There is a Slice of Life story about childhood and coming of age. The main character has a best friend (an animal, another child, or a family member) who is a source of joy, wisdom, and understanding in their life. This friend is often frailer, more unworldly, or otherwise more "special" than The Protagonist. Bonus points if the character is cute or adorable.
At the end of the story, this very special best friend is abruptly killed off, usually in a clear-cut case of Diabolus ex Machina. A favorite trick is to have the death happen entirely offscreen. The more horribly poignant the tragedy the better.
All this is generally accompanied by lots of "end of the innocence" angsting from the main character, along the lines of "That was the day my childhood ended..." Really, it's just the author's way of having a child suddenly make the jump to adulthood via a single defining tragedy.
The Newbery Medal is a prestigious award given to American novels written for children. To win one, it helps a lot to use a story like this.
Bridge to Terabithia won a Newbery for its handling of the topics embodied by this trope. Thirteen years later, Shiloh may have won its medal because it didn't go for the easy win by killing off the dog at the end. Still, most books for "young readers" (and similar movies) deal with these issues in a fairly Anvilicious fashion, and are obviously bucking for critical acclaim or recognition by killing off a beloved character in a children's book.
This trope is so pervasive, some readers expect that the most lovable character won't get to see the end of a critically acclaimed work of fiction. Be warned: merely reading the titles listed below could result in spoilage, although the medal on the cover comes close.
Remember, one reader's predictable, Narm-filledAward Bait can be another's Heartwarming-Crowned Childhood Classic that will always hold a special place on their bookshelf.
Compare Oscar Bait, which often employs the same principle. Probably a subset of True Art Is Angsty. A form of The Plot Reaper, death for the sake of story. And see these two AVClub lists.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
Note: There's only ONE "r" in Newbery. Also, it's Newbery, not Newbury, regardless of how fitting the latter spelling would be, given this trope.
In Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain, 1944 Newbery Medal winner and another favorite middle-school reading assignment, Rab dies at the end.
E.B. White's Charlottes Web: Admittedly, it is a pig, not a child, who suffers the loss, but the theme of death and emotional maturity is still present. And it's still an epic Tear Jerker. (Newbery Honor, 1953)
Scott O'Dell's Island Of The Blue Dolphins (Newbery Medal, 1961) kills off not only the heroine's little brother in the beginning of the novel but her friendly wolf companion toward the end. Given that these were her only companions on a deserted island, it's pretty harsh.
Lloyd Alexander's The High King (Newbery Medal, 1969), final book of the Prydain Chronicles, takes this trope Up to Eleven. While the series hadn't exactly shied away from death before, the fifth book kills off Prince King Rhun, Annlaw Clay-Shaper, the High King Math, Loino, Coll, and Achren, depicts veritable carnage in what's ostensibly a children's book, and then throws in a rape threat for good measure. The previous book, Taran Wanderer, had been the series' Coming of Age story, and had its own angsty death. Alas, no Newbery for that one.
William H. Armstrong's Sounder (Newbery Medal, 1970).
Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves is a Newbery Medal winner (1973) that ends with Amaroq the Alpha wolf of the pack that adopted Julie getting shot and killed and the heroine turning her back on humanity, in part because it kills animals for sport.
A Taste of Blackberries (Newbery nominee, 1973). A boy and his pal pick blackberries: One will die from bee stings, the other will survive to eat delicious fresh berries and angst about the loss of his friend. Considered by many to be the children's book that firmly cemented the death-of-a-friend trope, it ironically did not receive a Newbery honor but was only nominated; the aforementioned Death By Newbery Medal selection Julie of the Wolves won for 1973.
The 1974 Newbery Medal winner The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox has its protagonist, already forced to perform music to exercise the human cargo of a slave ship, witness the crew tossing most all of the slaves overboard to avoid detection by authorities. While a young slave boy survives and escapes a life of slavery, and the protagonist finally makes it back home, he is so traumatized by what happened that he never enjoys music again. A colossal downer, and cynical to boot.
Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series; for the final battle between good and evil, nobody really dies. But the only book in the series which won a Newbery Medal (1976) is the one where they literally Shoot the Dog, The Grey King.
Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is another Newbery Award winner (1977). A young black boy is accused of a murder, made into the scapegoat by the older, white instigators. There's almost a lynching of a thirteen-year-old boy. Almost. Instead, he gets tried and executed in the sequel. The book after that includes a premature death, too.
Katherine Paterson's Bridge To Terabithia (Newbery Medal, 1978). While killing a little girl out of the blue may seem way over the top for a children's novel, the book was based on a real-life incident when a friend of the author's son was struck dead by lightning at the age of eight.
Turtle from The Westing Game (Newbery 1979) has to face death three times: first by finding Westing's dead body, then by witnessing the fatal collapse of her doorman friend Sandy, and finally (as a grown woman) by staying at the bedside of dying Mr. Eastman. The book is a very convoluted puzzle-mystery; all three are the same man, who'd faked his death twice. Turtle's maturation is typical of this trope, nonetheless.
In A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal 1830-32 by Joan Blos (Newbery Medal, 1980), the main character's best friend dies of an illness.
Jane Langton's The Fledgling (Newbery Honor, 1981), in which the young girl (as shown on the cover) learns to fly with a Canada goose; he is shot.
Cynthia Voigt's Dicey's Song This one would have a greater effect on readers who have read the preceding book, Homecoming. The mother dies but she's been missing/hospitalized for most of the book - her death is only a confirmation of what was coming all along(Newbery Medal, 1983).
Marion Dane Bauer's On My Honor (Newbery Honor, 1987) In this one, the friend dies doing something the protagonist had promised not to do, and thus gets inflicted on tweens whose teachers think it's an important lesson.
Avi's 1990 Newbery Winner, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990). One person is thought to be dead, while three other people die for real.
Lois Lowry's Newbery winner, Number the Stars (1990). Involves Nazis, and ends with the leader of La Résistance Peter Nielsen dying, although protagonist's Jewish friend survives, as she is evacuated along with other Danish Jews.
1993's winner, Missing May: The titular character, the narrator's Aunt and adoptive mother, dies very early in the book, the coming of age story focuses on the narrator and her uncle dealing with their grief. Later, the narrator fears her uncle has lost the will to live from the disappointment, only to quickly snap out of it for her sake.
The Giver (1994) involves the twelve-year-old protagonist, Jonas, being forced to take on endless memories of war, pain and other assorted horrors, causing him to become only one of two people in his whole world to have feelings. Jonas' final "growing up" moment occurs when he learns, via a nonchalantly graphic video, just what happens when the smaller of a pair of twins is Released To Elsewhere. And the ending is extremely ambiguous, giving the impression that Jonas and his toddler "brother" may very well have frozen to death. Recent Word Of God says that Jonas, at least, survived (and he has a cameo in the sequel); though it's possible the award committee assumed he died, or considered the ambiguous ending especially artsy.
In Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons (Newbery Medal, 1995), this trope is played twice. First time it's subverted because the girl's mother has been dead the whole time, she's just in denial about it. Played straight when her Grandma dies though.
Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted (1997), Ella's mom dies early in the book as a result of not doing what the fairy godmother told her to. But, hey, it's a take on "Cinderella"; the mom has to die.
1998 Newbery winner Out Of The Dust, by Karen Hesse, because accidentally 'setting your pregnant mother on fire is just not bad enough.
Joan Bauer's Hope Was Here (Newbery Honor, 2001). The protagonist's father figure is dying of leukemia throughout the book.
Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005). Katie and her sister Lynn move to 1950's Georgia. While Katie struggles with being the only Japanese-American in her classes, Lynn seems to be becoming more popular. Eventually, Lynn gets lymphoma and dies, and teaches Katie that one should never lose hope.
Savvy (Newbery Honor, 2008). Mibs' father does not die after entering his coma, but he wakes up with amnesia and severe paralysis, making him effectively "dead" despite still technically being alive and still with the family.
