Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Forever Kid


The Forever Kid by Elizabeth Mary Cummings, illustrated by Cheri Hughes (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 781925 675382

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Grief is a challenging topic for children’s books, especially for the very young. This gentle, warm picture book features a family learning to move on after the loss of the eldest child to illness. The story follows the narrator – a young boy – his two sisters, parents and family dog as they celebrate the birthday of Johnny, their “forever kid”, the brother who is no longer with them. They remember what they shared with him, individually and together, and look at their cherished mementos. They allow themselves both sadness and joy as they grieve and celebrate.

Cummings, who has qualifications in psychology and education, weaves comforting imagery and sensory language with a poignant tone, gradually building towards a realisation of what has happened to Johnny and the family. The fact that his death is never explicitly referenced allows for adults to guide the discussion with younger readers in whatever way they feel is appropriate.

There is also an insightful moment of tension introduced when the narrator confesses his feelings of jealousy about the attention and latitude Johnny received while he was alive, and his guilt in hindsight. I imagine that the book’s acknowledgment of these feelings will give much-needed reassurance to children who have found themselves in a similar position.

The illustrations, by experienced artist Hughes, are perfect for this story. The images of the family are bright and lively, full of expression and colour. The background is rendered in a soft, pastel tie-dye effect, with suggestions of the “cloud stories” the family shared with Johnny, even once he was too ill to do anything else.

This book will be treasured by children who have lost siblings and valued by parents and educators looking for resources dealing with death, whether of a sibling or other loved one. While the publisher nominates an age range of 4 to 8 years, the sensitive yet layered approach should give it broader appeal.

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