No, today’s book is not some kind of shock reflection on how Daddy has let himself go since his glory days. Neither is it a jolly, “Weekend at Bernie’s” type romp. It is, in fact, a pretty darn solid attempt at providing a bit of information, at an age-appropriate level, on what happens to you humans after you die. In a biological, physiological sense, that is. What Happened to Daddy’s Body? by Elke and Alex Barber is actually of surprisingly high quality given the fraught content. We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley, drawn in, of course, by that appalling yet intriguing title. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
My daddy died when I was (one…two…) three years old. Today we are out in the garden. It always makes me think about my daddy because he LOVED his garden. Sometimes, I wonder what happened to my daddy’s body…
This picture book aims to help children aged 3+ to understand what happens to the body after someone has died. Through telling the true story of what happened to his daddy’s body, we follow Alex as he learns about cremation, burial and spreading ashes. Full of questions written in Alex’s own words, and with the gentle, sensitive and honest answers of his mother, this story will reassure any young child who might be confused about death and what happens afterwards. It also reiterates the message that when you have experienced the loss of a loved one, it is okay to be sad, but it is okay to be happy, too.
If you’ve ever come across (or birthed) a child who is inquisitive about topics around which there are a dearth of helpful information books, then today is your lucky day. This is the first picture book I have ever come across that details the various (Western) burial practices in child-appropriate context, but I can safely say I reckon it’s probably the best. Far from being a morbid, creepy investigation into decomposition, the book sensitively addresses the perfectly natural question of what happens to the body of that person that we loved and has now disappeared from sight through death.
The water-colour-style illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and really add a sense of warmth and growth to the proceedings, with a subtle subtext of nature appearing in many of the images. The text itself is quite conversational, as mother and children chat back and forth about their memories of the father’s funeral and what went on. As well as explicitly discussing things like cremation and burial, the book also touches on the grieving process and how each person involved can be made comfortable by having a share in discussions about creating memories and milestones.
I got the feeling while reading this that it might actually make a far more useful teaching tool if presented just as a general reading book, rather than a specifically grief-linked reader. There is plenty of information in here that is interesting, thought-provoking and just pretty useful to know, whether or not a child has had a recent experience of grief. It would certainly make a unique addition to any classroom unit focusing on natural processes, or diverse family contexts.
Overall, I am heartily impressed with this picture book, although a title change might be an idea, if only to stop people from silently asking “WTF?” on first coming across it.
Until next time,