Last week we explored Aimée de Jongh’s graphic novel that, among other things, grapples with the untimely death of a childhood friend. Certainly, Return of the Honey Buzzard is not for the under-14 set, but the review did prompt some readers to ask whether any new picture books for young children deal with death without being trite or too complex.
While Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) is a time-tested classic, a new picture book attempts a more didactic approach, and it works. Life and I: A Story About Death by Norwegian author Elisabeth Helland Larsen introduces a rosy-cheeked girl named Death who rides her pink bicycle en route to all living creatures. Young, old, animals, plants, even the unborn and the reluctant eventually meet her. Though the thought of Death’s arrival may seem frightening, Larsen makes sense of the inevitable: “If I were to disappear, who would make way for all yet to be born,” Death wonders. (Rosie Hedger’s seamless translation from the Norwegian is a tour de force.) Life, Death’s sister, also appears in the book, making the case that one cannot exist without the other.
Families in mourning will find Life and I quietly reassuring when trying to explain why living beings expire. Marine Schneider’s pencil illustrations are delicate yet surprisingly firm–Death may be imagined as a little girl, but she is unwavering.
(Originally published by Magikon Forlag as Jeg er Døden .)
Life and I: A Story About Death, by Elisabeth Helland Larsen, illustrated by Marine Schneider, translated by Rosie Hedger; Little Gestalten, $19.95, 48 pages, ages 4 +.