A Last Goodbye
A Last Goodbye
After you die, friends and family will gather. Some will travel long distances and stay for many hours. Others will place wreaths or drape you in a blanket of forest green.
Owl Kids’ A Last Goodbye provides for young readers an interesting introduction to the concept of death. The book adopts a gentle tone and establishes a mood of reverence and respect through Elin Kelsey’s written text and Soyeon Kim’s attractive artwork. People young and old wonder about death, and this book might provide for some readers a valuable vehicle through which they can begin or continue their own musings while simultaneously receiving comfort from the knowledge that death is a necessary part of the so-called circle of life.
Ostensibly, A Last Goodbye is about how animals mourn and express grief when another animal dies. When I learned the premise of the book, I was excited by its prospects, but it never progresses beyond a very basic level. Despite its potential, the book does little to further one’s understanding or knowledge of animals and their death rituals. In an afterword, Kelsey asserts that each animal portrayed in the book as grieving was included after research involving talking with scientists about how social animals deal with death. Yet none of the details of those conversations with scientists have been included. The book would be much stronger if some of that research had been presented, particularly as it pertains to specific species. As it is, the reader is expected to just accept that the animals portrayed in the book really do exhibit grief-fuelled mourning behaviours. While this reviewer does not doubt this, Kelsey and Kim needed to include stronger supporting evidence. A Last Goodbye should contain more information—even as an afterword—about each featured animal. What are the animal species depicted in the illustrations? Where do they live? What specific mourning behaviours are they known to exhibit, and where have those behaviours been documented?
Soyeon Kim’s illustrations consist of photographs of hanging mobile 3-D dioramas she created in wooden box frames. The inside of the dust jacket presents a four-step depiction of Kim’s creative process for the illustrations. The Owl Kids website also contains a link to an interesting five minute video clip about book illustration generally and Kim’s work for this book in particular. Kim’s illustrative technique is innovative and creative. It is colourful and attractive but, as with the written text for this book, greater detail would enhance the work.
A Last Goodbye is not without strengths. It is certainly not without value. Many children and adults will enjoy its gentle, respectful tone. Some readers will find comfort in its message. I just wish more was done with what is a fascinating topic. Admittedly, that would be a different book. For me though, it would be a better book.
Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba where he teaches children’s literature classes.