Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever

Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever
Dawn McNiff and Patricia Metola
Walker Books

This is a totally adorable book despite the sadness of its themes – coping with death and finding a way to express loss. The death is of the beloved pet dog Alfie, now in Dog Heaven.

From there, on ‘The Nicest Cloud’ to be precise, he sends little Izzy letters in the post. This location so he says is ‘BRILLIANT’ – with lots of parks, a surfeit of sticks and dog treats by the million. Moreover scaring wolves and chasing postmen are allowed; there’s a distinct lack of bullying moggies, no need for baths and Alfie can show off his special trick to a highly appreciative, exclusively canine, audience. He can even indulge his taste for cowpats.

Of course Alfie misses all the tickles and huggles from his little human but there are compensatory snuggles with his ‘dog-mum’.

When Izzy reads of the dog fluff Alfie has left behind, she collects it up and puts it into a special ‘I’ll never forget you’ locket, and writes to tell him about it too.

In this way, the little child is helped to grieve and come to terms with her loss.

The author, Dawn McNiff was a bereavement counsellor before becoming a writer and this thoughtfully created story is a real heartstrings tugger that will help young children through the grieving process.

Equally moving are Patricia Metola’s slightly quirky illustrations that show both the human world and Dog Heaven.

Waiting for Wolf

Waiting for Wolf
Sandra Dieckmann
Hodder Children’s

Have a box of tissues at the ready when you read this new Sandra Dieckmann picture book.

Good friends Fox and Wolf pass their time happily by the lake, talking, laughing and sometimes taking a dip.

One day as they sit together, Wolf entreats his friend “promise you’ll always remember this perfect day.”

As night falls, Wolf tenderly embraces Fox telling him quietly, “Tomorrow I will be starlight.” Content, but unsure what he means, Fox lets it be.

The following morning she goes out in the hope of finding her friend sparkling like a star but of Wolf there is no sign.

That evening Fox goes to their favourite lakeside place, still waiting and hoping to see Wolf. Could he be up in the sky, wonders Fox as she gazes at the twinkling stars.

She decides to climb up the mountain towards the brightest star in the firmament and on reaching the top calls out her friend’s name but all around is silence.

Reaching up Fox takes hold of the blanket of stars and enfolds herself within. Once more, in a soft whisper now, she asks, “Wolf are you there?”

Now deep inside knowing that her friend has gone, she lets her tears flow;

but then she sees something amazing in the darkness and she recalls Wolf’s words on their final day together. Back comes a stream of happy memories and as Fox replaces the star blanket, a feeling of peace takes its place, and with it an understanding of her friend’s talk of starlight.

Sandra Diekmann’s deeply affecting story of love and loss is stunningly illustrated. With exquisite details of the flora and fauna, every spread is breath-takingly beautiful. The sight of Fox enveloping herself in the starry blanket left me with a lump in my throat; her sense of loss is truly palpable.

What better book than this to open discussion about bereavement and coming to terms with it?

Rabbit and the Motorbike

Rabbit and the Motorbike
Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby
Chronicle Books

Rabbit lives in a field and dreams of leaving his safe haven one day, but this home-lover gets his adventures vicariously thanks to his friend Dog, an erstwhile motorcycle enthusiast who has spent much of his life riding his cycle all over the countryside.

One day though, Dog is gone and with it Rabbit’s daily adventure.

Dog has bequeathed his vehicle to his friend and it lies for many days abandoned in the field.

Then one night Rabbit decides to bring the bike inside and in the absence of a story, they listen to the sounds of the highway.

Summer comes bringing with it not only new blooms but also for rabbit, a newfound courage that allows him to admit to his fears and to suggest to the bike, “Just down the road.” But as we know, and Rabbit discovers, roads have a way of going on and on and …

It’s an independent, greatly enriched Rabbit that eventually returns to his field, with his head full of memories and stories, ready for new friends and with a feel for the pull of the open road.

Lyrically told by Kate Hoefler and gorgeously illustrated in pastels and watercolour by Sarah Jacoby, whose delicate scenes bring out Rabbit’s changing emotions while also capturing the power of the profound silences surrounding his loss, and the contrasting roar of the bike when he finally takes to the road.

An exhilarating tale of friendship, loss and finding the courage to step outside your comfort zone.

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 Immortal Jellyfish

The Immortal Jellyfish
Sang Miao
Flying Eye Books

‘A boy and his grandpa sat drawing one afternoon.’ So begins Sang Miao’s first book as both author and illustrator in which at the start we see the two together as they share a conversation about a special kind of jellyfish and immortality.

Not long after, the boy learns that his beloved grandfather has died and that night he feels lost.

In a dream his grandfather returns and takes him along on his very last journey, beneath the ocean to a yellow door.

Beyond the door is his destination, The Life Transfer City.

This dream world is a place where those who have died choose a spirit creature to become that will live on in memory. There, after meeting some of the other choosers, boy and old man must part company.

Miao’s dream world is alive with spirit animals and strange-looking fungi illustrated in an arresting colour palette giving a surreal feel to the whole place, a place wherein the end of life offers a new beginning as something or someone altogether different.

Whether or not reincarnation fits into your worldview, with its themes of death and rebirth, this is a powerful, uplifting story, told with the utmost sensitivity that should be of great help to grieving children and their families.

No Longer Alone

No Longer Alone
Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Egmont

My heart really went out to the so-called shy, quiet little girl narrator of this beautiful story.
Actually however, those who’ve called her either of these are wrong; it’s just that due to events that have gone before she just doesn’t feel like talking or being noisy.

Nor does she feel like running around in the park with her siblings;

instead she wants to be alone, even though her loving, understanding Dad encourages her to try and find the “old you, the get-up-and-go you. The loud –and-active you, the happy you, the you, you used to be,”

Dad’s comments open the floodgates  for an outpouring of feelings as his little daughter opens up about the things that worry her, upset her and make her feel alone.

As the two sit together something shifts inside our narrator and things begin to feel a bit different.

Then slowly, slowly she finds that she can be that chatty self with others as well as when she’s alone; and she can play with her sisters again, sharing feelings and imaginings, alone no more.

Joseph’s beautiful heartfelt, poetic telling is full of poignancy and Robyn Wilson-Owen captures the inherent turmoil and tenderness in the tale with her beautifully textured illustrations of a family whose loss is palpable.