Books Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age Picture Books Read-a-Latte Reading Themes

Death and Memories in Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts

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Hello, Fats here.

Here is another picture book to add to our current theme on Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age. It was such a delight reading Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts. I hope you find the book useful in helping young readers understand death and grief.

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Badger’s Parting Gifts

Written and illustrated by: Susan Varley
Published by: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Book borrowed from the library.
Book photos taken by me.

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Badger was dependable, reliable, and always ready to help when help was needed. He was also very old, and he knew almost everything. Badger was so old that he knew he must soon die.

First published in 1984, Badger’s Parting Gifts tells the story of a dying badger and his wonderful friends that he would leave behind. When I saw the title and the book cover, I was led into thinking that the book is about a badger literally handing out gifts before he dies. It turned out that no actual gift giving took place.

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Badger wasn’t afraid of death. Dying meant only that he would leave his body behind and, as his body didn’t work as well as it had in days gone by, Badger wasn’t too concerned about that. His only worry was how his friends would feel when he was gone.

Susan Varley’s writing is so beautiful that you wouldn’t mind that the text on each page is longer than most picture books. I love how she incorporates Badger’s own thoughts and feelings about death and dying. You don’t see this often in picture books. Sometimes, we adults need to be creative in helping children understand the complexity of Life and Death. Thankfully, Susan Varley understands that need. Badger makes use of a euphemism for death: going down the Long Tunnel.

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Each of the animals had a special memory of Badger – something he had taught them that they could now do extremely well. He had given them each something to treasure: a parting gift that would become all the more special each time it was passed on to others.

My favorite part in the book is Fox’s memory of Badger, in which Badger showed Fox how to tie a knot properly. Susan Varley handled it with such gentleness. This book made me think that badgers are better friends than humans! At least in Badger’s case!

There is so much to love about Susan Varley’s picture book. Her pen and ink, and watercolor illustrations are wonderful and teeming with affection. Badger’s Parting Gifts not only shows us that our deceased loved ones live on through warm and loving memories of them but also when we share with others the things they’ve taught us when they were still alive.

So, was I disappointed when I found out that no actual gift giving took place in the book? No. If these lovely pages from the book do not convince you that the book deserves your attention, I don’t know what else will.

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Read-a-Latte Challenge Update: 158 (150)

Fats is the Assistant Manager for Circulation Services at the Wayne County Public Library in Wooster, Ohio. She considers herself a reader of all sorts, although she needs to work on her non-fiction reading. Fats likes a good mystery but is not too fond of thrillers. She takes book hoarding seriously and enjoys collecting bookmarks and tote bags. When she is not reading, Fats likes to shop pet apparel for her cat Penny (who absolutely loathes it).

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