Loss and grief are big, difficult subjects to tackle with children. Where do you even begin?
This simply stunning book, in both word and illustration, tackles the subjects head on with realism and sensitivity. On first read, it completely blew me away. I cried and I smiled. I didn’t just READ the story, I most definitely FELT the story.
We join the family as dad is sharing his enthusiasm for his new pond. This true family situation is written simply but precisely so you can ‘hear’ the conversation. You are instantly there, with the family.
“Wait till you see the water lilies!”
And the illustrations- wow! Such gorgeous details, you can pore over this page alone for hours! The creatures of the pond, swim around delicate portraits of the family.
And then it happens!
As in real life, dark and brutal, like the rug ripped from beneath your world, death arrives. Cathy’s illustrations at this point are wonderfully powerful. With such a limited pallete she precisely conveys the sharpness and abruptness of that dark place, of loss, of death.
Then a change. A duck! With it, it brings hope. I love the spontaneity of the boy at this moment, the trueness in his childishness. Nicola’s words show how at those moments we can hear again a loved one, in sharing something of them, that they’d’ve loved. The chaos of the splash in the illustration fits the moment perfectly.
Yet mum isn’t ready for this moment of hope, this step of healing. The words and pictures bravely show the real, raw anger she is going through. I admire the true depiction here, not brushing over the difficulty of grief and its many forms. Then we see our boy snap into a ball of despair, Nicola and Cathy tackling head on the issue of blame. It’s a haunting image, a real pause moment to think and reflect. This openness could support a grieving child understand it’s ok to feel anger at your lost loved one.
Soon in the book comes my favourite illustration. The goggles! I adore it! In the pond, under the rubbish, they find life: as in their lives, under their grief, they find a future. Nicola and Cathy show so well how nature, admiring it, exploring it and nurturing it, can breath life back into the most broken of hearts. A strong message. We see mum sharing in the childishness with her boys and you can feel a twinkle, a glimmer of hope touching her heart.
I said the goggles were my favourite but I do love the noticeboard illustration, too! So much to discover and consider and discuss. This may well be an inspired idea for a grieving family who read the book together.
As the story ends, and you wish the family well on their next steps, you’ll smile with them. This book is a journey of one family’s grief and a pond that helped them through. It speaks of hope and the restorative power of enjoying nature. I can see that this book will help many through what is the most dreadful of times. It doesn’t skirt around the reality of grief but deals with it sensitively.
I would use this book with the same tenderness, sensitivity and patience that Nicola and Cathy have created it with. It isn’t a book to share with a whole class. For me, I’d use it in smaller groups with KS2 pupils, as long as you’re sensitive to any recent bereavement. It could be used one to one with a grieving child but this heavily relies upon your professional judgement. It could be a book you recommend to a grieving family.
The Pond by Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher, £11.99, will be published on 15th May 2017