It’s back to school season and with Halloween around the corner what a better time to start your young ‘uns curriculum off with a whimsical introduction to that pesky topic of what happens to Fido or Grandpa when they die! (You’re never too young to ponder the mystery of existence, I say.)
The Death Book (2002 translation) written and illustrated by Swedish author Pernilla Stalfelt sounds like it belongs on my shelf between Corpse and Forensic Fingerprints but it’s actually a charming book intended for kiddies.
With quirky and engaging illustrations Stalfelt explores a series of possibilities and rituals (with touches of different cultures and histories) surrounding death and dying. “In the old days you could be buried in a boat instead of a coffin.” An interview with a German publisher confirmed that her intention was to provoke an open dialog between an adult and child rather than give firm answers. “Maybe there are mailboxes in the Kingdom of Death?”Maybe?!
The Death Book was received with great acclaim in various European countries – another example of cultural differences (see the Swedish factsheet on children’s culture) across the pond. Us North Americans do everything we can to avoid any serious contemplation on the topic of our own demise, especially with children. So, not surprisingly, here in Canada I found the title discounted on a remainder table at a book chain.
In some ways the book reminded me of the slim propaganda volume handed to me around the age of ten illustrating how “wonderful it is to be a woman!”(You know the booklets I’m talking about.) Pencil crayon flowers and hearts did little to distract me from the horror of finding out what was going to happen every month however. (Egads!) In comparison, The Death Book to me seems like a much less shocking book to receive as a child. It might be danced around with hushed tones as well but at least the topic of death is a much more egalitarian event!
So, Sparky looking a bit long in the tooth? Great Aunt Matilda sporting a chronic cough? Might be time to gift wrap The Death Book for little Johnny…