The Tenth Good Thing About Barney Literature Guide

Grade Level: 
PreK, K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Life Cycles
by Judith Viorst - A literature guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of empathy, caring, and generous listening.

This true-to-life story tells the tale of a young boy whose beloved cat dies. The boy struggles with his grief. He isn’t interested in television or his favorite foods; he only wants to cry. The boy also struggles with finding ten good things to say about his cat, Barney, a task his mother has given him for the cat’s funeral. He thinks of nine good things, but the tenth eludes him until his dad provides the answer while gardening. This story is a great opener for discussing the death of a pet and for understanding that grief is a necessary and natural process.

Before Reading

ASK: What does it mean when someone dies? Invite readers to use their own family values to explain what happens when a person or pet dies. However, be sure to speak openly, without using euphemisms for death.

SHOW: Look at the cover of the book. How does this picture make you feel? Choose from these words: joyful, sad, thoughtful, quiet, excited, playful.

CONNECT: Have you ever had a pet that died? What was your pet’s name? How did you feel when your pet died? The story we will read is about a boy whose pet cat dies and what the boy does to feel better.

During Reading

ASK: Do you know what a funeral is? This is a time when people gather together to remember a loved one who has died.

SHOW: Look at the picture on page 7. This shows Barney’s funeral. What do you notice?

CONNECT: Have you been to a funeral? What did you see and how did you feel?

After Reading

ASK: The boy says that the tenth good thing about Barney is that he is helping the flowers grow. Do you think that’s a “pretty nice job for a cat,” as he says? Why?

SHOW: Look at the picture of Barney at the end of the book. What kind of cat do you think Barney was? How would you describe him?

CONNECT: Do you think the boy did a good job of thinking of ten good things about Barney? What 10 things would you like people to describe you as?


  1. If you have a pet, think of ten good things to say about your pet (if you don’t have a pet, pick a family member instead). Write out your ten good things on a big piece of construction paper and decorate it with photos or drawings of your pet or family member. Hang up your list on the wall or refrigerator. Be sure your family members, including your pets, know every day just how much you love them. Give lots of praise for all those ten good things.
  2. If you experience a pet loss, here are some activities that may help with your grief:
    • Hold a funeral or memorial service.
    • Plant flowers or a tree in memory of the pet.
    • Frame a photograph or drawing of the pet.
    • Make a photo album or scrapbook of the pet.
    • Write a poem, song, or story.
    • Write a letter to your pet.
    • Create a shadowbox to hang on the wall that contains things like the pet’s collar, toys and tags.
    • Make a charitable donation to a local animal shelter or rescue organization, or to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
  3. Tips for Adults: When dealing with the death of a pet, here are a few tips for explaining the death to children:
    • If possible, talk about the pet’s death before it occurs. For example, discuss how the pet has been ill or is too old to perform basic functions. Reading books such as this one introduces this difficult topic.
    • No matter your children’s ages, be honest with them in a way that they will understand. Do not tell them the pet ran away or was given away.
    • When explaining the death, do not use euphemisms, such as “went away” or “went to sleep.” Use concrete words, such as death, dead, and dying.
    • If the children will see the dead pet (for example, in the case of humane euthanasia where the family may view the pet), explain to the children beforehand how the pet will look. You may also want to explain how the veterinary office will look and what other things they may see there, since sterile environments are sometimes intimidating to children.
    • Don’t hide your grief from children, and encourage them to grieve in their own way, even if others may not understand your family’s loss.
    • Encourage children to memorialize their pet by drawing a picture, writing a poem or story, planting a tree or flowers, or making a head stone.
    • If you, or a family member, are having trouble with dealing with the loss of a pet, you can contact the ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline at (877) 474-3310.