This short picture book for
children is about grief. The lead
character and narrator is Michael Rosen, a grown man, and he explains that he is
sad because his son died. He covers up
his sadness in front of other people because he thinks they won't like him if
he is sad. But on his own, he often
feels angry, lonely, quiet, hurtful, nasty, and desperate. It is a powerful book largely because of its
subject matter. Michael wishes he talk
to his mother about his feelings, but she is not around any more. He looks at other people and feels isolated. These emotions are conveyed not only by
words, but also by Quentin Blake's wonderful pictures, which do a great job at
expressing Michael's various feelings.
The book could possibly be
difficult for young children because the book makes Michael's sadness a
fact. There is no promise that it will
eventually go away, or that his life will get better. If children expect a happy ending, they will
be disappointed and maybe even alarmed that such sadness could go on
forever. Of course, the book also shows
that children sometimes die, and young readers could find that
frightening. However, children are generally
capable of coping with more emotions than adults expect, and so they may well
take this book in without being disturbed.
The dangers of the book are also its strengths, because what it says is
true, and it can help children understand adult grief and the enduring pain
that can come with it.
One of the positive aspects of the
writing is that it does not represent the grief as completely uniform, and
Michael is able to have fun and remember happy experiences even as he is still
in mourning. The story includes a poem
written by Michael where he describes sad as a place, and early on he says,
"Sometimes sad is very big. It is everywhere. All over me." These metaphors are powerful, and accurately
describe many people's experience, bringing out how sadness is not just about
feelings, but perceptions of the world.
So Michael Rosen's Sad Book is surprisingly sophisticated for a
children's book, and it manages to convey sadness more powerfully than most
books, whatever their intended readership.
© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of
the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at
Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online
Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine,
psychiatry and psychology.