie’s death in Of Mice and Men is the most affecting death in fiction that she knows.

    Kate Wilson Monday March 4, 2013 #

  15. Oh forget Aslan – Reepicheep paddling over the edge of the world in his coracle fair did me in. Sirius in Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody. Manchee – but I KNEW that dog was for it. The death of the dog in the picture book ‘I Will Always Love You’ made me cry furious tears as an infant. The balloonist and his daemon knowing that somewhere, even with no afterlife, their particles would brush up against one another. Olob the horse in Cart and Cwidder. Many many assorted hedgerow creatures in the Redwall books and Watership Down…

    Birdie Tuesday March 5, 2013 #

  16. Yes, of course: Lee Scoresby and Hester in Pullman’s The Subtle Knife. Makes me want to reread.

    Kate Wilson Tuesday March 5, 2013 #

  17. My daughter did Of Mice and Men at school, she has Down’s syndrome and was so touched by Lenny’s death we had to counsel her daily! It was very moving to discuss with her why George did what he felt he had to do and to explain Lenny’s special needs. Very difficult but what a profound yet simple understanding she has. She has since discovered the film and has a crush on George so has moved on!
    For me- Kizzy’s horse Joe in The Diddakoi. Beautifully done.

    Allison Rae Robinson Tuesday March 5, 2013 #

  18. The deaths (and subsequent lengthy decay) of Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy in Philip Reeve’s A DARKLING PLAIN. Amazing writing.

    Kirsty Tuesday March 5, 2013 #

  19. Oh Zach! It has to be Zach in Goodnight Mr Tom – just like Amelia says… I can’t begin to read that book without thinking about what is going to happen to that poor boy! Why did he have to go back to London?… why did he have to die?… somebody tell me, please! And I am normally quite hard hearted about these things – it’s only a story after all…

    Sally Johns Tuesday March 5, 2013 #

  20. I never liked Fred’s death in HP – it always felt like a death for the shock factor. I’m pretty sure I skimmed over it the last time I read the book, sort of like ‘If I can’t see it it’s not there’.

    I think I ended up reading a lot of deaths before I was old enough to understand that that’s what they were, because I can’t think of too many that affected me, although they affect me plenty now – I am SUCH a wimp… just gushed a whole bundle over Bjorn’s death in Sigrun’s Secret and now my t-shirt’s all wet.

    BooKa Uhu Wednesday March 6, 2013 #

  21. Just reading these comments hurts. Zach, Beth, Ginger (and Lenny) all seconded. And I cannot forgive JKR for the death of Fred, which changes the balance of the whole sequence. Also Lupin and Tonks. And Colin Creevey. Was that necessary? Anyone else very bothered by Hedwig? (I hope Camilla isn’t reading this.)
    I was also very disturbed by Jack in Anthony Horowitz’s Scorpia Rising.
    My children, I think, would say Manchee and Dobby come top.

    Nicolette Jones Wednesday March 6, 2013 #

  22. I remember sobbing when my Dad read The Hobbit to me and Fili and Kili died. I didn’t think heroes ever died until that moment.

    Corina Fletcher Thursday March 7, 2013 #

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