Told from a young child’s perspective dealing with a loss of a parent, Sitting Shiva is neither easy to read nor, I imagine, was it easy for Silver to write, but it’s a book that is sadly necessary. Silver delivers a story that shows great empathy for a child’s feelings when coping with loss. That Silver does this task in a unique and emotional way that manages to convey the traditions associated with the practice of sitting Shiva is admirable.
Shiva, which means seven, signifies the seven days of mourning that those who follow the Jewish religion observe after the passing of a loved one. Shiva creates an environment of comfort and community for mourners. Many of the customs of Shiva are carefully woven into the fabric of the story, customs such as mourners not shaving, mirrors being covered, a special candle that is lit and burns for the full week. It’s a time during which family and friends visit with food and share stories and memories. Silver artfully explains this important purpose and the need for mourners to be comforted by visitors. But Jenny is not happy about seeing people. Her dad points out to his daughter that “it is not time to be alone”.
It is heartbreaking to read Jenny’s thoughts as many visitors arrive.
There is only one person’s food I want to eat.
One face I want to see
Her poignant memories are beautifully expressed and are age-appropriate. She turns for some solace to the blanket her mother knitted for her, but she soon ventures downstairs to see family and friends, and surprisingly she discovers that “friendship can make you feel safe”. By the end of the story, it is Jenny and the blanket that provide a comfort for her grieving father.
The illustrations, softly coloured in pastels, are somewhat flat and stilted, but they manage to convey sadness and emotion and seem to suit this difficult subject.
The author’s note at the end further explains the customs of Shiva and how others of different faiths observe the passing of a loved one. These traditions may differ, but the mourning process shows the need to be surrounded by others who care.
Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children’s Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba.