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Book reviews >

Trouble shared


Sarah Hillman rounds up books that help children to deal with life’s difficulties

A pair of books that tackles the hard subject of explaining death to small children has been produced by Stephanie Jeffs and Jacqui Thomas. Josh: Coming to terms with the death of a friend and Rosie: Coming to terms with the death of a sibling both have simple texts and bright pictures. Neither shies away from tears, and both focus on a comforting heavenly hereafter (BRF, £5.99; 1-84101-423-0 and 1-84101-422-2 respectively).

When Goodbye is for Ever, a simple book by Lois Rock, tackles the same subject for children, also in the four-to-eight-year age range. It also acknowledges the pain of bereavement, and ends in the hope that the one who has died is safe with God (Lion, £4.99; 0-7459-4879-0).

So does Little Bear’s Grandad. Little Bear loves to visit his grandfather every Friday, when they climb into a tree house together, and the older bear tells stories. One day Grandad becomes too tired to do the story-telling himself; so Little Bear takes up the tale. By the time he has finished, Grandad has fallen into a sleep from which he will not wake. This is a gentle book for younger children by Nigel Gray and Vanessa Cabban (Little Tiger Press, £4.99; 1-85430-637-5).

In Michael Foreman’s Evie and the Man who Helped God, George is a man who helps God to make gardens, and Evie helps George. But one Monday, there is no George in the garden: he has gone “to help God all the time”. So Evie looks after the garden herself as a reminder of her former friend (Andersen Press, £9.99 (£9); 1-84270-219-X).

An experience more common to children than death is the birth of a new sibling. Now We Have a Baby, also by Lois Rock, has big, bold text, and pictures by Jane Massey. Here again, what the child may see as the downside of the event is fully acknowledged, as well as the joy of having someone new to love (Lion, £4.99; 0-7459-4885-5).

Can I Play? by Janet Thomas and Alison Bartlett deals with another familiar childhood experience. Casper and Susie were best friends — until Milly came to play, and Casper ended up alone. The book tells how Casper deals with it (Egmont Books, £4.99; 1-4052-0597-0).

In What Scares Me & What I Do About It, children share their fears and say how they cope with them. I suggest that it should be used by children and adults together, when there is time to talk about the child’s anxieties. The book has been written for an American readership; so some things may need to be explained, such as dialling 911 in case of fire (Augsburg Books, £9.95 (£8.95); 0-8066-4558-X).

Another book better shared, at least initially, is Marion Ripley’s Private and Confidential. It tells the story of Laura who discovers her Australian pen-friend is almost wholly blind. She learns Braille so that she and he can communicate. An example of a Braille letter is included in the story; a page at the end gives more information about it (Frances Lincoln, £10.99 (£9.09); 0-7112-2097-2).

Frog is Sad, but he doesn’t know why. Max Velthuijs tells how the other animals try to cheer him up, without success — until Rat plays a beautiful tune on his violin (Andersen Press, £9.99 (£9); 1-84270-289-0).

Violin music features also in Petar’s Song. Petar, his mother and his siblings leave home when war breaks out, for a safer country. At home, Petar’s violin-playing encouraged everyone to celebrate, but his life as a refugee makes him too sad to pick up his instrument. Until one day he finds himself humming a tune as he wanders down a snow-filled street. Pratima Mitchell’s story is a picture book, with illustrations by Caroline Binch, but its subject matter is more suitable for older children — seven and upwards is suggested) (Frances Lincoln, £10.99 (£9.90); 0-7112-2063-8).

There are a number of resources to help children learn to pray. The Lord’s Prayer Cube is a sturdy sectioned cube, which children unfold to discover the words of the prayer (modern-language version). Each phrase has a simple explanation to help children understand what they are praying (Church House Publishing, £5.95; 0-7151-4997-0).

Lois Rock has also written a book encouraging children to learn and use the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father in Heaven introduces the prayer, explains it, and gives other short suggested prayers connected with each phrase, which might be used (Lion, £5.99; 0-7459-4644-5). She gives the same treatment to Psalm 23 in The Lord is My Shepherd . Both are illustrated by Ruth Rivers; the suggested age range is three to seven (Lion, £4.99; 0-7459-4859-6).

Christopher Bear’s Anytime Prayers are simple prayers for pre-schoolers. Leena Lane, the author, introduces each with an event from Christopher Bear’s life. The pictures are by Jacqui Thomas (Abingdon, £4.49; 0-687-07585-8).

More prayers for children can be found in A World of Wonders by Robert Cooper. These concentrate on the created world, and are accompanied by evocative photographs taken by the author (SPCK, £8.99 (£8.10); 0-281-05614-5).

My Very First Prayers have been written mainly by Lois Rock, although some are traditional or by other authors. They are short, often with rhyming words, and their themes are based on a child’s world. “Yesterday I liked the rain, But, dear God, please not again!” is one of the briefer entries, and gives a feel for the sort of material that is included (Lion, £9.99 (£9); 0-7459-4466-3).

Hand in Hand: Talking to God as a friend is a collection of in-formal prayers for children by Brian Ogden. Although in black-and-white, the pages are lively with illustrations and different typefaces. At the end are five prayers, by Christine Wright, to help parents pray for the family (Scripture Union, £2.99; 1-85999-707-4).

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