Tibble and Grandpa

Tibble and Grandpa
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford Children’s Book

The relationship between a child and a grandparent is often very special and uncomplicated, and so it is here.

Tibble’s Grandpa is grieving. He seems to be always in the garden: Mum explains that what he needs is time.

Full of loving concern, Tibble wants the old Grandpa back: he barely recognises this silent, withdrawn person. Little by little he gets Grandpa to open up as they spend time together talking of favourite things.

Next morning Grandpa actually seeks out Tibble’s company and they spend the day doing the boy’s favourite things – his ‘Top Three Days Out’ all in one.

That evening they get out the telescope Granny had given to Tibble and they watch the stars together. Tibble opens up a discussion about favourite (Top Three) Grannies, ‘Mine are granny who is dead. Granny Agnes who lives on top of the shoe shop. And the Granny in Little Red Riding Hood,’ he says and this acts as a release for Grandpa.

Wendy Meddour has created an enormously affecting tale of loss, grief and love. Her repeated use of ‘Top Threes’ throughout the narrative is genius, injecting just the right degree of gentle humour into her telling.

Daniel Egnéus reflects so well both the humour and poignancy of the story in his outstanding mixed media illustrations making you feel as though you want to hug both Tibble and Grandpa.

Yes it’s a book about coping with the death of a loved one but it’s also an outstandingly beautiful story about intergenerational love and its power to heal.

Mum’s Jumper

Mum’s Jumper
Jayde Perkin
Book Island

This is a book that explores the nature of grief.

A mother dies but for the child narrator and her dad, life must go on.
Her mother’s absence feels like a dark cloud that is always hovering close by, and makes concentration at school difficult. No matter how kind other people are, the overwhelming feeling is of being alone, angry even, at times.

Her father explains that the constant ache she feels is the way grief engulfs a person who has lost someone very dear to them; he too feels it.

While sorting out her mother’s belongings the girl comes upon a much-loved jumper. Along with her father’s words of solace, it’s adopting that snuggly warm garment that helps her begin to find a way through those dark days.

Grief, Dad says, ‘is like Mum’s jumper. The jumper stays the same size, but I will eventually grow into it.’

After some time, her world does enlarge around her grief and she feels able to put her treasured possession out of sight, safe in the knowledge that it, like her mother, will always be there; for she’s a part of everything and everywhere, and most important she’s there inside forever.

Grief is a very personal thing and Jayde Perkins’ illustrations for this book are heartfelt. (Her own mother died of cancer) and here she puts into her art (and words) some of the feelings that a young grieving child might have.

I’d like to see this ultimately uplifting book in every primary classroom; and I’d definitely offer it to anybody who has, or knows, a young child coping with the loss of a parent or close family member.

The Afterwards

The Afterwards
A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Let me say at the outset, this is a remarkable book; intensely moving and quite unlike anything else, even the author’s previous stories, The Imaginary and The Song From Somewhere Else.

The story starts with best friends Ember and Ness who are pretty much inseparable but then comes an announcement in school assembly. There’s been an accident in the park and one of the pupils has died; it’s Ness.

For Ember, the world is unimaginable without her bestest buddy. Then, through another grieving person, she becomes aware of a strange grey afterworld and there she finds Ness again. Can she bring her back? That is Ember’s plan but should she fail, it seems she too will have to remain in that eerie place, leaving behind her Dad and Penny, his partner.

The push and pull between the two worlds presents Ember with a dilemma that is unbearable, especially when she discovers that Ness is not the only one of those she loves in the netherworld.

I’ll say no more about the story itself except that I urge you to read it.

A.F. Harrold’s writing is totally gripping, dark, profound, occasionally scary, and suffused with grief; but it’s also full of love and tenderness, and there’s hope too. There’s also a cat that keeps putting in an appearance. Does that sound a little familiar?

Emily Gravett’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations provide the perfect complement to the text, making one’s reading experience of The Afterwards feel like a seamless whole.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha
Aaron Becker
Walker Books

I could just write a single word in response to this story– awesome – but that wouldn’t help those who have yet to encounter Aaron Becker’s new wordless picture book. Nor would it do justice to his remarkable lyrical endeavour.
My initial reading called to mind two poems of T.S. Eliot, the first being the opening line of East Coker: ‘In my beginning is my end.

In Becker’s beginning we see a girl collecting flowers and discover they’re an offering for her beloved dog, Sascha’s grave.

The family – mother father, daughter and son – then leave home for a seaside camping holiday.
As night begins to fall the girl heads to the water’s edge and we see her standing beneath a starry sky about to throw a smooth stone.

Thereafter, time shifts and what follows are spreads of a meteor hurtling earthwards to become embedded in the ocean floor and we witness the evolution of our planet as the stone works its way upwards and out, as life transitions from water to land, dinosaurs roam and then give way to early mammalian forms.

Having broken the surface as an enormous protrusion, the stone is quarried and transported to a huge ancient royal edifice where it’s carved into an obelisk.

