“At the end of a long day when I was nine months pregnant, my 4-year-old, Winter, asked, ‘Is Daddy going to die?’…
Death is one of the
most difficult subjects to talk about with a child. It’s so vast, so many
things to so many people that, like wandering Macy’s the week before Christmas,
it’s hard to know where to start and you’re tempted to avoid it altogether.
There is the obvious fear of traumatizing your child, giving her too long a
look into the abyss. There is also the self-conscious suspicion that whatever
you end up saying will ultimately reveal more about who you are than it will
about the subject itself. Thankfully, a host of new picture books tackle ‘taking
the ferry,’ staring down that overtly thwarting subject, and making it
personal, peaceful and approachable.
In Christiane Duchesne
and Francois Thisdale’s bewitching Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez, set in a small seaside town, a group
of kids watch the mysterious comings and goings of a man who wears a bright red
scarf and looks as if he has ‘clouds under his coat.’ His solitary meanderings
through the cobblestone streets and his eccentric love of animals — he attaches
wings to a cat’s back, strolls with a goldfish bowl on his head — go unnoticed
by the adults. But to the children he is a fascination and delight.
When he abruptly disappears…his absence prompts a strong sense of community as [the children] band together to say their goodbyes…Thisdale’s realistic yet dreamlike illustrations, windswept with mist and surreal painted skies, add to the sense of wonder….
As these four books illustrate and I have come to realize, the conversation about death is alive, shifting and fading, bobbing to the surface and just as swiftly sinking below. It is not one thing for us or for children. When I asked Winter again what she thought about death, there was no memory of my parental wipeout. She simply announced with great confidence: ‘You don’t need a phone.’ She had worked it out just fine.” —Marisha Pessl
“Phoebe and her grandmother, Nan-ma, are out for a walk when Phoebe is teased by two kids about the color of her skin. They call her ‘French toast’…Phoebe likens their skin tones to “warm banana bread” and “maple syrup poured over French toast,” invoking comfort and good feelings as she thinks about her family, allowing her to embrace the beauty in diversity and self-acceptance. With Thisdale’s beautifully decadent and dream-like illustrations of the food described, this may be a story best read before snack time.” —Joi Mahand
“Instantly endearing, The Night Lion tackles nighttime fears with an adorable and creative solution. With the simple notion of giving a stuffed lion and adding in imagination, nighttime fears can be conquered. With illustrations that are charming and engaging, Sanne Dufft’s beautiful artwork instantly draws you in. There’s a delightful, fast-paced storyline that shows the main character to be strong and confident while also empowering young readers to feel that they can conquer their own fears, making this a perfect book for any little one in need of their own night lion.”
“What did you like about the book? Morgan has a tall Robin Hood hat and a wooden sword. He is ‘wild and fierce and frightening.’ But at night Morgan is still afraid of robbers until his Nana brings him a stuffed lion. And, as with Calvin with his Hobbes, Morgan dreams of the adventures he and his lion experience in the woods where he is always brave and fearless. Beautiful full-page watercolor illustrations perfectly accompany this tale of a child conquering his/her fears….
To whom would you recommend this book? This is a good tale for children having problems with bad dreams and might be shared with the classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.” —Katrina Yurenka, Moderator, Youth Services Book Review
“My thoughts: I loved this one. I really liked Macy. But I loved, loved, loved Iris. Together these two make for a GREAT read. I also enjoyed the other characters in the book. (Her best friend, Olivia, her mother, her step-father-to-be, Alan, her step-sisters-to-be, Kaitlin and Bethany.) Macy is a flawed heroine–my favorite kind. So in terms of characterization, this one was wonderful. The language–the writing–was great….I would say the writing was lyrical and poetic in places.”
“Following a scary nightmare, a little boy receives a toy lion, and that makes all the difference…The final spread of Morgan confidently raising his sword echoes Sendak’s Max as king of the wild things. A comforting, enabling, picture-perfect bedtime read.”
“Through lyrical rhyme, Catherine Buquet writes of a man who, by chance, finds happiness in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Out of the commonplace grows a deeper significance….
Marion Arbona’s sophisticated pencil, ink and gouache illustrations ably contrast the wet and bustling streetscape with the bright, warm colours enveloping the boy and the patisserie, as if they were in a world of their own. By the story’s end, this vibrancy surrounds the man, showing young readers that something wonderful can happen when one least expects it, even on the most melancholy of days.”
Read the full review on page 32 in the Summer 2017 issue of Canadian Children’s BookNews