Picturebooks can often be viewed as books which contain stories that are light hearted, contain a moral or a lesson for the younger generation to learn. Often they do not handle the more challenging subjects, and when they do it can provoke reactions and avoidance from some.
When should children start to learn about the more challenging aspects of life, and what about those children who are already dealing with difficult and traumatic experiences on a daily basis, I wonder what it would be like for them to pick up a picturebook that spoke to them, resonated with a part of their life.
Wolf Erlbruch a German author and illustrator created the book Duck, Death and the Tulip (2007) (German title: Ente, Tod und Tulpe).
The story consists of two characters, a Duck who comes to know Death, and unbeknown to the duck death has been following her all her life.
Duck and Death become friends and talk about life, death and what happens after you die. Sitting in a tree after being diving together they wonder what would happen to Duck’s lake after she dies. The book comes to a close with the death of the Duck, and Death carries her to a river, placing her gently on the water, Death takes the tulip and places it on her,”For a long time he watched her. When she was lost to sight, he was almost a little moved.”
I can imagine this is a controversial topic for a children’s books, but the way the illustrations depict the gentleness and the empathy of Death towards Duck it handles it with delicacy of Death in a beautiful way.
My work as a Art Psychotherapist working with children I witness children dealing with real challenges more than some adults do throughout there whole life.
I understand this can be hard to contemplate, so when picture books that are created tackling the harder subjects it does cause controversy, but what I pose is, whose need is it to avoid the challenging and hard subjects?
We can not rescue and protect forever, and I wonder is it better to give children an understanding through the use of a medium they know and understand, that can allow for questions to be answered with those who care for them, a healthy exploration into the difficult aspects of life.
I feel Wolf Erlbruch deals with the emotion of death in a manner which invites a conversation and give permission to talk about something which so many try to avoid, just like Duck not knowing Death had been following her all her life until she turned around.
- Danielson, J, (2013),“You can start having strange thoughts in trees”, Or, Curiously Good Books from Around the World’, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 13th October 2013 [online] Available at:Available at :http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220 [Accessed 14th November 2014]
- Erlbruch,W (2007), Duck Death and the Tulip,New Zealand, Geko Press.