By Dorea Kleker, University of Arizona and Maria Acevedo-Aquino, Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
In the fourth and last installment of February’s MTYT, Dorea and Maria look at difficult topics in children’s literature and different interpretations of what might be appropriate for children.
MARIA: Finn’s Feather is the story about a boy who finds a feather on his doorstep. Finn excitedly tells his mother and teacher that it’s from his dead brother Hamish, but they do not respond as happily as Finn expects. Only his best friend, Lucas, and other classmates are happy to know that angels can send gifts to Earth.
This is a story about family, loss, love and remembrance with an author’s note to explain her personal connection to the story. The picturebook honors the different ways children and adults cope with the loss of a loved one, and it shares the importance of rituals and artifacts across cultural communities to commemorate some stories and create new ones. The perspective of the child is appealing and strong, so readers will be able to share numerous connections and countless questions.
DOREA: In my work as a teacher educator, I frequently witness how children and adults experience the same conversation, idea, event or story so differently from one other. Children are often portrayed in need of protection and shelter from difficult topics, with death ranking high on the list. Death of animals is slightly more acceptable, but human friends and family members are regularly off-limits due to adults’ own fears and discomfort.
Finn’s Feather is compelling in the gentle way it is told while also allowing for the complexity in experiencing the death of a loved one. Finn is capable of processing a difficult situation–in fact, the children’s responses to his brother’s death feel more productive and healthy than the adults’ attempts to shield them. At the end of the story, we see a shift in Finn’s mother. Rather than let memories of Hamish only make her sad, she begins to both grasp and mirror Finn’s ability to find joy in his brother’s absence.
MARIA: To gain a different perspective, I will invite my husband, a telecommunications engineer, to read children’s books. He read Finn’s Feather, and responded, “is this book for children?” Our conversation made it clear that for him, a book about death should not be for children. I think it’s interesting that the notion of “protecting” children can be interpreted in different ways. While some might argue that educators can protect children by avoiding hard conversations, others might argue that children can be protected by engaging them in conversations about tough topics within safe and respectful environments. Protection supports and allows children to develop awareness and strategies so they can protect themselves later. In the story, Finn’s friends create a safe space to investigate ideas and emotions around death and loss.
DOREA: As we discuss what children should or shouldn’t be exposed to, it’s helpful to read Rachel Noble’s writing and conversations with others on this topic, especially since she and her family experienced the death of their own young Hamish. She recognized that while there were beautiful books in children’s literature that explored the concept of loss, most focused on getting older and the natural cycle of life and death rather than those that are unexpected:
I believe our children deserve to talk about these things with us. We owe them to open conversations about hard things. Through building emotional resilience in our children, I believe we are doing them a favour. Protecting them does a disservice when the hard things do pop up in life as they inevitably do.
says Rachel Noble
This is the fourth installment of February’s issue of My Take/Your Take”>My Take Your Take. This month, we explored the role of stories in a variety of contexts: stories to understand where we came from (Alma and How She Got Her Name), stories to explore “what if?” (I Got It!), the unknown stories of others (A Bike Like Sergio’s), and finally, with Finn’s Feather, the power of stories to heal. These four titles introduce readers to strong children interpreting and reinterpreting family, life, and their own stories.