Teach children to embrace Life and learn about Death, with this beautiful Norwegian tale by author Elisabeth Helland Larsen and illustrator Marine Schneider.
Death is a tricky subject for any age. In children’s books it is often tackled through the death of an animal (Judith Kerr’s ‘Goodbye Mog’, is a classic tear jerking example) or through a grandparent. Although heart breaking, these cases were in some ways expected, both subjects will have lived a long and (hopefully) happy life. In the case of Mog, not long after she announces ‘I want to sleep forever’, we see her in heaven. Kerr’s afterlife is full of yellow stars and opportunities to look out for loved ones. It brings hope to the bleakness of Death.
‘Life and I. A Story about Death’, goes beyond these restrictions. We learn that Death comes to all of us and that it can take creatures and human beings at any age, at any time of day, expected or unexpected. We discover about different attitudes to death – and how most challengingly, it can visit many people all in one place and meet those who haven’t been born.
'some light candles
as they see me approach
Others close the curtain
and hope I might pass by.'
Although this feels like an adult subject – Larsen’s poetic words and Schneider’s gentle illustrations, both portray the living on every page. Shying away from Death raises the question, at what age do you tell children about something which cruelly can affect your life at anytime?
In this book we follow Death, a sweet part-personified, emerald green creature on a journey. Death first appears on a bicycle. She has a flower in her hair. The destination is pre-determined. Death has a job, a destiny. ‘Death just is.’ Instead of a vision of dark tones, lifeless bodies and skulls – we enter a pastel world of lemon yellows, cherry reds, pencil greys and bottled greens. In Death’s path we see daisies and red mushrooms. In the sky we find butterflies and birds. Death is part of our beautiful, extraordinary world – it’s hard to be frightened of it.
Along the way, Larsen cleverly answers the important question, ‘why does Death exist?’
'if I were to die,
who would make room
for new dreams and new words?'
But this book doesn’t just depict Death, it shows you Life too. Life is a dusky pink mirror image of Death. Death matches the colour of the trees – they are part of each other and they are part of all of us.
'Life and I
that starts and stops'
As well as their obvious similarities, Schneider subtly also portrays their differences – the main example is the nose. Life’s is like a heart, Death’s is upside down and concave like a skull (Schneider’s only nod to the Grim Reaper).
The most important message of this book is that we shouldn’t be afraid of either Life or Death. We should live each moment and accept that they are a part of us.
And then, as all good children’s books do, this story ends with hope.
Love transcends Death. People live on through the memories of their loved ones.
'Love does not die,
even when it meets me'
By day, Larsen also works as a clown in a children’s hospital and so sees Life, illness and Death closely. She says:
'It’s important to talk about Death and avoid the taboos around it.
If we have a more balanced relationship to Death, Life may become even stronger.'
What can be more beautiful than that?