This is a book that I bought during the Library Warehouse Sale. I know that any book written by Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas I am sure to love and enjoy, and this book did not disappoint. This would have been a perfect book to feature as well for our Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age theme.
THERE FLIES JENNY ANGEL, swooping under the harbour bridge, soaring past tall pine trees, their branches etched like toothbrushes against the fading light Down below she can see the wharf, its narrow piers stitched into the sea. In the harbour are the yachts, their sails folded like butterfly wings.
And so the story begins. Jenny is a starry-eyed girl. She is also Davy’s special guardian angel. Davy is Jenny’s brother and he is very frail and extremely sick. And so Jenny keeps watch during the night on the roof because she knows that the doctors are wrong and that Davy will live. She has the moon and stars for company, “shrouded in her mother’s old raincoat”.
Even in school, Jenny wears her raincoat. Even her teachers did not mind so much any longer, and her best friend stopped asking about it. Only Davy knows and truly believes that underneath the raincoat are Jenny’s angel wings:
In the morning Davy asks as usual, ‘Let me see your wings. Please.’ And Jenny replies as always, ‘No one’s allowed to see my wings. You know that.’ But she lets him touch the back of the raincoat and, reassured, he slips back into his morning sleep.
This is a book about holding on with arms outstretched, free falling into the skies on raincoat wings – believing in the impossible, and letting go. In just a few sparse text, Wild has captured beautifully Jenny Angel’s resoluteness and sense of determination, Davy’s dreamlike and delicate state of weakness and frailty, and the all-too-real life events that keep on moving and circling around like carrion despite one’s grief.
This is a book that has made me shed unbidden tears despite myself. It catches one off-guard in its subtlety and simplicity and stark truths, as only Margaret Wild does it. Spudvilas’ illustrations provide the perfect touch of subdued blues, pinpricks of bright yellows, and white spaces allowing the reader to breathe in the magic, the grief, the quiet hope, and the presence of angels around us.
For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, here is a very helpful information pack on bereavement created by Barnardos’ Training and Resource Service where children’s understanding of death and their reactions to it are explored in great detail. There is also a list of books for children about bereavement (which includes Jenny Angel) and brief summaries about each one.
Jenny Angel by Margaret Wild and artwork by Anne Spudvilas. Published by Viking, 1999. Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
Shortlisted – Family Award for Children’s Books: Picture Book (1999)
Shortlisted – Australian Publishers Association: Design (1999)
Shortlisted – New South Wales State Literary Award: Young Reader (2000)
Won – CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Award: Picture Book (2000)
Shortlisted – Young Australian Best Book Award: Picture Book (2001)
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 52 (35)
Read-a-Latte Challenge Update: 230 (150)