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Michael Rosen’s Sad Book

Author: Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Quentin Blake.
Published: London
Physical Description: [40]p : col. ill. ; 30 cm.
Notes: Michael Rosen (1947-) is a British poet, performer, and broadcaster, who writes across multiple genres and forms. Rosen has won numerous awards for his children’s books and was the children’s laureate from 2007-2009. He is perhaps best known for his children’s poetry, and many of these volumes are illustrated by Quentin Blake. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (2004), also illustrated by Blake ‘addresses his bereavement after the death of his teenage son in 1999’ (O’Sullivan 216). It is an important book as it deals directly and simply with issues of death, sadness, despair, and depression, in a format that appears suitable for children. The book’s simple, short sentences address these issues directly but sensitively, while not glossing the subject with soothing metaphors of death. In addition to the typical issues of sadness and grief experienced after the death of a loved one, particularly a sudden and unexpected death, the book explores sadness without reason, depression, and anger. Additionally, the behaviour associated with sadness and grief is explored: ‘crazy things’, displayed through physical behaviour, like screaming and repetitive noises, and ‘bad things’ which are not fully disclosed by the author. The accompanying illustrations work with the text to convey the feelings experienced by the narrator. For example, in one double-page spread, ‘sad’ is described as ‘a sad place inside me because things aren’t the same’, as the panels that spread across the page show the narrator in four different panels that gradually become bleaker and more isolated. There is a significant contradiction here in this double-page spread: the narrator begins by saying he is sad not because of the deaths of his loved ones, but ‘It’s just because’. However, on the second page, as the illustrations in the panels become bleaker, the narrative voice reflects that ‘It’s not the same as it was a few years ago. So what happens is there’s a sad place inside me because things aren’t the same’. Sad has no easy or obvious explanation, but it is part of an altered landscape of the self. Feelings of sadness are not conveyed as having clear cycles, moving from darkness into light, but instead periodically bring the narrator into greater darkness. Nicholas Tucker discusses the reaction against what he terms ‘depressive’ stories for children, and notes that the reaction to this book has been ‘extremely positive’. However, Tucker does not take this as an indicator that ‘there is no longer any will to protect even the smallest of children from all potentially depressing material’, going on to acknowledge the ‘expertly crafted’ nature of the illustrations and text (Tucker 206). Though contemporary children’s books about subjects such as death and depression are becoming more frequent, there is still a notable reluctance to include these books in a canon of children’s literature read by children.
[Ciara Gallagher].
O’ Sullivan, Emer. Historical Dictionary of Children’s Literature. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Tucker, Nicholas. “Depressive Stories for Children.” Children’s Literature in Education 37 (2006): 199-210.
Subject: Death, Illustrator, Age of Reader, Genre, Form, Bereavement, Grief, Depression
Language: English
Original price: £7.99
Library: St Patrick's College, Drumcondra (DCU)
Collection: Junior Collection - SPD