When my grandfather passed away last November, I wrote several posts on books that deal with death. It was surprisingly cathartic. Two picture books have been published recently that incorporate themes of loss and death, but in rather abstract ways and I’ve found both to be comforting. I think about my grandfather a lot. The sequence is always the same: something will spark a memory and I’ll smile, which is closely followed by the sadness of once again having to remember that he is gone.
Both of today’s recommendations are excellent books, because they leave quite a bit unsaid and children will understand them in different ways at different stages of their development. The first is Rabbityness by Jo Empson (Child’s Play, $16.99). Rabbit liked doing lots of rabbity things. But Rabbit also liked doing unrabbity things, like painting and making music. The middle pages of the book are filled with colors and evocations of music, until “one day, Rabbit disappeared” and as much as the other rabbits looked for him, he could not be found. Rabbit, however, had left them gifts and they “filled the woods with color and music once again”. The book is told in the past tense, although what exactly happens to Rabbit is never overtly stated. It is a lovely book filled with color that remind us of the gifts that the people we love leave for us.
The other book, which comes out today, is Bluebird by Bob Staake (Scwartz and Wade, $17.99). Bluebird is wordless and the illustrations are rather muted in white, light blue, and grey. These colors work really well for this story and the bluebird, rendered in bright blue, stands out. The story narrates a few huge and weighty topics: feeling alone, bullying, protecting your friends, and death. But because the book is wordless, the story manages to create a space for the seriousness of each topics without being heavy-handed. The reader is left to tell themselves a story that they are able to handle. Nothing more. Color is only introduced in the final few pages and the visual impact of these new colors adds brightness precisely when the story is the most dark. It is further comforting that although the boy loses the bluebird, he is not left alone. This is a stunning story about saying goodbye.