About the Book: Death is Stupid *
Author/Illustrator: Anastasia Higginbotham
Publication Date: 2016
Series: Ordinary Terrible Things
Order from Chapters/Indigo, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com*
From the Publisher:
She’s in a better place now,” adults say again and again. But mortality doesn’t seem better, it seems stupid. This forthright exploration of grief and mourning recognizes the anger, confusion, and fear that we feel about death. Necessary, beautiful, and ultimately reassuring, Death Is Stupid is an invaluable tool for discussing death, but also the possibilities for celebrating life and love.
The Ordinary Terrible Things Series shows children who navigate trouble with their senses on alert and their souls intact. In these stories of common childhood crises, help may come from family, counselors, teachers, or dreams–but crucially, it’s the children themselves who find their way to cope and grow.
Death is Stupid is written about a child who has lost his/her grandma. The author/illustrator has used the medium of collage to give the book a handmade look. All text is handwritten and the illustrations include many everyday objects and photographs that are a reminder of the child’s grandma. The author touches on many of the stages of the grief process, including anger and bargaining. The book acknowledges the cliché comforts people sometimes throw around after a death, and confronts the lie of ‘this was my fault’ that children so easily believe. It gives children permission to be honest about their feelings, and it also gives them the freedom to use their own voices to talk about their feelings and stand up for what they believe. The author is sensitive to the fact that readers will come from a variety of faith backgrounds and beliefs about death. The book ends with a selection of hands-on activities and suggestions for keeping the memory of a loved one alive.
My Experience: We really enjoyed this book. We are currently in our own grief journey – my mom is in the palliative stage of brain cancer. Even though she hasn’t died yet, I decided to read this book with the kids because we are trying to keep the discussion open about the fact that she will likely not live too much longer, and because we have already lost so much of who she used to be. One night at bedtime, I was having a conversation with my daughter about Grandma and how it seems that we may not have much time left with her. At one point, she said (through tears), “I guess death really is stupid.” I appreciate that this book gave her the vocabulary and confidence to put words to her angry feelings about the whole thing. At one point in the book, the child is encouraged to imagine a conversation with the loved one who has passed away. The grandma tells the child that death is stupid and they giggle together. When we read that part, I told the kids that their grandma would definitely have said something like that too! It’s a lighthearted moment in the midst of such heavy material. One of the things I liked most about this book was the acknowledgement that it may be scary for kids to see the emotions of the adults around them. It has given me a point of reference for days when I’m struggling to hold myself together. I also really like how the child is given permission to be honest about his/her own feelings and thoughts about the process. The adults in the book are sometimes portrayed as dismissive and unaware of what the child is going through, but I think this is very realistic. It can be extremely difficult to help our children navigate something that we are struggling with ourselves. This book acknowledges that and also shows the adults coming alongside the child and dealing constructively with their grief.
- Children are given permission and freedom to be honest about their experience of losing a loved one.
- Voices that dismiss their experience, lie to them about the reality of death, or try to rush them through the grieving process are confronted in a helpful way.
- The author acknowledges that people hold many different beliefs about death and encourages the child to go to sources they trust to find out what they believe. This can be a great discussion opener for parents to share their beliefs with their children.
- The book contains many helpful activities for keeping the memory of a loved one alive. Even if none of the examples pertain to your child’s loved one, you can always discuss what made your loved one unique and how you could best remember them.
- The only thing that didn’t sit right with me was the suggestion in one of the activities that ‘names are magical’ and ‘they are like spells.’ While it can certainly be comforting to keep a loved one’s name close and visible, I don’t agree with the suggestion that there is magical power there. However, this is one small negative thing (mostly related to my own beliefs) in a book that is truly excellent!
Why/How use it with kids: I see many great reasons to use this book with kids! As mentioned, the suggested activities are great ways to help kids process their loss. They are given some practical ideas for ways to keep the memory of their loved one alive. Readers are encouraged to “Wear what they wore. Play what they played. Read what they read. Make what they made. Treasure what was dear to them.” I also love how this book acknowledges the child’s emotional reality and gives them permission to give voice to their feelings. Giving voice is crucial to a child’s ability to process big feelings. It is also essential that an emotionally attuned caregiver is present and able to hear what the child is saying and validate their experience! Another really neat way to use this book comes from the author’s own experience. At the end of the book, we read “Anastasia has been making books by hand her whole life as a way to cope with change and grow. YOU CAN TOO!” It would be a very meaningful experience to incorporate the medium of collage in a memory book of your loved one. Children could collect buttons, fabric pieces, notes, cards, pictures, drawings, etc. that remind them of their loved one and create their own memory book. Their own thoughts and feelings and memories could be recorded as part of the book. I think that would have great therapeutic value!
Kolbie’s (10 yrs old) review:
I would recommend this book for any age. I think the book is very good for any time because kids might get sad before and after they experience this. The book is sad in parts and happy in parts. This book is good for telling your feelings. I identify with the character because my grandma is sick.