Sunday, February 1, 2009

Children's Book Review: The Dead Bird

The Dead Bird is a story in which four friends find a dead bird, bury it, conduct a service, and go back to playing. I checked it out from the library when we took Wyatt on Saturday. With the exception of Grimm's and traditionals like "The Worms Crawl In" rarely do words aimed at children attempt to breach the topic of death. I've had an idea for a kid's book about death. Here it is: a kid has a goldfish. Goldfish dies. They create a ritual for flushing the goldfish down the toilet. The child's grandmother dies. The child expects that she will be flushed down the toilet. Awkward final picture.

Very sensitive, I know.

This story is by Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, and it's sensitive in a way my idea is not.

It was stocked with the baby books in the library. There's no suggested age on my copy. But I'm conflicted. Part of me thinks this is a really gorgeous book, but there's another part of me that remembers something the bad guy says in The Crow: "Childhood is over the moment you realize you're going to die." I'm not sure it's so simple. Like, who's to say the Grim Reaper couldn't take a seat next to the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus? I mean, shouldn't we use all available resources to try and come to our own terms with the mystery of life? Isn't that one of the goals of literature?

I applaud The Dead Bird, but don't think it's a bedtime story... like the one about the moon. Maybe this is a book to keep on the shelf until your little one is old enough to take it down and read it for themselves? A book for the day your child finds a dead bird? Maybe it's a book that could help a child begin to realize that death is part of life.

There's something else about this book that's interesting to me. It's not religious, really. The children find a way to have a service, but they don't wonder about the afterlife, they wrap the bird in grapevine leaves and put it in the ground. They don't use a cross. They cover it in ferns, and white violets, and yellow star flowers. They plant geraniums, but the geraniums fade. Another echo of the life cycle. Think I'll hunt down my own copy of this book, but I'll probably stick with Goodnight Gorilla at bedtime.

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