by Addy Farmer et al
|A story of friendship|
Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White is a story about two friends - a naive, young pig, Wilbur, and a wise, kind spider, Charlotte. When Charlotte is dying, Wilbur is distraught and asks her:
“Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.'
"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."
Charlotte's Web by E.B WhiteDid I cry when I read these words - yes. Friendship will get me every time. It can be messy and complicated and it can be noble and self-sacrificing. Such a simple sentiment, 'You have been my friend.' and yet it's laden with a whole lifetime of feeling and experience. When I read this, I don't just think about the beautiful friendship of Wilbur and Charlotte but I relate it to my own experience of friendships and how it might feel should this relationship end with the death of a friend.
Okay, so, this is one of my all time favourite picture books. We have a tattered big book copy which was read and read to all the children. I barely had to look at the words to recall them. But I always had a catch in my throat here ...
"Then Bella did something very kind.'
I can barely say that line which sounds ridiculous but it is redolent with the practical-big-sister love Bella has for her brother. There is also the happy resolution of the MASSIVE problem (when you're 3) of losing a companion/toy. Shirley Hughes has a wonderful eye and ear for the way small children are and consequently we invest in their characters and dilemmas quickly. My children never cried when I read the story though, which makes me think that some younger readers are more Bellas than Daves. Unless they're baby Joes and he's just too dribbly.
If you want to read Kate Saunders' amazing book, prepare yourselves for Serious Tears. The Psammead is a sand fairy, thousands of years old, and it's a bit of a heartless monster. By the end of the book, the death of a young man brings about an epiphany:
"I'm awfully glad you're here. Can you stay with me?'From heartless to heartbroken. The moment is terrible and wonderful. And it left me crying at the transformation of the Psammead as well as the lost generation of young men killed in the first world war.
'Yes, my dear,' the Psammead said and gently stroked Cyril's cheek with his paw. 'I'll never leave you now.'
As a rule, I find that I cannot bear to read sad stories which involve animals which means that I have never read 'Black Beauty' or 'Warhorse'. Neither have I written a story with an animal as the central character. For me, it's too sad. I don't know why, maybe it's to do with their trusting nature and relative simplicity of character. Maybe I should challenge myself - that's what brilliant stories like this do to the reader.
Some less obviously sad books make me well up. 'Not Now Bernard' by David McKee is the story of Bernard whose parents ignore him when he wants their attention. They do not notice when he is eaten by the monster. They do not notice when the monster wants their attention. They are terrible parents. They did not deserve Bernard. The story-telling is relaxed and funny and my children laughed their little heads off but I always felt sad at the end and that lost child stays with me even now.
Maybe the saddest book ever; Michael Rosen's, 'The Sad Book'. It is not a book on how to deal with grief. It is an observation and exploration of the author's anguish at the death of his son and it is beautiful and true.
What follows is a brief list of sad books from SCBWI members. Please don't leave this blog feeling sad, rather feel uplifted that we can produce such incredible human stories. There are so many marvellous books which make me cry. They do so with understatement and clear language and never become sentimental. They are books which confront our most challenging experiences and deal with difficult emotions. They rehearse life and all its experiences. They tell us that we not alone.
Every child needs sad books.