The current emphasis in schools on developing emotional health in children prompted our selection of books. The four titles focus on emotions common to children (loss, fear, anger) but with a twist. The emotions are personified and act as a character in the story. Also important, the books tell a story of a child coming to grips with emotions. The focus is on the great story–not on a list of coping skills in the end matter meant to teach children and parents. This week, we are discussing Life Without Nico.
Loss: Life without Nico (Andrea Maturana / Chile; illustrated by Francisco Javier Olea / Chile)
I read one website that mentioned this book was first published in Mexico. This tidbit of information intrigued me, particularly because we have been looking at global representations of emotions. Loss, in this book, is depicted as a dark hole. It comes to life when Nico moves to Australia, temporarily leaving his constant companion, Maia, alone. Olea uses muted colors and expressionistic graphic elements that focus reader’s attention on Maia’s new relationship with “Loss.” Unlike Nico, the character of Loss is boring, distant and sits in the way of Maia’s ability to make new friends. While Maia’s relationship with Loss changes over the course of the book, it remains a character until the end. What are your thoughts about the ending? Do we ever get over loving and losing someone who is special in our lives?
I find this book to be more about love than about loss; love for another, but also, love for self. Maia appears to go through a grieving period, but eventually comes out of it stronger and more independent even though she still misses Nico. I am not sure if one ever gets over a great loss as much as they find an appropriate space for it in their life. Maia makes new friends and develops a talent in order to fill the hole she feels. The hole is not filled (as we see at the end) because Nico is the only person who can fill that hole, but her new friends and hobby somewhat counterbalance the hole with positive feelings.
DESIREE: Interesting! I only focused on difficult emotions when I first read the book. The idea that this book could be more about love than loss did not occur to me. You also make a good point about self-love and how the temporary loss Maia experiences causes her to seek new opportunities for herself. As a result of Nico’s absence, she discovers other sources of joy. What do you think children might make of this?
MEGAN: I think this book is a wonderful tool to use to speak about loss even if it is temporary. Children have people in their lives who leave or come and go and are not constant that they must deal with. In many ways children are more resilient than adults and can adapt better; however, loss can also have long term consequences. Children need to be able to trust that individuals they care about will not simply leave on a routine basis. This book offers a good story to begin a discussion about people leaving. This book would also be great to pair with another that deals with more permanent loss.
[Editor’s Note: This book was featured in our June 2016 My Take/Your Take.]
Title: Life without Nico
Author: Francisco Javier Olea
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Date Published: April 1, 2016
This is the first installment of June 2018’s My Take/Your Take. To follow the conversation, and to learn more about this month’s books, check back each Wednesday.