Good morning everyone!
To celebrate the release of Laura Dockrill’s new book, The Dream House, I am honoured to be on the blog tour!! Laura is popping along today to share some recommendations about grief for younger readers, and I think these will come in so handy for teachers, parents and anyone who works with children because as we all know, stories can be the perfect portal to talking to children about everything.
The Dream House
Rex has gone to stay with his godfather, Sparky. Rex doesn’t say much but that’s OK because Sparky is always on hand with a cup of tea to enjoy on the sofa, set up outside like an outdoor living room. Rex has his sketchbook, and he draws how he feels even if he doesn’t talk about it. And in Sparky’s garden, hidden under the canopy of the willow tree, is the Dream House: a lovingly created space just for Rex, to dream, to play, to think, to be. A place he’s loved all his childhood. But to go inside now Rex must summon his strength for revisiting the ghosts of his past . . .
Here are my favourite books for young readers on how to get through challenging experiences. These books are all my go-to for wisdom, reassurance, comfort and empathy. I come back to then whenever I need some hope or a hand to hold in the darkness.
Love from Alfie McPoonst, the Best Dog Ever by Dawn McNiff, illustrated by Patricia Metola (Walker Books)
This book had me in tears over a grown up meeting; it’s delicate, warm and gentle, it handles the fragility of loss so tenderly but celebrates life too. The illustrations are delightful, with characters you just want to wrap your arms around. They are so damn cute! It is comforting and offers relief and a torch in the darkness.
Duck, Death and The Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (Gecko Press)
A sophisticated little book that speaks of death so gracefully, with a twinkle in its eye. Darkly humorous, there are parts that are blunt and stoic but I think they are well placed and perfectly timed. It’s an original, slick, witty book, with an energy of its own, and I think of it often.
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake (Walker Books)
This timeless book is now rightfully a classic. It breaks the stereotypical rules of everything a children’s book should be, shattering expectations of what a reader thinks they should find within the 32 pages of a book for kids. Sad Book is not balloons and bright colours, this book is washed out, blurry, faded, muted, in drab colours, scribbly and well…sad. That said, do not think it doesn’t pack a punch, it is an experience, a total whirlwind and is doing a HUGE amount of work in letting itself exist in this scratchy, grey darkness. It is offering solace and companionship. It is giving agency and permission to the reader saying: ME TOO–I felt sad too, and that’s ok. It is allowing and encouraging a great space for healthy sadness as a lead emotion, big enough to make a whole book about it–and that is a precious lesson to learn; we don’t have to pretend to be ok. And for Rosen to generously let readers in on his own trauma is a perfect place to start in tackling the heavy stuff, he is surrendering, showing rather than telling–encouraging us to ask for help and talk. Of course, we also learn that with darkness comes light too. It’s ok to look for the little lights in life that keep us going, there is no guilt or shame in that. And of course life goes on and we do recover. And there will always be candles on the birthday cake.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay (Walker Books)
When I think of this book, this is what I see; roots of huge old trees being pulled from the earth. Claws of branches open and ripping into the heavy brown sky. Derelict buildings. Roaring winds. Smashed shards of glass. Big, scary, scratchy shadows everywhere that make you feel tiny. Monsters. And that is what it can feel like to go through something hard. Poetic. Scary. Unapologetic. Fearless. Heart-breaking and gut-wrenching. Leaning into the terror, not running or hiding. It is A LOT. And so it should be – why would we pretend to children that ‘bad’ things don’t happen? Children are far more resilient and robust than we think, they can handle the big stuff–it’s us adults that are the fragile ones! This book is one of those rare pieces of literature that you just think to yourself, thank goodness you exist, that my child, if he was scared and didn’t have me to cuddle–could have this, he could turn to that. And that is a light in itself, to turn towards the shadows and guide you through.
Where The Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (Walker Books)
A beautiful, romantic new fairytale that is majestic and elegant. Pure, true storytelling, it is captivating and enchanting, it has all the ingredients to transport a reader to a dream. It will sit with you reader, at the end of your bed, take you through, sprinkling its soft magic dust and courage. The illustrations are ridiculously beautiful too.
The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
How could I put together this list and not mention the Queen, Jacqueline Wilson? The Illustrated Mum is my favourite Wilson piece. It is raw, moving, challenging, uncomfortable. It offers a young person a mirror to see themselves inside, a hand to hold, a voice to use and an ear to confide in. There is no such thing as people that can suffer and experience mental illness/poor mental health or not–none of us are immune. This book offers visibility for anybody who has been touched by a mental illness. You are not weird. Or broken. Or a failure. or wired wrong. It remembers that in a classroom, really, not everybody is going to have two healthy, ‘normal’ parents waiting for them at home…and that is ok. Bye, bye shame!
Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers (Andersen Press)
The first grief I ever knew, the first challenge I ever met, was my parents breaking up. It was long and painful and scary and sad and confusing and overwhelming and heart-breaking and terrifying all at once. I was sad and scared for us and for my parents too–nobody had died but I felt grief–real grief–of the past and of their love. It was entering the complete unknown. What would the future look like? Who could we all turn to when we couldn’t turn to each other? Luna Loves Library Day, in a really subtle way, like a little hidden Easter egg, disguises the terror Luna is experiencing, addresses this BIG grief, which for many children can be their first loss. And so I was so grateful to see that in a picture book and see books themselves offer company, comfort and support with that very thing. Luna Loves Art does exactly the same, too. And is JUST as great. Not all families look the same–and that is a great message to celebrate.
Skellig by David Almond (Hodder Children’s Books)
Poetic, mysterious and so powerful. It gently walks beside you. It is a wise book full of secrets and magic. Like a shaken up bottle of fizzy drink waiting to have the cap screwed off–it inches and creeps up on you and YES, YOU WILL BE CRYING ON THE BUS.
A massive thanks to Laura for these incredible recommendations!
Check out The Dream House out now! Remember to check out the rest of the blog tour (details below)