Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
What I have with me today are two picture books on the delicate subject of death. I found out about them through Brainpickings. I reserved copies from the library and fell in love when I read them.
Author and illustrator: Bardur Oskarsson
Translator: Marita Thomsen
Publisher: Owlkids Books (2014)
Copy owned by: Medina County District Library
Booklist Editors’ Choice – Books for Youth (2014)
In The Flat Rabbit, Faroese children’s author and illustrator, Bardur Oskarsson, tells the simple story of a dog and a rat who came across a flat rabbit lying on the road. The rat asked if the dog knew the rabbit. The dog said, “I think she’s from number 34. I’ve never talked to her, but I peed on the gate a couple of times, so we’ve definitely met.” Eventually, the rat and the dog worked on a plan to move the rabbit’s body somewhere else.
There is a gentle yet plain-spoken way that Bardur Oskarsson tackles death in his minimalist picture book. The dog, the rat, and the rabbit did not know each other. Yet, somehow, with the flat rabbit lying silently on the ground, the dog and the rat felt sorry and sad about what happened. While death can be sudden or shocking at times, it also brings people together. Somehow, in sympathizing over the loss of someone, people become one. People find comfort in each other’s company as they remember the life of the person who passed. Oskarsson’s picture book shows us these and more. It gives tribute to our way of dealing with the death of someone — the very act of honoring the dead, of giving them a “send-off” that they deserve.
Author: Stein Erik Lunde
Illustrator: Oyvind Torseter
Translator: Kari Dickson
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books (2012)
Norwegian Ministry’s Culture Prize for the Best Book for Children and Youth (2012)
Like The Flat Rabbit, Stein Erik Lunde’s My Father’s Arms Are a Boat deals with loss, this time on a more personal and intimate level. It was a winter night. It had never been so quiet in the house. The only sound that could be heard was the crackling of the fire. A young boy, alone in his room, could not sleep. He decided to go to the living room and climb onto his father’s lap. Then, the boy started asking about so many things – the big spruce tree, the red birds, the fox, and his mom.
“Is Mommy asleep?” I ask.
“Mommy’s asleep,” says Daddy.
“She’ll never wake up again?” I ask.
“No, not where she is now.”
The two of them walked outside. They looked at the magnificent night sky, made a wish when a shooting star appeared, and waited in silence before going back inside the house. The boy rested on his father’s lap and, together, they watched the fire for a long time.
Lunde and Torseter created a lyrical tour de force in My Father’s Arms Are a Boat. There is tenderness both in narrative and illustrations (which are, by the way, amazing cut-outs). The book perfectly captured the love shared by father and son who were both mourning for the loss of their loved one. It reminds us that we need not be alone in our grief. There are others who would share our sorrow. It also reminds us that comfort can be found in quietude, as we listen to the stillness of our hearts. As the father held his son in his arms, he told his son that everything would be okay — a gentle reminder that life goes on and that death is just part of the cycle.