The Underneath (Newbery Honor, 2008). The calico cat drowns in the river when Gar-Face tosses her into it.
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman's 2009 Newbery Medal winner, is an interesting case. It does kill off the werewolf character, but in spite of a climactic set-piece or two it focuses on the very long process of maturation, beginning with childhood. It's not death that changes the main character, with all but one of his loved ones consisting of a vampire and many ghosts; it's life.
Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me (Newbery winner, 2010). Miranda slowly becomes friends with sometime bully Marcus. At the end of the book she discovers that an older version of Marcus has traveled through time to die for another child.
A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin, where the heroine meets a long-lost uncle she didn't know she had and they become great friends. Unfortunately, he has a learning disability and is mentally ill, and commits suicide at the end. Wasn't that cheery, boys and girls?
Subverted with Moon Over Manifest (2011). The character Ned in the gypsy Miss Sadie's stories dies in battle during World War I. Abilene Tucker is shattered by this, believing Ned was her father. This turns out not to be the case, and her father is still living, and his name in the story was "Jinx".
In The One and Only Ivan (2013), the mother of the elephant on the cover dies.
Anime & Manga
Ano Hana The Flower We Saw That Day: If there was a Newbery medal for anime, this would win one hands down. It's a sort of double-subversion layer cake with played-straight icing in the middle. The doomed character is a Cute Ghost Girl named Meiko "Menma" Honma who died years ago, but she still manages to "die" at the end by going to Heaven after finishing her Ghostly Goals, in the tear-jerkiest possible way; and her literal death in the backstory turns out to be a total Newbery Medal death in itself (at what would have been the climax of a Puppy Love-like Love Triangle plot in a Slice of Life series, poor Menma falls into a river and drowns, and her death totally changes her friends and family's dynamics).
Marley and Me. Within a week or so of the movie's release on DVD, everyone knew the ending was this.
K9 subverts the trope: Dooley delivers an emotional soliloquy to what he assumes is Jerry's corpse, only to be told that patients aren't allowed in the recovery room.
The French-Canadian film La Guerre des Tuques (of the Tales For All series) took its English title, The Dog who Stopped the War from the ending of the movie. Of course the dog ends the (snowball) war by dying. Poor girl has a snow fort collapse on her. No Newbery (obviously), but several awards and nominations anyway, and an acclaimed and beloved classic to this day in Quebec.
Little Heroes. Never heard of it? Well, you're lucky. Not only does the dog die but it dies in a random way when he eats poisoned bait meant to kill a fox that is a nuisance to the local chicken farmers.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape. At the beginning of the film it's established that Gilbert's younger mentally-impaired brother Arnie was expected to die as a young child and still "could go at any time": viewers familiar with the trope would naturally assume that Arnie would die near the end of the movie. It turns out he lives — their morbidly-obese mother is the one who dies.
Thomas Sennett (Macaulay Culkin) in My Girl (1991).
Trevor getting killed by the bullies at the end of Pay It Forward arguably counts as this.
My Dog Skip looks like it's heading this way (twice, if you also count the initial possibility that Skip will starve to death in the crypt he got trapped in) but subverts it with a Disney Death. Skip does eventually die of old age at the very end of the movie, but it's more of a footnote than anything else; his owner has grown up and moved an entire ocean away by that point.
Ring of Bright Water: most of the film is about a guy and his adorable pet otter. Then a ditchdigger randomly murders it with a spade. Becomes a Tear Jerker when you find out it's Based on a True Story.
Bel Ria by Sheila Burnford, better known as the author of Incredible Journey, which was made and remade into films. The dog doesn't die. All its masters do, though.
In a straight example, the forest boy Tacit would mourn the death of his fiery-haired, lame-of-leg friend in the last chapter. But this is a subverted example, for that friend is Peter David's Sir Apropos Of Nothing, and he would eventually steal Tacit's destiny out from under him.
