All the Dear Little Animals
Ulf Nilsson (trans. Julia Marshall) and Eva Eriksson
Told without a vestige of sentimentality is All the Dear Little Animals, a story from Swedish author Ulf Nilsson and illustrator Eva Eriksson. The first person narrative voice is that of one of the participant founders of an unlikely and short-lived enterprise.
It all begins when Esther, another of the founders, discovers a dead bumblebee. Having nothing better to do, she decides to dig a grave for it. Her companion – the narrator – offers to compose an appropriate death poem and they bury the bee in a secret clearing in the woods.
The team of two becomes three when Puttie, Esther’s little brother gets involved. He finds the whole procedure of the next burial – that of a mouse – extremely sad, but soon overcomes his greatest concerns and thus Funerals Ltd. is up and running. Esther digs, the narrator pens poems and Puttie cries.
A suitcase containing a shovel, various sized boxes and other funeral accoutrements (including ‘’ice-cream sticks for small crosses/ Big sticks for big crosses) is packed and the three spend the day providing a service for the pets and domestic animals of family and friends.
By the time darkness falls, all manner of creatures including finally a blackbird
have been duly interred before he children decide to call it a day.
‘Another blackbird sang a beautiful song. I got a frog in my throat when I read. Esther cried. We all felt very reverent. Sadness lay like a black quilt over the clearing. And Puttie went to sleep.’
That’s not quite all though, for after the closing verse of the narrator’s poem comes an absolutely wonderful throw away finale: ‘The next day we found something else to do. Something completely different.’
Both playful and sad, with a touch of whimsy, the combination of text and illustration is just right for those starting out as solo readers, as well as for sharing. More importantly though, the book offers a way to talk about death with young children from any faith tradition or none, that should help them transcend feelings of sadness.
Although written from a child with a Christian world view’s perspective of death, if shared in an education setting, the book could open up a whole topic on religious rituals.