Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Bidding Farewell

They never speak a single word in the language of humans.  Signature sounds instinctively passed from generation to generation are heard. Final moments are not spent alone.  A last breath is acknowledged.  A life is honored and mourned.

These are the noted observations of scientists who have studied loss within certain animal groups.  Death completes a circle.  For this reason, certain rituals are of importance.  In A Last Goodbye (Owlkids Books, April 15, 2020) written by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim, this remarkable collaborative team who brought us You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking and You are Never Alone, addresses the end of life as a significant part of life.

When it comes time to say
our last goodbye,
I will wrap my trunk around you
and support you with my tusks.

An elephant is showing their faithfulness to a companion.  A killer whale signals the desire to elevate to the surface another member of the pod who needs to breathe.  Chimpanzees add to the comfort of a bed upon which a dying friend rests, using natural materials.  They will also use their hands to comb and care for their fur.

Each featured animal reminds their failing partner, they will not be left alone.  They will be comforted.  Even in death, the closeness is continued.  It will be done in silence or with cries of sadness.

Others will come to mourn your leaving, some journeying for miles and miles.  They will remain in your presence for hours.  Objects will be left by your side or brought to cloak your body.  The site of your passing will be remembered and visited in the future.

In the place where you remain, there are questions to be answered.  How will you continue to contribute to the richness of our Mother Earth?  You need to know you will not be forgotten.  You will be missed.  You will be found in others' memories for the joy you gave to them.  You are always a part of each subsequent generation.

The first sentence of this book, noted above, leads readers gently into the topic.  In her words, based on research, Elin Kelsey invites us with reverence into the natural sanctuary animals create for their dying family members and friends.  Every noted action conveys compassion.  Through grief, comfort given is a blanket of hope.  Here are two more sentences.

We will visit the place
where your body rests.

What gifts will it share
as it settles into the earth?

The front of the dust jacket and book case is your first glimpse of the intricate and detailed portraits of animals loving and mourning other animals as they are dying and dead.  Every item is meticulously placed to depict calm and solace.  To the left, the back, of the dust jacket we are shown at the top the last interior image within its framework.  Beneath this are thumbnails of the three previous books with excerpts from reviews.  Inside the dust jacket is a highly illustrated four-step process for the creation of the artwork.  On the book case the tree placed on the front crosses the spine.  Branches hang over two gorillas close to another which has passed.

The remarkable artwork of Soyeon Kim continues on the opening and closing endpapers.  A velvety teal color provides a canvas for line drawings of constellations featuring animals, numbering twenty-one, and including two humans.  They are labeled with their common and scientific names.

The initial title page features a gathering of black-billed magpies carrying items to place on a dead comrade.  On the double-page image for the verso and title pages, a pod of killer whales circles the text.  Each subsequent two-page illustration is a stunning representation and extension of the text.  The rich hues of blue (and mauve) in the backgrounds illuminate each exquisite item. 

At times Soyeon Kim will blend several different animals into a single visual.  Each of the depicted animals are displayed in their most natural colorations.  The deceased animals are featured in lighter shades.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is the first double-page picture.  In this instance the background is two shades of black.  Delicate flowers hang on the far right.  Across all the left and most of the right are two elephants.  The one in the background has wrapped their trunk around the trunk and head of the one in the front, supplying support.  It is a moving portrayal of offering care.

Bidding farewell for the final time to a beloved family member or friend is one of the hardest endeavors we all face.  A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with artwork by Soyeon Kim allows readers to understand how death is approached by other animals.  It helps us to find our place in this part of life.  This book is a tour de force.  At the close of the book is a note from the author.  Please consider placing it on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Elin Kelsey has an account on Twitter.  Soyeon Kim has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website there are multiple resources including two videos, one with the artist describing her process for this book.  There is a downloadable, eight-page teacher's guide designed by two psychologists.  There are several interior images for you to view.  There is an article in Psychology Today about this title.  Elin Kelsey is featured on a podcast about the process of process titled:  Episode 23: Elin Kelsey-Why Hope Matters For the Environment, For Art, and During A Pandemic. The host is Ruby Josephine.  (I have not listened to all of this.)  On Sunday, July 5, 2020, Elin Kelsey will be participating in a storytime showcasing this book.

Please take a few moments to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  They can be found at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator, Alyson Beecher.

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