By Maureen Tai, 15 October 2017
“Oh, I’ve been close by all your life – just in case.” – Death
In this sparsely illustrated picture book, Duck becomes aware of Death’s presence seemingly by chance, and it unsettles her.
There is no mistaking Death.
Despite the checked flannel nightshirt that reaches all the way to Death’s ankles and the single black tulip that it holds in its gloved hand behind its back, Death’s head is a large skull with gaping empty eye sockets and a wry smile.
Death appears on every page, a sombre reminder perhaps that death is everywhere. At first, Duck is uneasy about her newly-discovered companion, but her fears are put to rest once she realizes that Death isn’t there to cause her demise but to be there when her Life ends. An unlikely friendship develops between the two, Duck going about her usual activities and prattling along, Death omni-present and all-knowing.
This warm and poignant tale doesn’t seek to provide any answer to the question every child will ask a parent at some point, “What happens after we die?” Instead, we are presented with a gentle and calming reflection on the transition between Life and the after-Life.
Will younger children get it? Ben was almost 6 when we first read this together. He instinctively felt the sadness of (spoiler alert) Duck’s inevitable passing but was also taken by how unthreatening Death was. Ben turned 7 recently, and when I asked him to choose a picture book for me to write about, this was his pick.
For ages 6 and up.