The subject of grief in a picture book can be a tricky one, as there is an assumption amongst some parents that a picture book should have a ‘happy story’. However, a children’s story about grief and loss told well is a valuable resource for all. In this story told by Sharanya Manivannan you get both an insight into Indian culture and beliefs and a well balanced story about two children coming to terms with the loss of their grandmother. The stunning illustrations by Nerina Canzi are vibrant and detailed and bring to life the richness of India as well as helping to effectively convey feeling and emotions, such as sadness, loss and hope which are universal to people of many culture and backgrounds.
I love that the story begins with the children playing with their grandmother, and then it talks about how this changes as they grow up. For some when dealing with grief it can be important to remember the good times with a loved one, but adults are sometimes afraid to talk about them for the fear of upsetting someone. The feelings and emotions of playing with Ammuchi are beautifully captured in the illustrations. The page pictured below left is my 6 year old son’s favourite page in the story, he especially likes the Mangos (he loves fruit).
The day that their grandma dies, is the only grey picture in the book, and contrasts with the vibrant colours of the other pages. This is really effective in conveying feeling. I really like how, as the story unfolds, it acknowledges that both parents and children can be sad, and it is possible to be both happy and sad at the same time.
After their grandmother died the children find a butterfly. It is like the one on a brooch that Anjali was given for her seventh birthday. Her older broth Aditya explains to his class:
“Ammuchi is our grandmother, puchi is an insect. Ammuchi Puchi is an insect who is our grandmother.”
This butterfly then follows them around wherever they go. There are several ways that this can be interpreted and children will understand it in different ways. This is one of the clever things about the story, there are many levels to it, so children (and adults) will take different things from it.
As the children get used to life without Ammuchi the story sensitively portrays their feelings of sadness and loss. Whilst also offering hope through it’s belief that if given space and support children can find their own way through. It also ends with hope, when one rainy day the children are stuck in doors, the butterfly leads them to what was once their grandmother’s room, which is now full of her possessions. Then they find a very special object which helps the children and adults share their grief and offers hope for the future.
One note of caution; there is a lot going on in this book in both the writing and pictures. In some ways the grief and loss of the two children is the easiest part to grasp. But, for the observant child there is a lot more to get their head’s around. This may lead to mixed emotions for some children. I see this as a good thing as in life it’s not always easy to separate one emotion from the other. The many cultural layers of the book give the opportunity to be culturally specific if you choose. Some children may need further explanation of parts of the story, this will depend on the age of the child, their experiences and cultural background. For example both my children were uncomfortable about the picture of the grandmother in the garden on the second page, where she has her lips stained with betelnut juice. I feel this story would be best read one to one or in a small group. I would recommend it for children aged 6/7+. Although it may be more suited to slightly older children.
This book was kindly donated by the Lantana Publishing, a company committed to producing diverse and multicultural picture books. The pictures in the story give a very strong sense of India. The story sensitively portrays the children’s journey of sadness and loss and effectively conveys the idea of a person (or their spirit) coming back as another living thing, which many may find useful
You can find some fabulous teacher resources by Lantana Publishing on their website
The book is available to buy from me at Readers that Care for £7.99 including postage ( mainland United Kingdom only)