Parents of elementary school children often wonder how to approach sensitive subjects such as death, divorce and street gangs. The parents may themselves be so emotionally involved that they can use some outside help.
While books won’t do the full job or replace professional counselling, they are easily accessible and can be effective in opening the door to discussion.
Most people will derive benefit from an empathetic author’s words of wisdom. And a beautifully illustrated book will hold a young child’s attention.
Such is the case with three books dealing with the subjects mentioned above. After reading these books, children will realize that others have experienced the same feelings of confusion, fear, loss and isolation that they themselves are having. The characters in the story are easy to relate to and the situations are true to life. The books are all distributed by Raincoast Books in Canada.
That Summer, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Barry Moser, tells the story of two brothers who are best friends and share mutual interests. Like other energetic school-age children, they look forward to summer vacation. They plan to fish, play ball and romp outdoors at the cottage. But things don’t happen as planned. Young readers learn about the plight of the younger brother, Joey, and how each member of his grief-stricken family copes with the child’s illness and untimely death. The story is sad but uplifting, thanks to Johnston’s poignant prose and Moser’s captivating illustrations. Parents of children under eight would be wise to read this story aloud and encourage dialogue. Older children may prefer to read the story silently, although they would also derive solace from discussing it with a parent.
The Days of Summer, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by William Low, is about two sisters distraught by the divorce of their grandparents. The older sibling tries to comfort her five-year-old sister and lend support to her mother. Although the mother maintains her composure, the older child observes subtle signs of anxiety. After reading this story, readers understand the effect divorce has on every member of the family – not just the couple separating. The split may be irrevocable, but Bunting’s characters respect the elders’ decision and adapt to the situation.
Stars in the Darkness by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, relates the trials of a boy and his mother, who depend on Richard, the eldest son and the man of the house. They fear for Richard’s life because he has been inducted into a street gang. At first, they refuse to face the family’s impending doom, but when things get rough, they devise a viable plan. The story ends on a positive note and readers learn that stars really do exist in the darkness if someone lights the way.