Mama's Going to Heaven Soon
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This issue’s cover shows Neil Gaiman (photo © Kelli Bickman) with his book The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch illustrated by Dave McKean. Neil Gaiman is interviewed by Nicholas Tucker. Thanks to Bloomsbury for their help with this November cover.
This very American-in-approach book means so well and yet doesn’t manage to fulfil its good intentions. The idea is certainly original. The children’s mother has cancer, though the word cancer is never used, and as her illness is terminal, Dad explains that she will go to heaven and ‘live with God and the angels’. At first the children think this is quite exciting and would like to go too, but further explanations must follow, and the children are made to understand the permanent nature of the separation. The word ‘death’ is never mentioned. Ms Copeland’s daughter-in-law died of breast cancer, and she wrote the book to try to help her grandchildren and others. But the explanations are so forthright in their truthfulness that I have to wonder how helpful they would be. There is emphasis on the fact that Mama will always love the children and they her, and mention is also made of the importance of being able to talk to someone trusted about sadness. The illustrations, jaunty, naive figures superimposed on collage material, might be super in a different context but clash with the sombre messages in this book. Two quite detailed pages at the back of the book on ‘How to talk to children about death’ are the best part of it and, in fact, contradict some of the story’s premises. A well-meaning attempt gone seriously wrong. ES