When Heather Lean’s mother and mother-in-law passed away in short succession, the attorney and mother of two told her children stories to help them comprehend death and deal with their emotions. She found that the stories of everlasting love not only soothed her children but also helped her deal with her own grief, cementing her belief that the spirit lives on and allowing her to share that hope with others.
The stories resulted in two affecting and unforgettable children’s books, Angel Grandma and Angel Grandpa—published by Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream (PDIC) in 2020 and 2021, respectively—aimed at helping children deal with the loss of a loved one. Written as poems and containing activity pages, both books help children connect with their feelings and memories of loved ones who have passed away, reminding them that their love for family and friends who have died is never forgotten.
PW spoke with Lean about Angel Grandma and Angel Grandpa, the challenges of writing about death for children, publishing with PDIC, and what she’s working on next.
Your children’s books address loss and grief. How did this become the theme of your writing?
I lost my mother in April 2019, and less than two years prior, I had lost my mother- in-law. I was saddened for my young chil- dren, who would have very few memories of these incredible women. I decided to write a poem explaining how their grand- mas are still with them, even if they can’t physically see them. I remember showing the poem to my husband, and he told me it would be a great book, and that’s where the journey began.
What are the challenges of writing about death for children?
When I first started writing the book, death was very taboo. It still is in a sense, but I feel people are more willing to share their hearts now, which is a beautiful thing. I think the challenge in writing about death for children is that you have to leave them with hope and come from a place of love, not fear. They need to be reminded that it will be okay. I think even as adults, we need this reminder.
What reactions have children had to the books? Does anything stand out in particular?
I love reading how the children find the hidden feather on each page. I never specifically mentioned anywhere that there were hidden feathers, but it’s so much fun that the kids pick up on it! Feathers are very significant to me, and in the book, they serve as a poignant and visual reminder that our loved ones are always there.
What do parents say about your books? Can you share as an author some of the most rewarding moments?
I have been so touched by the heartfelt comments. One parent explained how their daughter didn’t want to talk about her grandma; it was too painful. But after read- ing the poem, they talked about the fun things they used to do together and how much her grandma still loves her. There is a memory journal in the back where you can place a picture of your grandparent and write down all the wonderful memories shared. I received a lot of feedback from parents that their children loved these pages and made them uniquely theirs.
You’re an attorney by trade. What prompted you to find a publisher for your children’s stories?
I felt my books could comfort more people if they reached a larger audience. While I greatly admire authors who can write, market, research, and manage all those logistics, I wanted to focus my energy solely on writing. When I heard I could publish my books with Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream and it would take over the market- ing, it felt like an easy decision. PDIC also publishes very heart-centered books, so I felt it would be a great home for my Angel books. I’ve done some podcasts and publicity and shared my work on various channels, and I enjoy spreading the message of never-ending love.
What are you working on now?
Little Hands will soon be launched by PDIC, and it’s a similar concept to the book I Love You Forever, only at the end of the book, the mother is back in the beginning, rocking her baby in the nursery. I wrote it as a reminder to myself to enjoy and stay present in the moment. Life moves quickly, and I think we all need a reminder to slow down and stay present.