Category Archives: Death Divorce etc.

Can Picture Books Change the Way We Think About Mental Health?!

It appears Australians allow for discussions of depression and death, unlike mainstream Americans.  Cheers, that they bravely publish picture books for the young to open doors to these life experiences.    Read reviews on The Red Tree and Duck, Death and the Tulip and change your perspectives on depression and death during May is National Mental Health Month.

The Red Tree 
Shaun Tan
Simply Read Books, 2003 (Canada)
Originally published in Australia

If a child experiences depression, or observes a friend or family member with depression, this book can, perhaps, help them understand it on an intuitive level.

A true picture book, half the story is told through its exquisite illustrations.  The opening line, “sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to” shows a girl sitting in bed in a rather drab room.  The next line “darkness overcomes you” shows a girl walking down the sidewalk in a large, faceless city, with a giant fish hovering above her, diminishing her in size.The Red Tree 200x301

Anyone who has experienced depression, understands these words and pictures.  If a child knows someone who has depression, it can give them insights into that person’s experience. Quiet and reflective, the story goes on to describe the feelings one typically has with depression.  At the end of her day, the girl returns to her room to find a small red leaf standing in the middle of her room.  And as she enters, it transforms into a bright, brilliant red leafed tree, with the words, “just as you imagined it would be,” reassuring the reader that a depressed person’s thoughts of hope will come true, in time.  This book is more appropriate for the older reader, ages 6-12.

Duck, Death and the Tulip
By Wolf Erlbruch
Gecko Press, 2011
Originally published in New Zealand and Australia

Another picture book where the illustrations tell at least half the story, we meet the duck and a hollow-eyed character who introduces himself as death.

Duck Death 200x283After Duck and Death meet, the duck decides Death is a really ‘quite nice’.  When Duck suggests they go to the pond, we learn, “Death had been dreading that.”  The reader quietly learns something is about to happen.  They swim for a while, and Duck offers to cover and warm Death, as water for Death is not agreeable.  When they wake the next morning, Duck is surprised she is not dead.  Duck discusses Angels and a place in earth where ducks could be roasted, but Death makes no comments on her chatter.  They choose to spend their day in a tree, and Duck thinks, “That’s what it will be like when I’m dead.  The pond alone, without me.”  As we get closer to the time, the reader is gently told death is coming.  They spend the summer together, but when cold starts coming in, death lies down, and that is the end for her.  Death carries her to the water and watches her float away.  Death is a part of life.

Read more reviews on Amazon: The Red Tree and Duck, Death, and the Tulip

Always Mom, Forever Dad

Always Mom, Forever Dad
A story of divided households
by Joanna Rowland, illustrated by Penny Weber
Tilbury House Publishers, 2014

In Always Mom, Forever Dad author Joanna Rowland reassures young ones that they will be loved by both parents, when parents divorce and move apart.  And, illustrating family members from different races, artist Penny Weber shows mom and dad living apart happens in many different families, suggesting that whatever the reader’s situation is, it is acceptable.

Each scene shows a child and their parent doing normal things, like baking banana bread, looking for tadpoles, or counting stars.  But these times together become special to a child, when the family has changed.  Told from the child’s point of view, young readers and listeners can immediately relate to the heart of each scene and feel loved.

“At my dad’s house and at my mom’s house, I am loved.  And when I ask them how long they’ll love me, they both reply always and forever.”

The story helps children deal with other difficult times, too.  It’s difficult for young children to accept other changes, like when a trip to the zoo is cancelled or when the child misses the other parent.  Rowland shows the child is lovingly allowed to communicate with the other parent and Weber shows a photo of ‘the other parent and the child’ on the child’s nightstand.  This is a happy story, rich in love, acceptance and understanding; an excellent role model for children, as well as parents.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.

Find more reviews on Amazon.

Knock Knock, My Dad’s Dream for Me

Knock Knock, My Dad’s Dream for Me
By Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Little Brown & Company 2013
Coretta Scott King Award Winner

A young boy plays “Knock Knock” with his father every morning, until one day the boy no longer hears the “Knock Knock.”  Nor the next day, or next.  Thinking his father may be at home while he’s at school, he writes his father a letter.  It sits on his desk for more than two months and then one day his father responds to his son’s letter.  In the briefest of words he instructs his son on the boy’s concerns.  Then he shares, “No longer will I be there to knock on your door, so you must learn to knock for yourself.  Knock Knock down the doors that I could not.  Knock Knock to open new doors to your dreams.”  “Knock Knock” is for any boy who has a missing father and needs encouraging words from a missing father.

Author Daniel Beaty played Knock Knock with his father, until he was incarcerated.  He knows from experience the pain of not having a father to guide him through life.  Illustrator Bryan Collier creates rich portrayals of the loneliness and emptiness—yet hope—of missing a father.

