The Perfect Shelter

The Perfect Shelter
Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland
Little Tiger

Clare knows how to write about areas many people find difficult, her last book being the beautiful story The Tide, featuring a loved family member with dementia.

The new book, The Perfect Shelter is also based on personal experiences, this time of cancer. It’s equally beautifully told and illustrated and it’s evident immediately that a great deal of thought and loving care has gone into its creation.

As the story starts a family shares what the little girl narrator calls ‘the perfect day’, just right for her and her older sister to build a den in the woods – the perfect shelter.

Suddenly though as the evening draws in, it’s evident that something is not right with big sister.

Back home comes the news, her sister is ill.
A storm rages but the den repairs must continue as the narrator’s beloved sibling undergoes an operation.

But then come the questions, “How did it get there? … Why MY sister?”

Eventually although the den seems beyond fixing, the narrator’s internal storm begins to abate as big sister starts to regain her strength and with it her determination: there’s a new perfect time and perfect place to build a new shelter …

And with it come smiles, new plans and that wonderful feeling of togetherness.

Although we share in the gamut of emotions of this family, it’s optimism that is key in the poignant telling and Åsa Gilland’s slightly quirky illustrations capturing the family sharing a difficult time are superbly expressive of all the uncertainty inherent in Claire’s story. I love the way she adds gorgeous tiny detail and patterning to every scene.

That there is no mention of any specific illness makes this a book that will help untie the knot of emotions in many families when one of their number (Or indeed a close friend) is diagnosed with a serious illness.

The Tide

The Tide
Clare Helen Welsh and Ashling Lindsay
Little Tiger

What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story Clare Helen Welsh’s little girl narrator tells as she talks of her beloved Grandad. ‘Mummy says that Grandad loves me very much but that sometimes he gets confused.’

We then spend a day with the family at the beach – the child, her mum and Grandpa set up camp and as Mum watches, child and Grandad build sand castles and forts, crown themselves ‘king and queen of net and shells’. They all share a picnic (Grandad gets confused and buries the sandwiches) and then they go rock pooling (Grandad and granddaughter) and watch the movement of the tide as it comes in.

Mum likens Grandad’s memories to the tide – ‘sometimes near and close and full of life. Other times, far away and distant.’

Their musings are broken by voices and the family proceed together to buy ice-creams and again child and grandfather watch the tide

before becoming ankle deep in sea-water.

All too soon it’s time to go home but first they must shake away and wash off the sand and salty water.

Then it’s back home to talk lovingly together about their shared day.

The likening of Grandad’s memory to the ebb and flow of the tide is both moving and enormously powerful: Clare has chosen the perfect figurative language to help children to begin to understand dementia and be at ease with the subject. And, I can think of no better illustrator than Ashling Lindsay whose work I’ve loved since seeing her very first picture book. Her warm colour palette here is just gorgeous, radiating the unconditional love that so clearly exists between family members, especially child and Grandad.

A must have for family collections and for primary schools to share and talk about together.