When I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, 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. Grieving loved ones is one of the hardest things that we all have to go through. Sometimes, it can feel like we are not going to survive. 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 as support. To my chagrin, 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. 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 the immensely difficult but necessary conversations. 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 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 3 therapeutic fairy tales in such moving, sensitive and colourful ways. Sarah engaged with the strong emotions and responded with the most 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 strong responses.

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