cover image The Purple Balloon

The Purple Balloon

Chris Raschka, . . Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-375-84146-0

Raschka (The Hello, Goodbye Window ) broaches the topic of death in this solemn book, crafted for terminally ill and/or grieving children. Filmy balloons, potato-printed in muted watercolor on beige backgrounds, drift over the cover and endpapers; balloon heads, with facial features limned in dots of ink and string-lines for bodies, take on the roles of families, friends and professionals. The fragile but buoyant balloon image comes from art therapy, as an author's note explains: "When a child becomes aware of his or her pending death and is given the opportunity to 'draw your feelings,' he or she will often draw a blue or purple balloon, released and floating free." Raschka eases into his distressing subject by first depicting an old person's lined face, on a green balloon, and a child's face on a red balloon. When the elderly person dies, the green tint changes to lavender, the face becomes peaceful and the balloon's string curves and lifts to shape two open arms or angel wings. The predictable death sets up the second act: "There is only one thing/ harder to talk about than/ an old person dying—/ a young person dying." Concerned friends, therapists, doctors and relatives cluster around to support the sinking red-balloon child, whose eyes grow heavy. "Good help makes leaving easier," the text asserts, as the child's gently smiling face looks out from an ascendant lavender balloon. Without going into specifics, Raschka acknowledges pain and fear, and provides a "What You Can Do to Help" list. This evocative, nondenominational book strives to comfort those at hospices and hospitals. All ages. (May)