Years ago, an art therapist put out a call on a professional 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 as support. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any. As time passed, and I encountered increasing experiences of loss both personally and professionally, this child’s call for a book kept coming back; so much so, I knew I had to write it. Even if this child wouldn’t read it, they had rightly highlighted something that was missing; a call that still needed to be answered. In exploring the best way to go about it, I immediately thought of fairy tales. Throughout history, fairy tales have tackled the big, existential themes of life and death, which gave me the idea of writing a ‘therapeutic fairy tale,’ one that could help facilitate the intensely difficult, almost unbearable but necessary conversations. A therapeutic story using metaphor as a ‘container’ might be able to help children and families say their final goodbyes and support this last journey of life. Throughout writing the story, I felt its strong emotional power. On sharing it with Speechmark’s Senior Editor at the time, Katrina Hulme-Cross, she immediately understood the need for extra-careful handling. We discussed how this story needed to be illustrated, so that images could help hold feelings and play their part in emotional support for readers. 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 three therapeutic fairy tales in such moving, sensitive and colourful ways. Sarah engaged with the strong emotions and responded with extraordinary, vibrant images. The therapeutic fairy tale series, which includes a Storybook Manual with ideas of how to work with books and children, came out in August, 2020.The Night Crossing is a book to be read with care and quiet, in the right setting. It’s advisable that the therapist, care professional or adult reads the book beforehand in preparation for their own feelings to the story. Not surprisingly, given the subject matter, it can provoke very strong responses.
“The Night Crossing is so sensitively written, with beautiful illustrations. I found it honest and touching, a sympathetic aid that could be revisited whenever needed. In our experience, children take in as little or as much as they feel comfortable to deal with when they are ready. I also feel this book could help siblings of a child who is very ill and for parents or carers to help gauge other children’s questions and emotions.”
Hephzibah Kaplan, Art Therapist, Director, London Art Therapy Centre