Lampshaded in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, where Gregory is told to read Charlottes Web, and predicts that either the girl or the pig doesn't make it to the end of the book. He never finds out what happens because he only reads three chapters.
Earlier, he said that his mom was picking out what she called "classics", the criteria of which being, in his opinion, it has to be more than 50 years old, and some person or animal has to die at the end. While most things he says are untrue and biased, this is the (unfortunately brutal) truth.
Parodied in Harlan Ellison's post-apocalyptic novel A Boy and His Dog (Nebula Award for Best Novella, 1969). The titular boy escapes with his new girlfriend to find that, in his absence, his telepathic, erudite dog has been beaten nearly to death. His girlfriend, who's kind of a jerk, makes clear that he can either save the dog, or save her. Cut to the next scene, with the dog's injuries wrapped in the girl's dress, both of them complaining about how full they are, and... something... roasting over the remains of their fire.
John Green's Michael L. Printz Award winning book Looking For Alaska features an nerdy young teen who goes to a boarding school and meets a beautiful, adventurous girl with green eyes named Alaska. She has issues about her dead mother, so she drinks and smokes a lot and drives a beat up old car with bad brakes. You can see where this is going.
Susan Hill's Strange Meeting has the altogether too perfect David Barton, who (as per convention) doesn't make it to the end of the book.
Spoofed in No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman, which starts out with the main character writing a book report about "Old Shep, My Pal", a fictional medal-winning book. He notes he knew Old Shep was going to die when he saw the award sticker, and then name-checks Old Yeller, Sounder, Bristle Face, and Where The Red Fern Grows.
Inverted in Jack London's The Call Of The Wild: The dog is the protagonist, undergoing a transformation through hardship (and sometimes abuse) from dutiful pet to wild wolf, and when a Diabolus ex Machina abruptly kills his loving human master (off-screen), it allows him to make the final jump to fully wild. Not primarily for children.
Carolyn Meyer's Elliot and Win has as its climax a (extra-disturbing since the actual act is all that's offscreened) fairly brutal rape of the main character's best friend, who heretofore was a spunky, active, well-developed character.
Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru ("Night on the Galactic Railroad") - a novel by Kenji Miyazawa, made into an anime film - although the death doesn't occur at the end of the story, only the reveal of it.
The pig named Pinky dies in the climax of Robert Newton Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die. Not an official Newbery Winner either, but the themes present in the other examples are most definitely there.
Most of the latter half of Felix Salten's Bambi, starting when Bambi loses his mother, is one long series of Deaths By Newbery Medal. Particularly Gobo, the deer who was rescued and raised to adulthood by Man. He assumes all humans are his friends and dies horribly for it.
Anthony Simmons' novel The Optimists of Nine Elms (adapted into a film starring Peter Sellers) is an interesting variation. The old busker Sam's dog, Bella, indeed dies, but it's not a shock to the kids who befriend them or the reader. Sam knows and accepts this will happen sooner or later. The climax of the novel is not Bella's death, but the children managing to bury her in Hyde Park's little dog cemetery to fulfil Sam's wish that she be laid to rest there. The kids accomplishing Bella's burial—and leaving their own dog with Sam—is actually a bittersweet triumph for idealism.
Catherine Storr's Marianne Dreams and its film adaptation Paperhouse, in which the main character never meets the best friend who dies thanks to the action taking place in Dream Land.
Theodore Taylor's The Cay features a Magical Negro who cares for a racist blind boy while they live stranded on a tropical island, then dies in a hurricane. The book has become a classic and received a number of awards, though not an actual Newbery.
Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole, pretty much a perpetual adolescent, finally grows up (at the age of 35!) when his son's army buddy is killed in action in Basra.
Bill Wallace's A Dog Called Kitty. The dog actually survives being mauled by wolves and makes a full recovery, only to be crushed under a falling truckload of drill pipe.
James Hurst's short story "The Scarlet Ibis", but with a physically disabled little brother.
Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles. Slice-of-life story? Check. Dog featured on cover? Check. Award winner (not Newbery, but you get the picture)? Check. Does the dog get killed off? Oh yeah. Does the main character turn angsty and Jerk Assy over the dog's death? Surprisingly, no - that happened earlier in the novel, but it continued for a while after the dog died. Three out of four isn't bad, though.
Goodnight Mister Tom won half a dozen awards; the protagonist's baby sister dies of starvation in his arms, and his best friend is killed in an air raid.
Stone Fox, a critically acclaimed children's book about a boy and his dog entering a sled race to save his ailing grandfather's farm. The dog dies at the end.
Roger, the heroine's best friend, dies in the first book of His Dark Materials. It's especially gut-wrenching because Lyra, the heroine, spent most of the novel trying to find a way to save Roger, and then she ends up causing his death unintentionally (to make things even worse, she leads him right into it, and at the hands of her own father. Bringing him what he needs, indeed.
David, the heroine's brother, in Cherie Bennett's Searching For David's Heart. For extra angst points, she blames herself for his death.
The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend deals with the loss of a pet goldfish.
Jock of the Bushveld. Jock winds up getting shot by accident, because people were on the lookout for a chicken-stealing dog. Jock, having killed the actual culprit, returns to the farm and gets shot in a case of mistaken identity. The trope is justified here because it's a true story.
Mick Harte Was Here, aside from the Anvilicious moral ("Wear a bike helmet!"), is a well-done example that shows how the narrator Phoebe and her family deal with the loss of her big brother. It won the William Allen White Children's Book Award.
Three books in the Ramona Quimby series have won Newberry Medals: Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Ramona and Her Father, and Ramona Forever. Of these three, only Forever has a death: Picky-Picky, the family cat, dies in the book. However, unlike many other examples on this page, Picky-Picky dies peacefully of old age.
Snyder's earlier book The Changeling seems to be heading in this direction, to the point that some readers still think Ivy dies toward the end. Snyder settled for sending her to a New York ballet school.
E. Veltistov's "A Gulp of Sun" pulls this off brilliantly. We do know from the beginning that somebody was killed by the cloud, but we assume this is Singaevski, the other pilot. However in the end he ends up Only Mostly Dead and Ryzh, the younger brother of hero's Love Interest and a very close friend of the protagonist dies instead.
Sorta subverted in My Dog Skip : Skip does die at the very end, but it's almost a throwaway line. He does, however, survive a pretty traumatic scene immediately before, and simply dies of old age years afterwards.
Of the books in the Redwall series, Martin the Warrior is generally held as the best, and the most tragic. Martin's true love Rose is senselessly killed at the end. Also note that as this was a prequel, it was pretty much guaranteed to have a Downer Ending.
The Fault In Our Stars. It's the sort of book where you pretty much know what's going to happen but cry anyway. Anyway, the trope is used a great deal more sincerely in this book than in most others, and there's more depth, too.
A double whammy in "Surrender" by Sonja Hartnett. In flashbacks; we find out that 1) as a young boy, our protagonist accidentally killed his only childhood friend, his mentally ill brother, and 2) near the end of the book, that his parents forced him into shooting his dog, who has been present throughout the book, just as a ghost, or imagined by the main character.
Kira Kira. How can you not see that coming.
Red Dog lays on the tragedy thick by having Red Dog's owner John die halfway through, leaving Red Dog a Hachiko, thinking he's abandoned him and wandering great distances throughout Western Australia searching for him before returning to John's girlfriend Nancy in Dampier. Several years later, Red Dog is poisoned and after two of the townsfolk decide they can't bear to literally Shoot the Dog, he dies when the poison takes its course. John and Red Dog's deaths are two verifiable facts in what is otherwise loosely based on a true story.
Subverted in Sharon Creech's The Wanderer Sophie and her family are sailing from USA to England to see Sophie's grandfather Bompie, whose health deteriorates as they sail. Seems that they are going to arrive just before or after his death... but ultimately he starts to feel better and they spend time together and go back.
