“The Tiny Star” written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 19), ages 3 to 93, 40 pages, hardcover at $ 17.99, ebook at $ 10.99 .
From Australia comes this beloved picture book to give families a useful way to talk about the death of a grandparent. If that doesn’t put you in the fog a bit, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
The story never mentions grandparents, male or female. It describes the life of a star that falls to earth, and of course it is a poetic type star, not a cataclysmic spheroid of burning plasma like some people’s grandparents.
“Once upon a time, although it happens all the time, a little star fell to earth and turned into a baby!”
We see the baby slumped on the cushion of a large armchair that inexplicably sits on a sidewalk outside a faceless house on a city street where a man and woman are walking their dog. This baby is a normal looking baby. All of the humans in the book have different ethnicities and dress styles, including couples.
They bring the baby star – “he” – home and wrap him in a blanket covered with stars. He wears one version of this blanket throughout his life, so readers don’t need to know which character is the growing star and then adult. Additionally, the story never assigns the star a gender, but the human she becomes seems feminine – and so the story seems to be about grandma.
A good life takes place in a welcoming neighborhood where everyone loves the star and there are lots of interested animals. Even pigeons are interested in the star.
More and more old, he gets older, until he is resting again in an armchair. The older he gets, the more he is loved. Surrounded by a large family, the old, old star shrinks: smaller, smaller, tiny, tiny – until it is gone.
Freya Blackwood’s image of a child staring at an empty armchair except for a starry blanket expresses the shock of loss so well that we don’t need words. But because the star is a star, you can guess where this story is heading – to the sky.
It is comforting to think of loved ones lost as stars who smile on us forever.
Mem Fox’s clear and vivid words invite adults to smile as they read aloud. Blackwood’s watercolor pencil and pastel drawings on watercolor paper convey a world where sorrow and joy are shared. The destitute child is not alone. Her drawing process is interesting, and you can read a bit about it at The Art of the Picture Book. See arkansasonline.com/1122freya.
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Because the story was written in Australia (and first published in 2019), kids might notice an unusual creature in a crowd scene. It’s a possum – not a possum, a possum. For more on the distinction, see arkansasonline.com/1122possum.
Read to Me is a weekly review of (mainly short) books for young people.