I received a free copy of this book for review. No promises were made in exchange for the book.
There are not many picture books that deal with death. More specifically, there are not many Christian picture books that accurately and adequately discuss the process of the body dying, but the Christian hope of eternal rest in God. Forward Movement, a ministry to help people grow in faith, has published a lovely book to help with this real need.
Written by the Reverends Mary Davila and Sarah Kinney Gaventa, Grandpa’s Tent is a sweetly constructed story to walk a child through the loss of a grandparent, the funeral, and the early part of grief. Hannah is a young girl who has a close relationship with her grandfather. Their closeness is demonstrated through their history of camping together, with Grandpa and Hannah erecting the tent together.
The story goes through Grandpa’s transition to a nursing home and then to a hospital. There are conversations about how the heart stops beating and the lungs stop breathing and the body dies. When Grandpa dies, Hannah’s parents tell her about it and show her that Grandpa left her the tent. Mother Lucy, an Episcopal priest, comes to the family’s home and helps them prepare for the funeral. The funeral and the interment are described by including Hannah’s mixed emotions around being able to see her cousins but also missing her grandfather.
The illustrations for the book are beautiful. Somewhere between realism and fantasy, they capture the in-between nature of the book’s subject. Christian grief and Christian hope can be held in the same heart at the same time and this book does that dance well. It is also a lovely aspect that the book shows a spectrum of skin colors.
The language of the book is more complicated than an average picture book. When I entered the text of one page into a reading level calculator, it came out around the 6th-grade reading level. This is due to the fact that death and funerals use vocabulary that’s just not usually in the rota of a second or third grader. Words like funeral, visitation, casket, or biblical make the vocabulary more advanced than the story itself is.
This book, though, is meant to be (and should be) a read-together book. It was very appealing to my third-grader and he understood it as we read it together. It was great to have the chance to read a book like this BEFORE any of his grandparents die. My kindergartener likes being close and enjoyed listening, but was less invested in hearing the story. It was a little too long for her attention span right now.
I definitely think this hits the spot for 3rd- 6th graders who still like being read to (and will re-visit the book on their own). It gives shape to an experience that many of them will experience or have already experienced.
There are some helpful notes for parents at the end of the book, as well as some accompanying Bible passages describing heaven. This book makes a solid effort and I believe it hits the mark. I definitely recommend it as a resource for clergy, youth workers, and families.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.
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