Allen & Unwin
Most writers of books about death for children use fiction as a vehicle and in so doing, provide a ‘space apart’ wherein youngsters can explore this disturbing and difficult experience. As we know however, all story grows out of life, indeed all life is story and Trace Balla’s story was written for her sister’s children shortly after the death of their father and is, so we are told, based on the great love shared between their parents and the love they in turn shared with their children.
“We all come from the stars, we all go back to the stars…” so said Granny Hitchcock, grandmother of the author and her bereaved sister and it’s this saying that is at the heart of Trace Balla’s story.
Shine , so called because his kindness made him sparkly and shimmery, was a young horse that grew to become an amazing one that loved to gallop among the golden stars with the other horses. One day Shine notices some hoofprints in the sand belonging to another horse, the lovely Glitter and together they raise a family. Their little ones are called Shimmer and Sparky and there grows a great bond of love between all the family members.
But then, one day Shine learns that it’s his turn to return to his star. “… my time has come. I love you all so much,” he tells his family as he leaves them to join the other stars in the beautiful night sky.
That night a heart-broken Glitter and her offspring cry and cry creating an ocean of golden tears. They together then climb a high mountain – a mountain of grief – from the top of which they are able to see and come to understand the enormity of the love they shared.
And, as they curl up together, far above them shines the brightest of all the stars, their daddy’s star glowing golden and bringing them a sense of peace.
Trace Balla’s use of mythical horse characters that have no solidity works well as signifiers of life’s transient nature whereas the dark solidity of the huge mountain is perhaps, a metaphor of the process of grieving itself: a process that is likely to be very hard and take an enormous amount of time to climb, but which can ultimately be transcended by joy and the power of love in the world.
Yes, this is a book about loss but it also offers children an invitation to think about the possibility of light emerging from darkness, an idea that should fit with any world view. Indeed the restricted colour palette – shades of blue plus white and yellow are effectively used to symbolise the opposing concepts light/dark, life/death, love/loss, happiness/sadness.
In addition to being a book to offer young children who have suffered the loss of a loved one, particularly a parent, this powerfully affecting story has enormous potential for opening up discussions on a number of topics with a whole class or group.
Moving home can also be a very sad time especially for children who have to leave behind their friends and perhaps relations too. Here is a book in which two children cope with the transition helped by their loving family.
Nancy Tuper Ling and Alina Chau
The book takes the form of a series of twenty four poems relating to moving from a city (San Francisco) to a new rural home. Sister and brother Gracie and Jack both give voice to their feelings as they search for special things to place in their happiness boxes intended to help with the move:
“Find four treasures each/leading from this home/to your new.”says their grandmother(Nai Nai) who has given them to boxes
Gracie’s first treasure is donated by Nai Nai, her panda toy – he too is to have a new home.
But it’s Jack who is first to fill his box, his last object being a blue and green marble.
Alina Chau’s delicate, detailed watercolour paintings grace the pages, serving to bring the whole thing together into a bitter-sweet account of the family’s transition from old home to new and all that it entails: a looking back and a looking forward – memory and anticipation …