Search & Replace S03E19: Katherine Pendergast & Lacie Brueckner

Katherine Pendergast and Lacie Brueckner recognized a gap in children’s literature regarding death and grieving. They created books to help children understand funeral processes and cope with loss, starting with human family members and expanding to include beloved pets. Their books have received positive feedback, even from adults, and Lacie advises keeping conversations about death simple and age-appropriate, using factual terms. Discover how Katherine and Lacie are bridging the gap in children’s literature by addressing the topic of death and grieving, offering valuable insights into this important conversation on Search and Replace. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode.

[00:00:09] Joe Taylor, Jr: What if the big brainstorm you can’t wait to share with the world includes something that nobody ever really likes to talk about? I’m Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace

American Families Purchase hundreds of millions of children’s books every year. Even if you only count the titles released by major publishers, that includes many thousands of new books every year selling alongside classics that have been shared across generations. And yet Katherine Pendergast and Lacie Brueckner found a topic that they believed publishers still don’t invest enough ink and paper on. And it all started with Lacie’s Day job.

[00:00:56] Lacie Brueckner: I’m a funeral director and that’s really my whole background, funeral service. I went to college for that right outta high school, funeral service is what I know. And I met Katherine and she’s a children’s author. And just upon visiting, we came to realize that there was a lack in children’s books in regards to funerals and funeral service.

[00:01:18] Katherine Pendergast: And so Lacie and I, we partnered on a set of books that helped children during the funeral process. And those books, they show or introduce children to a family member that’s passed away. And then we show families what a visitation, a funeral graveside service could look like, might look like. And then we get into some grieving and mourning activities they can do individually and as a family in that book.

[00:01:45] Joe Taylor, Jr: Lacie’s got a pretty strong argument for putting effort into writing books on difficult topics.

[00:01:51] Lacie Brueckner: Well I think, you know, on my side of things is death is a reality. And it’s a reality that many of us don’t wanna talk about, especially we don’t want to talk about it with our children. And it’s, it’s okay to talk about it. And that was a big goal for me, is it’s okay to have that conversation. It’s okay to include children, allow them to be a part of things as much as they want to. Don’t push it, don’t force it, but let them be a part if they want to. It’s okay to inform them what death is. That was very important.

[00:02:23] Joe Taylor, Jr: Katherine says their books have made a difference for readers beyond their intended audience.

[00:02:28] Katherine Pendergast: We’ve had so much feedback on just, like, how helpful it’s been. And probably one of the more surprising things that happened was how many adults said, Hey, the books actually helped us as adults, and we were not really expecting that or thinking that would end up happening. But if you think about it, there’s a lot of adults that maybe have never been to a funeral before or have never really experienced a close loss. So their experiences for the first time as well. It’s hard to start that conversation and so probably just opening up that conversation and allowing kids to ask questions, it really can spark some conversations that are really important. And I. When the day comes that they have the funeral, it’s not as confusing because you’ve already had those conversations and it’s just incredibly helpful.

[00:03:20] Joe Taylor, Jr: Katherine and Lacie began their partnership with books that help children better understand the grieving process for human family members. They recently collaborated on a book they hope will guide families through the loss of a beloved pet. Together, they’re always thinking about other ways they can help their readers.

[00:03:38] Katherine Pendergast: I think we’ve had a wonderful partnership and I think we’d probably be both open to doing more as we find the need for the books. We never really thought we were gonna do a pet version initially, and here we are. So I just think that wherever we can really find a need and fill that, I think we’d be happy to try and do that.

[00:04:00] Lacie Brueckner: We’ve had lots of feedback about considering having different relationships. So our first books were child and grand grandparent, or grandmother. Our second is the pets. And do we wanna talk about maybe a sibling or a parent or a friend or, you know, there’s lots of different relationships and things we could explore. For sure.

[00:04:21] Katherine Pendergast: Ours have been kind of more natural. But there’s a lot of deaths that are very sudden, very unexpected, accidents to all kinds of ways that people could die. So we’ve had requests in that regards, too. So, just the possibilities truly would be endless.

[00:04:40] Joe Taylor, Jr: In her dual role as a funeral director and a children’s author, Lacie says there’s one thing you can do if you are helping a child work through the loss of someone close to them.

[00:04:50] Lacie Brueckner: So I like to tell families to keep it simple. So when you’re, you know, talking with your child, regardless of their age, but keep it

simple. If a child isn’t satisfied with that simple answer, they’ll ask more questions. So you don’t, you know, sometimes we feel like we gotta give this big elaborate response explanation. We really don’t.

So start simple. Start slow and let your child guide, in a sense. You know, let them kind of be the one to, kind of, give you a feel for what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with. Keep it real. It’s okay to keep it real. It’s okay to use factual terms like death and dying. It’s okay. Just give yourself permission.

[00:05:28] Joe Taylor, Jr: That’s Lacie Brueckner and Katherine Pendergast, authors of the books in Loving Memory and Goodbye Bella. We’ve got links to their work in our show notes and on our website at

Also in our show notes, the folks from the parenting blog Motherly have gathered a list of 40 more recommended books to help the kids in your life navigate through tough topics, including puberty, divorce, racism, and war. And the team over at NPR R’S Life Kit Podcast have an episode all about how to talk with kids when it’s time to talk about death. They’ve got a list of tips. Number one, be honest and concrete. According to Sesame Workshops, Rosemary Trulio trying to soften the blow for children leads to big problems later. Instead, she says, use clear your language and avoid euphemisms. Other tips from that list? Take things slowly. Highlight the other people who remain in a child’s life. Make it okay to cry and respect the child’s choice to attend or not attend a funeral.

We’ve got all those links and more in our show notes and on our website at

Search and replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard. With support from Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith and Podcast Taxi executive producer Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex Refire. I’m Joe Taylor, Jr.

[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production.

Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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