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Death in Children’s Literature

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message 1: by Avital (last edited Nov 30, 2018 03:48AM) (new)

Avital Nathan | 18 comments Mod
Hey everyone,

To start off this discussion, I thought I’d mention two picture books: Death, Duck and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch and Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc.

I found that Death, Duck and the Tulip addressed the topic of death in a mature and matter of fact way - death is personified as it’s own character, and the duck is given time to come to terms with his presence as well as ask him questions. To me, it felt refreshing to see death being acknowledged as an inevitable and peaceful event, rather than a cushy or romanticised possibility. I think the character images are removed enough from our image of ourselves as humans (and our image of death as the grim reaper) for the reader (particularly children) to disassociate themselves from them and not feel threatened or uncomfortable by the images and concepts in the story, whilst there are enough similarities presented in the text to allow the reader to make connections to their own life, perhaps if they are experiencing or anticipating the loss of a loved one. (Examples of similarities include the allusion to heaven and hell). I’m sure this is a text that will be interpreted and responded to differently by each individual reader, and is all the more interesting because of it.

Up the Mountain is a lot more subtle about death, never explicitly mentioning it. Rather, it focuses more on there being a circle of life, towards the end of which an elderly person will begin to slow down and may not be there anymore. However, it does this very sensitively and shows how the main character Leo goes from being looked after by Mrs Badger, to dealing with her gradually losing her strength and her implied death by adapting to look after her, and then continuing to take comfort in the memories and activities they used to share together. He also goes on to look after a new character and share those activities with them, in the same way that Mrs Badger did with him, creating a comforting sense of positivity and continuation.

These books would both be useful for exploring death and bereavement with young children, but perhaps not for children in KS2. I’d love to hear any recommendations anyone else has!

Here is the list of all books that have been recommended so far: (This will be updated!)

message 2: by Phoebe (last edited Nov 30, 2018 03:34AM) (new)

Phoebe Ledster | 13 comments Mod
I love these books too Avital! Death, Duck and the Tulip is one of my favourites and I completely agree that people will respond to it in unique and individual ways. I have three recommendations which all fit under different genres and would be lovely to use alongside each other if necessary.

The first is 'The Rough Patch' by Brian Lies. This is a picturebook about a Fox named Evan who has a wonderful garden that he looks after with his dog. Sadly, the dog passes away and the story continues to tell Evan's journey of bereavement. It is a touching story with many real elements to it. The illustrations are very poignant too. I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Secondly, 'A Stone for Sascha' is a wordless text with beautiful illustrations. Aaron Becker is the author who has also done wordless narratives such as 'The Journey'. It is another emotive story about a young girl and how she deals with loss. It is a really creative story and something that might be useful in the classroom to emphasise to children that wordless stories can be just as powerful.

Lastly, the novel 'The Land of Neverendings' by Kate Saunders is a really imaginative and creative story. It is about a young girl whose sister sadly passes away. She misses her sister immensely but also misses her teddy bear, 'Bluey', that was buried alongside her just as much. The story unfolds that one night when the young girl falls asleep she sees a group of soft cuddly toys that are from a different land where their owners are no longer in the Hard World (alive). Following this, she strives to find out whether she will be able to find Bluey and her sister again.

All of these texts are absolutely brilliant and definitely have a place within the classroom to challenge and support children. I actually own a copy of all of these books myself so if anyone wants to look at one then feel free to drop me a message!!

I would love to hear everyone else's recommendations and I hope everyone has a good Christmas!

message 3: by Ellie (new)

Ellie L | 14 comments Mod
Excellent recommendations and I will say that Duck, Death and the Tulip is a top one for me too, Avital. I think it is the fact that death is so normalized in this story, and it really breaks down taboo as well.

I am particularly taken by Felipa and the Day of the Dead written by Birte Muller in how powerfully it depicts a child feeling lost and a little disorientated after losing a family member. At the beginning, Felipa finds it difficult to be comforted by her family belief that the soul lives on. It is her confusion that the soul could not physically be found which I think really resonated with me, and that she finds a time of remembrance one that allows for gradual acceptance. Having access to this story would be extremely valuable for reflecting how different cultures acknowledge and deal with loss, particularly if used alongside The Funeral by Matt James in thinking about celebrating the life that was lived.

The Pond by Nicola Davies has always stuck me with the raw emotion and pain felt by the characters when grieving. I think that to read a story that mirrors current feelings of sadness or anger is quite necessary, and that having these feelings made so apparent perhaps allows the reader to understand what they are experiencing themselves. I love how the Davies also ties the process of bereavement to the natural cycle of life and death, an interesting theme which I would like to see more of.

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