When I read Philip Pullman’s last book in His Dark Materials series – The Amber Spyglass – I was struck by how our deaths were portrayed as shadowy figures that accompanied us through-out life. They were constant companions, albeit unseen. In our current society, it can be so hard for us to engage with real-life themes of dying and death. Even more so when it comes to children.
A few years ago, an art therapist put out a call on a forum on behalf of a child client dying from leukemia, asking for a story to say goodbye to their family and life. I was so moved by this call that I searched high and low for ‘end of life’ stories that might support children but couldn’t find any. As time passed and I encountered increasing stories of grief and loss in my own therapy practice, this child’s call for a book kept coming back; so much so, that I knew what needed to happen – I had to write it myself. Fairy tales have historically tackled the big themes of life and death, which gave me the idea of writing a ‘therapeutic fairy tale,’ one that could help facilitate immensely difficult but necessary conversations and emotions. A therapeutic story using metaphor might be able to help children and families say their final goodbyes and support this last journey of life. As soon as the story was written, I felt its intense emotional power. On sharing it with Speechmark’s Senior Editor, Katrina Hulme-Cross, she immediately understood the need for extra-careful handling. We also discussed how important it was that this story was fully illustrated, so that the images could help hold feelings, play their part in emotional support. In further discussion, we spoke about how ‘therapeutic fairy tales’ might support children across a variety of difficult life experiences, and the whole series was born. I was lucky to work very closely with artist/illustrator Sarah Pimenta, from Social Fabric, who brought to life these 3 therapeutic fairy tales in such moving, sensitive and colourful ways. The full therapeutic fairy tale series launches this August, 2020.
The Night Crossing is a book to be read with the utmost of care, only in certain specific situations. The therapist or care professional also needs to read the book beforehand in preparation for their own feelings.