Played with in relation to Sophie's actual parents - they were missing from the beginnig, but only in the end do we learn how they died, and Sophie finally realises the fact they are dead
Iris R. Dart's Beaches heads toward a climax where Cee Cee Bloom's childhood friend Bertie is revealed to be dying from ovarian cancer. Cee Cee decides to call off a scheduled performance (to the anger of Hollywood producers) to spend months taking care of Bertie, as her health steadily declines and she winds up passing away.
The film has the rechristened "Hilary" find out that she's contracted a viral heart disease, which will gradually kill her. To add to the drama, she can't get any transplants due to her rare blood type. After Hilary winds up deathly ill and weak, CC decides to have her friend discharged from the hospital (by her wish) so that they can spend their last moments together at the beach, watching the sun set.
Live Action TV
That one episode of Sesame Street where Mr. Hooper dies. The actor had actually died and the writers decided to address the topic directly. As a nice subversion, none of the kids or child like characters have a "my childhood is over" moment.
Lampshaded in a Dilbert Sunday strip. According to Dogbert, if a movie is said by reviewers to have "powerful performances", then...
In Portal riffs on this trope by insinuating that you develop an emotional attachment to a "companion cube" that you need to carry around to solve a level's puzzle. GlaDOS tells you that the companion cube does not actually love you, and ultimately requires you to "euthanize" it at the end of the level. She then chides you for cruelty by being so quick to destroy your only companion. Grafitti from other test subjects include tearful epitaphs to their own companion cubes. This was all added after the desginers noticed that testers were reluctant to destroy their cubes. The only reason the cubes were marked as special to begin with was to let players know that they'd need them throughout the level. Ultimately Portal 2 has a callback when at the end of the game, your scorched companion cube is kicked out the test facility door along with you.
Fable II has your sister in the beginning of the game and your dog at the end. With the right DLC, you can resurrect your dog.
No More Heroes toys with this. During the build-up to the #3 battle, It looks like they're going to kill Jeane, Travis' kitten, just to make the fight personal, but instead it's Travis' gym trainer who dies and Jeane walks back home without a scratch.
This is the favored theory when Team Ico (creators of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) announced "The Last Guardian". To sum up - either the boy will die, or the baby gryphon dies. At least one of the two will occur.
Haunting Ground: Hewie - a white German Shepherd dog - is introduced early on, immediately comes to Fiona's aid after she frees him, and continues to act as her sole companion and protector for the game. Mid-way through the game, he will run off into the forest to tackle a Stalker, and gets shot. If you didn't treat him well enough, he dies and you get a Bad End.
The Arthur episode "So Long, Spanky" deals with the death of DW's pet parakeet, Spanky. But then she finds a toad in the aluminum can they used as a tombstone for Spanky's grave, and the remaining half of the episode involve DW becoming extremely annoyed with the toad. At the end, she the toad becomes DW's new pet.
The Smurfs episode titled "Squeaky," in which Smurfette finds and befriends a sick mouse. With the help of Papa Smurf, the mouse is nursed back to health, but dies later after being in a house fire.
The story arc of King of the Hill when Buckley died was not nearly as touching as the episode in which his angel comes back to help Luanne get over her loss and advise her to go to college. Especially touching is the last scene before the credits when he is shown from behind walking down the street and pulls a halo from his pocket he didn't have before; the music packs an especially powerful punch.
The 1980s cartoon of Alvin and the Chipmunks did this with their new cat, Cookie Chomper III, Within the last 5 minutes of the episode, Cookie Chomper dies in an accident. Don't worry, they get a new puppy at the ending.
The Charlie And Lola episode "I Will Not Ever Never Forget You Nibbles" deals with Charlie helping Lola come to terms with the death of her pet mouse.
The Futurama episode "Jurassic Bark" deserves mention for being heart-wrenching and clever.
The Star Trek The Animated Series episode "Yesteryear" ends with young Spock's pet mortally wounded, and he had to choose between letting it live a while longer in pain or ending its life. Of all the ST:TAS episodes, this one comes the closest to being accepted as Canon by fans and officialdom alike.