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Death is Stupid
by Anastasia Higginbotham
The Feminist Press at CUNY
2016, 64 pages, 8.5 x 8.6 x 0.5 inches
Death is Stupid does what so many grown-ups struggle to do with their kids. It tells them the truth that they already know. In collages of illustrations and dialogue, Anastasia Higginbotham walks readers through the confusion and questions that come when someone dies. Using two concurrent narratives, one that broadly voices and validates the feelings and fears kids have around death, the other focusing on a little boy whose grandmother has died, Higginbotham masterfully draws connections for young audiences and their grown-ups.
The story opens, gracefully straight-forward, “When a loved one dies people can say some stupid things.” The line stretches over the course of three pages in which the boy goes from surprised to sad as he hears, “I know exactly how you feel.” “Don’t cry.” “Just be grateful for the time you had with her.” We follow him through the funeral and days after, through the rituals of grief and remembrance, through the fumbling adult attempts to explain and comfort. Through his experience and the narrator’s staccato interjections (“Dying is not a punishment. But it mostly doesn’t feel fair.”), readers are given the space to explore the well-intentioned answers and advice that grown-ups pat into the palms and shoulders of the kids they love, and the ways in which those hugs and kisses can land like blows.
Just as the boy tries out different ways to stay connected to his grandma while accepting her death, like caring for her garden, readers can explore suggested activities at the back of the book. Higginbotham offers templates for personalized remembering of both pets and people, simple instructions (“Read what they read. Make what they made.”), and the loveliest reflection on the power of speaking someone’s name. I know that when we are inevitably grieving a loved one’s death, I will be grateful to have this book on hand to read with my daughter.
– Marykate Smith Despres
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