Almost every child I’ve worked closely with asks me about death. People think children are shielded from thoughts about how life ends, but in my experience, they aren’t . If they haven’t yet dealt with the loss of a pet or a grandparent, they’ve seen death on t.v. It’s a great source of anxiety for them, just as it is for adults.
I mentor children that have been in the foster care system, so they’ve seen their share of loss. I live in a community where elders help support families who adopt children out of the foster care system. (See this link to Bridgemeadows.org) We have “elders” who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and one who is in her 90s. The children can see we are growing old, and, and as much as we’d like to try to provide them with a sense of permanence, they know that we aren’t going to live forever.
I mentor children in the arts. We read and write stories, we do art work, and we play. These are all excellent channels for opening dialogue. I always try to take any of their worries seriously and not give them some sweet but thoughtless answer. I show them my pictures of my mom and brother who are no longer alive, but are with me in my heart, and in that hard to define place we call heaven.
I’m so glad now to find the picture book Little Bell and the Moon, by Giles Paley-Phillips, illustrated by Iris Deppe, Fat Fox Books, 2015, a gentle poetic story about how we journey through a life that has an end.
Little Bell befriends the moon, it tells her stories, then she follows it on adventures as she grows. Written in poetry, it’s a soothing meditation on life –
They travelled far across the seas,
To places cold, where things can freeze,
And forests where huge cedar trees
Like to waltz the passing breeze.
The story emphasizes adventure and dreams, for dreams are how we live through childhood, adulthood, parenthood and old age.
Death itself is a part of life. Regardless of what your spiritual beliefs are, there’s a cycle to life. We are returned to our elements and we remain in the hearts of those we traveled with. In this story, Bell turns into a star, and gives us a new way of imagining how our lives will shine on.
The book is beautifully illustrated, with deep, rich colors and wonderful details of all the different types of animals and environments on Earth. One of the girls I read it to described Bell’s moon as “fluffy, like a big person you like to hug.” There are two page spreads throughout the book. The night time colors create a gentle, restful world. Dreams of flying off with the moon come to life. I love the contrast between Bell’s room as a girl and as an elder — you see the richness of her life in the details of her room.
And as the Moon shone down on Bell
Into a sleep she fell.
A darkness came across the Moon,
As Bell’s soul drifted from her room.
I’ve read it to 3 children now, and all of them have requested to hear it again when they’ve returned for another session. I’m glad to reread it, not only because it opens up a dialogue with them, but it reminds me of how much I miss friends and family who have died. It’s sad but good feeling. We all face death with confusion and sorrow. It’s good to have stories that create a container to for us to put those emotions and help us fly with them.
Giles Paley-Phillips books include The Fearsome Beastie, Tamara Small and the Monsters’ Ball, The Things You Never Knew About Dinosaurs, Princess Stay Awake and There’s a Lion in My Bathroom (proceeds of which go to Leukemia research.
Fat Fox is a new independent publisher based in England. I love their mission statement:
We published our first beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated children’s picture books and fiction in 2014 and our growing list just keeps getting better.
Any child from anywhere, regardless of their background, should be given the opportunity to be enthralled by stories. Reading is the most exciting tool we possess, and stories create magic in the world around us. Fat Fox wants to bring the most inspiring, funny and dazzling books to a whole world of young readers and listeners and to install a lifelong love for reading.