This week’s Fantastic Fiction for Kids is once again selected by me, Zoe, at Playing by the book.
Today it is exactly a year since my paternal Grandfather died, and it is with him in my mind and in my heart that I have selected today’s beautiful, but I’m afraid to say heart-breaking books, all about death and grief.
Each of these books has left me in tears, but I nevertheless urge you to read them – they are all beautiful, moving and ultimately full of love.
Falling Angels by Colin Thompson
Sally is a girl who believes in her dreams, and with this belief comes an ability to fly. Although her mother doesn’t believe her, Sally’s Grandmother does, and Sally delights in flying to beautiful places around the world bring back treasures for her confidante. Sally is so happy when she discovers her Grandmother can also fly:
“So why can’t everyone do it?” Sally asked.
“Becuase they’ve forgotten how to and once it’s forgotten, it never comes back..
Some people see the world with their eyes,
some people see the world with their hearts.
All you have to do is keep your dreams.”
One day Sally’s Grandmother visits all the places she explored as a young child and when she finds her favourite place she takes her last breath and stays there forever.
A book about hope and dreams, exploring how remembering the life of a lost love one can bring great joy, this book will nevertheless make your heart ache. Thompson’s illustrations will transport you, full of intricate detail, secret passage ways and quiet and magical places.
Seven for a Secret by Laurence Anholt, illustrated by Jim Coplestone
This gentle, yet powerful book follows an exchange of letters between Ruby and her Grandpa. Ruby lives in a city and life isn’t easy for her parents who don’t have much money. Grandpa lives in the countryside and likes to write about the nature, including the magpies, he can see in his garden. Through the exchange of letters and over time it becomes clear Grandpa is ill. At around the time Ruby’s baby brother is born, Grandpa dies (this juxtaposition of life with death also occurs in Beautiful – see below). When Grandpa dies he leaves his house and another surprise to Ruby’s family enabling them to leave the city with their lives changed for ever.
The format of this book – a story told through letters – is very effective and engaging. The illustrations are delightful and the warmth in Ruby and her Grandpa’s friendship will stay with you long after you’ve finished the story.
Michael Rosen wrote this autobiographical book following the death of his own son Eddie (about whose childhood Rosen wrote many very funny poems). It is an honest and up-front book about the feelings you might have following the death of a loved one (“Sometimes this makes me really angry. I say to myself, “How dare he go and die like that? How dare he make me sad.“), and shows how adults as well as children can experience grief. Rosen also writes about how he tries to manage his sadness – by writing, by trying to do one thing each day that makes him feel a little happier, by reminding himself that sad is not the same as bad. Although very raw, containing no eupemisms or metaphors, this book is nevertheless one that could be loved by children, especially because of the familiarity created by Quentin Blake’s as-ever brilliant illustrations.
Uncle George knows he is ill and so has started gardening with his nephew, hoping that being in the garden and nurturing it once George isn’t around any more will be a comfort to his nephew. George goes away for treatment and the young boy does indeed enjoy looking after their shared garden. Just as the flowers are about ready to bloom Uncle George comes home from hospital – “He’s coming home, but he’s getting sicker. The doctors can’t help any more. Now he just wants to be with us“. George is no longer able to talk but he and his nephew are able to share some beauty in his last days through the beautiful bunches of flowers that the boy picks from his garden.
Death is never mentioned explicitly in this book, where the sorrow and sadness are matched only by the tender love, thoughtfulness, and moments of joy that the family seek out. The pictures are lovely – bright, hopeful images (especially nice nasturtiums), that would delight any gardener. This book might be particularly useful and comforting to read to prepare a child for a death in the family – it deals with hospital visits, nurses and new equipment coming into the home.
Unlike some other books included in this roundup (which focus on the feelings of those left behind when someone dies) Duck, death and the Tulip explores what it might feel like to face up to one’s own death. Duck is a little unsettled when he first notices Death creeping along behind him, but over the course of time they become friends, even sharing a joke or two. When Duck finally does die, it is a peaceful and reconciled death, without fear but full of love and care. Erlbruch’s illustrations are delightful – uncluttered yet packed full of acute observation, particularly in the facial expressions of Duck and Death.
Whilst the topic for this week’s Fantastic Fiction for Kids may make some people uncomfortable, each and every one of these books deserves a place on your bookshelves. They have moved me to tears, given me food for thought, brought back memories of friends and family loved and lost, and they have comforted me.
As to reading them with your children I’m not sure that I would recommend any of them unless or until appropriate circumstances arise. I have not read them all with M, but those I did, did not seem to speak to her the way they did to me, even though these books are each so well written and beautifully illustrated they deserve to be read by everyone.