Wars, looting, fragmentation and remodelling occur as the stone moves through history becoming part of first a religious monument, then a bridge; is fashioned into a fantastical dragon and placed in an ornate carved chest; taken to an island and installed in a chieftain’s dwelling, stolen,

lost at sea and eventually, having moved through eons of time, is polished smooth and carried by the waves to the shore where stands the girl who finds it.

Now, as she presses the stone to her cheek she appears to have made peace with the situation and perhaps, her loss and grief.

The stone’s final resting place – as far as this story goes – is atop Sascha’s gravestone.
(You can also trace the whole journey through the timeline maps that form the endpapers.)

Becker’s layered pastel spreads – digitally worked I think – have in the present time, a near photographic, quality. The scenes of bygone eras where the degree of sfumato intensifies are, in contrast imbued with a dreamlike quality, being as Leonardo da Vinci said of the technique he too employed, ‘ without lines or borders’.

This intensely moving, unforgettable, multi-layered, circular tale is open to countless interpretations and reinterpretations depending on what we bring to the book, at any particular time. Assuredly, it makes this reviewer think about our own place in the cosmos and our connection to past and future, for to return once more to T.S. Eliot:
Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.’
Burnt Norton

It’s Raining and I’m Okay / Remembering Lucy

It’s Raining and I’m Okay
Adele Devine and Quentin Devine
Jessica Kingsley Publishing

Children with autism frequently show distress when unexpected changes are made to their routines. Now here’s a little book with bold, uncluttered illustrations to help such youngsters feel less anxious particularly when out and about.
The text takes the form of a little girl’s first person rhyming narrative wherein she tells how she uses focused breathing and other techniques to help her through such experiences as waiting in a long queue, going into a crowded café with challenges including spilling her drink and worrying about the consequences, an over-chatty adult and a noisy hand-dryer.

At the back of the book are details of additional resources that can be downloaded to further support emotional literacy.
Particularly useful with ASD children; but the focused breathing technique is helpful for all anxiety-prone youngsters.

Remembering Lucy
Sarah Helton and Anna Novy
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Coping with the death of a classmate is extremely difficult whether or not a child has special needs, but often children attending a SEND school find a bereavement can be confusing and sometimes, overwhelming.
In this story young Joe talks about his particular school and friends; and in particular the death of his friend Lucy: what it meant for him and his classmates and how he coped.
Remembering is his key, for Joe tells how photographs and talking help him bring to mind the good times especially; times shared in messy painting or dressing up for instance. ‘As time goes by’ he says, ‘you will be able to think of the fun and happy times … rather than just feeling sad they are no longer there. … remembering her makes me smile.

The final seven pages are a user’s guide aimed at adults and contain lots of helpful suggestions for what to do whilst reading the book and afterwards, not only immediately afterwards but in the longer term for as the authors remind us ‘… supporting children with loss and grief isn’t a one-off event… children will re-grieve at different points in their lives … Our support needs to be ongoing.’
A down-to-earth, sensitively written and illustrated book to have on the shelves of any school where there are SEND pupils.

A New Day / Robin and the White Rabbit

Here are two recently published books from Jessica Kingsley Publishers that will be of particular interest to those working with children or young adults who have additional needs:

A New Day
Fiona McDonald
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Talking about losing a loved one can be difficult: this little book offers a good starting point for opening up a discussion for young children and those with PMLD.
Following the death of Grey Mouse, Brown Mouse feels so sad she stays in bed. The other mice try to help, bringing tea and cake, a story …

and a comforting blanket but Brown Mouse says no to them all: she just wants to sleep – all day. Come evening though, she wakes up and joins the other mice in the kitchen.
There they all share their memories of their beloved Grey Mouse and thereafter, things begin to look just a little brighter.
Simply told and illustrated with line drawings, this could be a useful resource for adults looking for something to use with those needing help in coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

Robin and the White Rabbit
Emma Lindström and Åse Brunnström
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Children with autism have powerful feelings but often can’t find a way to express how they feel. Now here’s a book that offers those who work with ASD youngsters a means of helping them.
Many of those who work with ASD children will be familiar with the use of pictorial symbols to facilitate communication but this picture book deals specifically with helping youngsters understand and express their feelings.
The story centres on young Robin, who acts as narrator, and a white rabbit. It’s playtime and Robin sits alone in the playground under a tree. Her head is buzzing with feelings but she has no way to express them. Her sadness is palpable.

Enter a white rabbit who sees the child, disappears and returns with a blue bag full of picture cards.
Using these, the animal offers the girl or boy (it matters not) a way to access her feelings: a means of self-discovery through visual communication via the pictures on the cards:

a way that ultimately allows the narrator to begin to feel part of the group.
Emma Lindström and Åse Brunnström offer a very useful and empowering tool that can be used in school or at home; there’s no judgement involved; and the final explanatory pages speak directly to the listener (via Robin) and the reader aloud (via the book’s creators, Emma and Åse).