This is a guest review by Uma Girish who is a grief guide and an award winning author. Visit her website to learn more.
ABOUT THE BOOK – My Father’s Arms Are a Boat
Author: Stein Erik Lunde
Illustrator: Oyvind Torseter
Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
Published by: Enchanted Lion Books, NY (American edition)
Released: 2008 – English Edition 2012
Ages: 5 +
From the Publisher: Originally published in Norwegian by Det Norske Samlaget in 2008, the first American edition was published in 2012 by Enchanted Lion Books, Brooklyn, NY.
Description: A charming book that attempts to simplify the terrifying territory of loss and grief to a child who struggles when someone they are attached to dies.
My Experience: How do you explain death to a child? Unfortunately, this is a dilemma many parents have to deal with when a child’s grandparent, parent, sibling, or friend dies. Fortunately, we can draw from sensitively told stories that soften the blow, open the doors to difficult questions, and end on a note of hope.
My Father’s Arms Are A Boat is one such book.
A young boy, unable to sleep on a bleak wintry night, climbs into his father’s lap. Ensconced in his haven of safety, he starts a conversation. The opening lines of the book capture the loneliness in the scene as experienced by the father.
“My father isn’t listening to the radio. He’s sitting in the living room, where the only sound is the cracking of the fire.”
An undercurrent of loss weaves through the minimalist conversational exchange between father and son. “Tomorrow, we’ll chop down the big spruce”, “What if the fox eats the birds’ breakfast?”, “Granny says the red birds are dead people.” And the final reference to Mommy when the boy asks if she’ll never wake up again and the father answers, “No, not where she is now.”
In their little universe, the boy and his father bound together by loss, take care of each other. The sweet ache of impermanence is everywhere—in the bare trees, the bread the fox steals, and the spruce that will be chopped down when morning comes, even the shooting star in the sky that vanishes as suddenly as it appears.
For children as young as the protagonist in the book, grief is a flitting experience. With the gift of being able to live fully in the present moment, children express and experience sadness in moments—then move on to the next thing.
This is well captured in the book. One moment the boy wants to know if Mommy will ever wake up again, and when his father responds in the negative, the boy asks, “Shall we go out and look at the stars?
The boy and his father return to the warmth of the house, back from the cold outdoors. As the boy snuggles in his father’s safe arms, we hear the father reassure his son with the timeless words: “Everything will be all right.”
Somehow, hope must and will carry us beyond the winter of grief to a time of sunshine. It is the eternal cycle of life and death we are all subject to—and the young boy receives those words like a talisman.
Quiet, sad, and pregnant with feeling, this sweet story captures the themes of love and loss in a simple, spare manner. Torseter’s cut-out illustrations used primarily in tones of black, gray and white with a sudden and unexpected splash of color are so illustrative of the experience of grief and loss.
Why/How Use it with kids: Read the story. Invite questions. Talk about “feeling” words. Examples could be “How do you feel when your friend doesn’t want to play with you?” Explore the meaning of loss, and relate to losses big and small. For example, the loss of privileges when you behave in inappropriate ways, the loss that comes from moving away from a known neighborhood and friends, the loss that we face through the death of a loved one.
Uma Girish is a Grief Guide and Award-Winning Author who helps women grieving a life transition transform the pain of loss into purpose. Uma also co-founded the International Grief Council in 2014, the mission of which is to create safe spaces for conversations around death and dying. Visit her at www.umagirish.com to learn more about her books, eCourses, blog, and podcast both named The Grammar of Grief.
Amazon: LOSING AMMA, FINDING HOME