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Friday, 23 June 2017

Badger's Parting Gifts

Author and Illustrator: Susan Varley
Publisher: Collins Picture Lions, HarperCollins, 1984,edition featured 1992

This children's picturebook is a gentle, honest book about death, and coming to terms with grief. There's a sensible narrative about an old badger, quietly preparing himself for parting by readying a letter to his friends. Badger is presented as happy, ready and willing to pass away, watching his friends Frog and Mole run spiritly down a hill, while he feels old and tired. Full of appropriate simple adjectives about aging, the book steers away from gloominess, though at the same time is open about the grief that those left behind then feel.

The death 'scene' itself describes badger 'falling out his body' and running down a long tunnel, which, while somewhat cliched, is a useful, comprehendable anology for young children. One of Badger's friends, Mole, takes the news of Badger's death, harder than the others. Winter then sets in, passing into spring, which is a nice way of indicating to children that an amount of time suspended in this sadness has passed. The creatures then individually have memories of Badger teaching them to do things, so Mole remembers Badger teaching him how to make a paper chain, Frog remembers Badger teaching him to ice skate for example. These memories and teachings are of course, 'Badger's parting gifts', and the book ends with Mole on a warm spring day, on the hillside, looking up at the sky and thanking Badger for these gifts ( and we're reassured that Badger can hear him).

Sensitive and warm then, the narrative is reassuring rather than worrying and dwelling. Yes, there are slightly sugary moments of cliche, tunnels, clouds, seasonal change and the illustrations are soft and floaty, ink and water colour, not necessarily memorable. But all in all quite a helpful book for illiciting thoughts on death, discussion about death with preschoolers and young children. 

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