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
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.
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.
After 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.