The book begins with a head shot of Rosen: "This is me being sad." But the picture shows him smiling, at least until you look more closely. Then you realize that the twist of his lips and teeth forms a grimace. The text goes on to say he's pretending because he thinks people won't like him if he's sad. In a clipped, first-person text, Rosen relates that he's sad because his son, Eddie, has died. Illustrated snaps of Eddie in Blake's signature scrawl show him as a baby, a boy, a teen. The last frame is blank. The extent of Rosen's rage is staggering, but it's quiet, not loud (wouldn't want to scare the children, eh?). It pierces with its honesty: "Sometimes because I'm sad I do bad things. I can't tell you what they are. They're too bad. And it's not fair to the cat." (And, yes, kids will understand that this is black humor.)
When the book is at its darkest--and Blake's black-and-gray line work wrests every bit of the agony from the understated words--there is despair. The ways in which Rosen tries to comfort himself--by rationalizing that everyone has his or her own pain or by trying to do things he is proud of--only work a little. An adult reader may wonder at this point, Is the book even for young people? Is it too self-indulgent?
To think that would be to dismiss the truth we all try to hide from: sadness is part of the human condition. Children know this as well as adults and perhaps feel it even more keenly since they haven't had as much time to develop defenses. This book tells them what they already intuit, and while you might not want to give it to a child who, at the moment is happy, you would most certainly want to give it to one who is sad. It shows children that they are not alone, and it does so brilliantly.
And Rosen is not left in total despair. As time passes, he begins to look at things more intently, and those moments push up happier memories, some even about Eddie. Remembrances of birthdays bring to mind candles: "There must be candles." This slow evolution allows Blake to lighten his pictures both in color and underlying spirit. The last spread shows Rosen sitting at a table, unshaven, focused intently on one lit candle, which one hopes is bright enough to lead him to a better place.
This book's power is in its utter honesty. No couching, no prettying up. It's as if Rosen and Blake are taking readers by the hand and saying, "C'mon, let's look at this now. Sadness, yes. Here it is." But they pull you just past the heartbreak, too. The journey from grief to a glimmer of hope is a long, often lonely one, but there's relief in knowing that it's possible. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Wow, this book was raw. Or maybe the phrase is painfully honest. Either way it's shocking, especially coupled with Quentin Blake's scratchy illustrations that are usually equated... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kait M
Beautiful book, beautifully drawn. The story is sad but the art carries it.Published 4 months ago by Richard Orlin
I work in a childcare center for kids with unique challenges. Nearly all of them have experienced homelessness, poverty, abuse, drugs, and other related challenges. Read morePublished on December 18, 2011 by meg
Let's be clear to start: if you are looking for a "keep a stiff upper lip" sort of book that will teach children to face sadness with a positive attitude, this is not the book for... Read morePublished on November 11, 2011 by Chris Stoner
I picked this up for the Quentin Blake illustrations and thy did not disappoint. I did not expect to find such raw emotions in a children's book. Read morePublished on July 27, 2011 by Emma
Although it is a moving book, it is from a very mature perspective and totally inappropriate for young children. Read morePublished on June 9, 2010 by Kindle Customer
I received this book as a gift years ago, and it sat on my bookshelf. When my daughter was born almost four years ago, it migrated into her room. Read morePublished on January 4, 2010 by L. Mento
My son was a huge Michael Rosen fan for years. We had The Best of Michael Rosen on cassette tape and listened to it in the car over and over. Read morePublished on December 14, 2009 by K. Groh