“There are only two certainties in this world: death and taxes.”
So goes the famous quote. Although, if you’re rich enough to take advantage of certain loopholes, you can probably narrow it down to one. And it’s a big one, which is why it’s important for children’s books to deal with it and open the subject for discussion.
My latest book, What’s That in Dog Years?, is a little different from my earlier books. Like my others, there’s plenty of humour, but it’s the first time I’ve ever really broached the themes of grief and loss. I knew going in that it would be tough to bring humour to these subjects, but I felt it was important. I’ve always tried to treat tough things with a light touch, in a way that hopefully makes them easier to digest.
What’s that in Dog Years? is the story of George and his best friend Gizmo. When George realises that Gizmo might not be around for much longer, he creates a bucket list for him. As they work their way through the list, which ranges from the easy (have an ice cream, go to a party) to the not-so-easy (get fifteen minutes of fame) we discover memories the two of them share, and begin to understand what triggered George’s anxiety disorder.
You have to tread carefully when writing about dogs. People LOVE dogs. They will happily sit through films where scores of humans are indiscriminately slaughtered, but the minute any harm comes to man’s best friend, they become apoplectic. But the sad fact is, one of the reasons we have pets is to teach kids that nothing lasts forever.
Grief and loss are going to be part of everyone’s life at some point, so having books that reach out to young people affected by it is incredibly important. Sometimes, you just need to be reminded that you’re not alone.
With that in mind, I have compiled a list of recommended reads that deal with grief. It is by no means exhaustive; there are so many great titles out there. These are just the ones that I’ve had the opportunity to check out myself.
Written in response to the death of his eighteen year old son, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is an unflinchingly honest look at bereavement. Younger readers may need some of the more complex concepts explained to them, which makes it the ideal book for discussions. Featuring illustrations by the legendary Quentin Blake.
Lisa Thompson is one of my favourite children’s authors and Owen and the Soldier continues her hot streak. It’s incredibly easy to read (like Grandpa was an Astronaut, it’s published by the brilliant dyslexia-friendly Barrington Stoke) and deals with the concept of remembrance as well as loss.