Sunday 28 June 2015

Michael Rosen's SAD BOOK

A touching, personal story about living and coping with grief

Book Details
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Walker Books 2004

Library Copy reviewed

Back of Book

We all have sad stuff-maybe you have some right now, as you read this. What makes Michael Rosen most sad is thinking about his son Eddie, who died. In this book he writes about his sadness, how it affects him and some of the things he does to try to cope with it. This is a very personal story that speaks to everyone; whether or not you have known what it's like to feel really, deeply sad, its truth will surely touch you.

The Book

This is the poignant story of the author's grief since the death of his son Eddie. In simple, honest words, he explains how he lives with sadness, sometimes hiding it, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by it. He also describes grief for the loss of his mother and general sadness about how his family has changed. While the central theme is grief, this is blended with humour, hope and important messages about coping and managing feelings. 
A simply written, beautifully illustrated, touching story.

Why I like this book

As an adult who has experienced grief, I could immediately connect with this beautifully written story. 
As a professional who sometimes supports families experiencing bereavement, this book is a valuable resource.
At the time I write this, it has been 11 years since this story was first shared- I have no doubt that since then, it has been a touching read for many children and adults.   
In Rosen's personal story, many emotions are expressed including fear, anger, loneliness and acceptance. 

Sometimes I want to talk about all this to someone.

Like my mum. But she's not here any more either. 
So I can't.
I find someone else. And I tell them about it.

Sometimes I don't want to talk about it.

Not to anyone. No one. No one at all.
I just want to think about it on my own.
Because it's mine. And no one else's.

Rosen shares that, at times he feels sad, not just because his loved ones are gone, but also because his life has been changed forever. 

So what happens is that there's a sad place inside me because things aren't the same.

This story uses simple language, prose and metaphors to describe grief and sadness:

It's just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.

Sad is a place 

that is deep and dark
like the space
under the bed...
Pictures & text show us that sadness can happen
for anyone, at anytime & in any place.

Importantly, the story describes strategies for coping with difficult emotions- undertaking a daily task that leads to happy feelings, achieving things that instill pride, writing about feelings or even relieving tension by shouting in the shower or banging a spoon on a table! 

The story suggests that our memories help us cope with grief. Rosen fondly remembers walking in the rain with his Mum and his son Eddie laughing with friends or playing on the sofa.

Rosen also admits that there are times when he is downright grumpy. In his honest account he says:

Sometimes because I'm sad I do bad things.

I can't tell you what they are.
They are too bad. And it's not fair on the cat . 

And we see the guilty faced Rosen, standing over the  startled cat which, he has undoubtedly just kicked.

Later he explains that, he tries to figure out ways of being sad, which don't hurt so much. He chooses to do things that make him feel good (and don't cause other people to feel bad): 

I tell myself that being sad isn't the same as being horrible. I'm sad, not bad.

Happy on the outside, sad on the inside...

The illustrations in this book perfectly capture the gloominess related to grief, along with the humour of day to day life and the warmth we feel when we remember people we love. On the first page we see the 'happy' face of Michael Rosen and on page 3 we see the same Michael with a dull, grey face and circling, hollow eyes. He explains that his happy face is just a pretence and a mask he wears. The book continues in this manner, with a balance between grey/darkish images and brighter, more colourful ones.                                  

What I like most about this book, is that it describes grief and sadness as an ongoing presence in our lives, instead of something we should go through and move on from. As a book which supports the bereaved, it captures grief in realistic terms-we live with it day to day, sometimes it is harder to live with, sometimes we can cope much better. 

The book ends with this stark and lonely image- we see Rosen sitting alone in a dark and shadowy room.Weary and sad,he sits at his desk with his pencil poised, looking at a framed picture, presumably of Eddie.

On reading with a child, at this point, we sometimes discuss the coping strategies used by the author. As the image is quite bleak, for some children it is helpful to be reminded that, writing is something the author chooses to do as a way of coping with sadness. And, while the image conveys sadness and loneliness, maybe Rosen is not lonely here, but is instead choosing to have some quiet time alone with his grief which belongs only to him (as he mentioned in earlier pages.) I often suggest that Michael Rosen's sad feelings are what triggered him to write the book, and as he writes himself  on his webpage  : 'I hope that it'll be a book that anyone who's been sad about anything at all will help them find out what they're thinking about and why they're thinking it.' 

In short
There is no doubt about it, this is indeed a sad book. Simple, honest, heart-breaking and true, it explores sad, angry and lonely feelings.
For a realistic discussion about grief and sad feelings, this book is an ideal resource. I have used this book to support my work with bereaved children & their families and highly recommend it. 

Get the book at these affiliate links:  


Helpful Resources

I love this great collection of  teaching ideas by Mark Warner  which can be used along with this book. 

If you need further help  with childhood bereavement,  Barnardos Ireland offer support , information and advice through their Children's Bereavement Service

Here you can download free publications :  Coping with Death (for children) Death: Helping Children Understand , Coping with Death (for parents). is another valuable resource I often use . Watch a video of children talking about death here.  Read these helpful web pages:  When Somebody Dies , Why Am I So Sad? 

KidsHealth.Org also provides helpful information for teenagers and parents/carers.

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