Read more reviews on Amazon

Words with Wings

Words with Wings
By Nikki Grimes
WordSong, 2013
Coretta Scott King Honor Book

Words with Wings began as a picture book, but a wise editor asked Nikki to develop it into a novel.  Nikki created seventy-one poems to tell us Gabby’s story.

Except for English, Gabby is not the best student, she day dreams most of the time.  Her mother tries to get her to stop, while her father encourages it.  Her mother and father split and Gabby expresses her pain through poems.  Determined, Gabby tries very hard to not daydream, but her world is dull and even her teacher who normally scolds her for daydreaming, asks if she is okay.  Gabby makes a friend with an artist.  One day, while passing notes back and forth, Gabby is caught.  She walks her story of her daydream up to the teacher, returns to her seat and waits for her punishment.  Only it doesn’t come.  She worries all night.  The next day, after class, her teacher asks to talk to her.  He tells her,

“It’s wonderfully vivid,” he says.
“In fact, it’s given me an idea.
I’ll tell you all about it,

She’s dismissed and floats out of the room.  The next day the teacher announces they will have 10 minutes of daydream time every day, after which they can write them down.  Gabby’s whole life changes.  With a channel for her creativity, her relationship with her mom even changes.  Find out how.

A touching story, vivid in its descriptions, readers become part of Gabby’s experience.

more reviews on Amazon

Remembering Crystal

Remembering Crystal
Sebastian Loth
North South Books, 2010

This book deals with the death of a loved one. We meet Zelda and Crystal and experience the love and joy of their relationship. Then one day Crystal is gone and Zelda is told she has died. As true in any loss, at first Zelda denies the death and ventures off to find Crystal. But, of course, she doesn’t. In time she begins to accept that Crystal is gone and finds ways to remember her. Sensitively written and accessible to young ones, Remembering Crystal will help both children and adults adjust to a loss.

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The Forever Dog

The Forever Dog
by Bill Cochran
illustrated by Dan Andreasen
HarperCollins 2007

An especially moving story about a boy who loses his dog. Author Bill Cochran is outstanding at explaining to a youngster about death and how to handle its powerful emotions. This is a must read for young ones who have lost their best friend. Illustrator Dan Andreasen captures the love and warmth the story calls for; beautifully rendered.

Mike gets a pup named Corky and they do everything together. They even promise they would be best friends forever. Mike comes home from school one day and Corky doesn’t greet him. His mom tells him he was sick and is staying overnight at the vets. A morning call lets them know Corky passed.

Mike is deeply hurt; ‘His heart sank lower than it had ever been before.’ Then Mike was mad at Corky for breaking his promise. After about a week he shares Corky’s broken promise and he and his mom talk about how Corky will be there forever, it’s just different. When Mike asks why it hurts so bad, Mom suggests Corky’s trying to get comfortable in his new home: Mike’s heart.

The Forever Dog” was named among the Top Children’s Books of 2007 by the Cooperate Children’s Book Center.

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I Think, I Am! Teaching Kids the Power of Affirmations

I Think, I Am! Teaching Kids the Power of Affirmations
by Louise L. Hay and Kristina Tracy
Illus by Manuela Schwarz
Hay House, 2008

A great introduction to affirmations, written for kids, from the master of affirmations, Louise L. Hay.

The explanations are easy to understand and deal with kid’s everyday situations. From ‘I don’t like my hair. I wish it were like hers!’ to ‘I love myself just the way I am.’ From ‘breaking away from what your friends want to do,’ to ‘I stand up for what is important to me.’ Bright, colorful illustrations further develop each affirmation. The book ends with “Tips for Doing Affirmations” to encourage readers to take their affirmations to the next step.

A great book to affirm the positive.

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My Parents are Divorced, My Elbows have Nicknames, and Other Facts about Me

My Parents are Divorced, My Elbows have Nicknames, and Other Facts about Me
by Bill Cochran, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
Harper Collins Publishers, 2009

Like any young child experiencing their parent’s divorce, Ted insists he is not weird, while certainly feeling weird and many other things inside. In the story, he points out all his foibles, weaving them in with examples of how things are different now with his mom and dad separated. He names his elbows Clyde and Carl, which is weird, and perhaps distracts from the weirdness of not having his family together. He’s angry when his father marries another woman, but learns to get along with her. He acts out by spcawwking like a chicken when answering the phone and, perhaps, clings a bit to his father for math and his mother for injuries. But his blue superhero cape for Halloween becomes an item he uses regularly to battle against the pain of the split.

Brilliantly and sensitively written, this book gives children strategies to deal with the pain and confusion of divorce. Illustrations are delightful, humorous, and distracting all at the same time!

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