Friday, November 1, 2013

Missing Mummy by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan Children's Books)

Missing Mummy
(a book about bereavement)

Written and Illustrated by
Rebecca Cobb

Published by Macmillan Children's Books

Some authors and artists instantly grab our attention with everything they publish or produce. Rebecca Cobb firmly belongs in that elite collection of authors and artists, and we've loved everything she's done.

This book though, phew. It's been a really hard book to review for a number of reasons.

The subject of bereavement is a tough enough subject to adequately describe in any form, let alone in picture book form. It's something that takes a lot of explaining to children, leading to a lot of questions (some quite uncomfortable questions at that) - whether you have faith or don't. In our case we picked up "Missing Mummy" and it led to one of the most interesting, heartfelt and - for me - hugely emotional conversations I've had with my little girl since she was born.

The story in this book is told from the perspective of a little boy whose mummy has died. At first, he doesn't understand why mummy has gone away - and assumes that she will be back. But Daddy and his big sister have to gently explain that mummy has died, and that she won't be coming back.

The sledgehammer blow of what it must feel like to be a child hearing something like that, is so beautifully handled here that it made me well up when I previewed it for suitability, it made me quite tearful when I read it with Charlotte - and days later it made me cry out loud when quite unprompted, Charlotte said at the breakfast table that "she knew she was sometimes naughty, sometimes every day, and that she didn't know why but she will try not to be".

When you read the book you'll sort of understand how that statement ties in with it and why I had to hug her tight (once I'd stop yowling), sit down with her and the book and read it to her again - emphasising the point made by the little boy's dad that it was "nothing he'd done, it was not his fault".

It's easy as a parent to miss the many forms in which your child's love for you manifests itself. Sometimes it's demonstrable. Sometimes it's subtle. Sometimes it manifests itself simply as a fear that you may not always be around, or there for them. Like nothing else, at that point I fully understood what Charlotte felt like and also what it means to be a parent, the amazing duty of care you undertake and how sometimes your child just seems to KNOW.

This book is important. I may have missed the huge fuss and also may have missed the plaudits it should have had heaped upon it, the praise from teachers and counsellors who could make such brilliant use of this book in situations that arise in schools and at home, and I may have missed praise from parents who have used the book in the way it was intended to be used, to help them and their children through what must be a hellishly difficult time.

But let me say again, this book is hugely important, so utterly and beautifully written and illustrated, and proves what we already knew. Rebecca Cobb is a gigantic stratospheric talent who seems to have the innate ability to be able to inhabit a child's mind, and beautifully describe and express what dwells within.

This is my fourth attempt at writing a review of this book, to try and help others understand why they should read it, whether they feel they need it or not. I would point out that I am fairly emotional when it comes to stuff like that but I would imagine even the hardest of hearts would need a huge box of tissues during and after reading this - particularly if it spawns the sort of questions or conversations that it did for us.

Sorry, I've probably not even come close to doing this justice. Just read it - please.

Charlotte's best bit: There's a beautiful scene at the end, as time begins to heal and turns tears of sorrow into tears of joy. Can't think of a better way to describe it but it's wonderful.

Daddy's Favourite bit: My other half finds it hilarious that I get so emotional about things like this (but I think secretly she might be glad I'm some heartless macho fool). As much as this affected Charlotte in a really unexpected way, it hit me like a ton of bricks and made me cry a lot. This and Jo Empson's "Rabbityness" should sit alongside each other on everyone's book shelf. 

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