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Duck, Death and the Tulip

Author: Wolf Erlbruch
Edition: 2012 reprint
Published: Wellington, New Zealand
Physical Description: [30] p. : col. ill.; 30cm.
Notes: Wolf Erlbruch (1948 –) is an award-winning German illustrator and author of children’s books. His work is notable for its exploration of difficult subjects, such as death, in a new way. Though death has always featured in children’s literature, death is the focus and main subject of this book. Death is explored philosophically, but also in terms of its reality. Though the book is entirely about death, as Death, represented by a clothed skeleton, is present from the first page opening, the book emphasises the lessening of Duck’s fear as he spends time with Death before finally dying. Some of the main images and symbols of death are explored: Duck wonders if death means becoming an angel and sitting on a cloud, or going to a place ‘deep in the earth…where you’ll be roasted if you haven’t been good’. Death cannot tell Duck if either of these options are possible, but later tells Duck ‘“When you’re dead, the pond will be gone, too – at least for you.”’ Death then, is not described as a place – heaven or hell – but in terms of a cessation of relationships with particular place for the dead person. Duck finds this idea a comfort, and is relieved that she will not have to mourn this place. The pages following this acceptance show Duck’s gradual closeness to Death: she asks Death to warm her, and the facing page shows Duck and Death hold hands in an embrace or dance. The cross-hatching on Duck’s body faces the check pattern on Death’s dress, strengthening the visual link between Duck and Death that is present throughout (Clement 5). On the next page, Duck dies, and the tulip that Death had held in the opening pages, and which disappears during Duck and Death’s conversation, reappears. It appears to mirror Duck’s pose in death, changing to match her position in each successive frame, and ultimately moulding with Duck’s body. The page illustrating Duck’s death is coloured in a block of teal blue, in a break from the white space of the book’s pages. This blue colour is continued in the river on which Death places Duck, which winds through the remainder of the book. These final images revise the traditional symbolism of death without discarding it: Lesley Clement argues ‘the text and images of the final four openings convey that death is connection, not separation; integrity, not disintegration; movement, not stasis’ (Clement 7).
[Ciara Gallagher].
Clement, Lesley. “Death and the Empathetic Embrace in Four Contemporary Picture Books.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature 51.4 (October 2013): 1-10.
Subject: Death, Illustrator, Age of Reader, Form, Genre, Life, Animals
Language: English
Original price: n.p.
Library: St Patrick's College, Drumcondra (DCU)
Collection: Junior Collection - SPD