THE DEATH BOOK

Pernilla Stalfelt, Author . Groundwood $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-88899-482-0

Swedish author-illustrator Stalfelt (The Hair Book; The Love Book) takes a humorous approach to a tough topic: death and dying. Comical watercolor cartoons (their European sensibility includes a sprightly sprinkling of anatomically correct figures) quickly set the tone. Meanwhile, the straightforward text explores ancient and modern burial rituals, terms for death ("passed away," "bit the dust," "went to the happy hunting grounds") and the many theories about "where you go when you die" (heaven, ghosts—there's even a silly riff on vampires). Stalfelt tucks in plenty of giggles (for an example of reincarnation—"What if you become a hot dog???"—she shows a protesting wiener about to be eaten—"Noooo"), but some youngsters may be frightened by the forthright facts (e.g., "Sometimes a baby is already dead when it's born" or "One day you have your grandpa. The next day you may not be able to see him anymore"). With its candid and relaxed tone, the light-hearted narrative may raise as many questions as it answers, and will likely offend some adults with its irreverence. However, children old enough to understand the issues may appreciate the book's informal style, which leavens the weighty theme. From the opening page's discussion of how death is difficult to understand—"It can be hard even if you're really big" shows a puzzled elephant grappling with the concept—to the sweetly goofy "Song from Above" that caps the entire production, this is an original approach to a challenging subject for young readers. Ages 8-up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
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