A very different picture book that deals with death

One day, when my kids were very little, we were walking to the park when we saw a cat get hit by a car. We didn’t recognise the cat and despite knocking on lots of doors to locate the owner, the cat died. The cat was the centre of our conversation for the next few days, however, rather than philosophical talks about death, my four and five-year-old boys focussed on the practicalities of the situation – “Will the blood wash off the road when it rains?”; “Will the council find the owner?”; “Will the owner give your towel back?” (I had wrapped the cat in an old towel) – just a few of the dozens of things my kids were speculating about.

Which is why The Flat Rabbit, by Faroese author and illustrator, Bardur Oskarsson, immediately caught my eye. It’s a children’s book that tackles the subject of death, but importantly, examines the death of someone (or something) you don’t know, and the emotions associated with that.

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The Flat Rabbit is the story of a dog and a rat who come across a flattened rabbit on the road. Neither the dog nor the rat knows the rabbit well (although the dog recalls that he has “peed on the gate a couple of times” at her address, “…so we’ve definitely met.”).

The two look at the rabbit for a while, feeling sad. They know they shouldn’t leave the rabbit on the road, but they’re not sure how to move her or what to do with her body. Their solution is unconventional but quite lovely and appeals to the imagination (they create a kite and attach the flattened rabbit).

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A number of children’s authors have tackled the topic of death. It is often done in an abstract way, allowing readers to take as much, or as little, as they want from the story. However, while analogies about death may seem gentle, they often overlook the obvious and practical questions and thoughts kids may have, which is why this book is such a gem. Equally, the story highlights the importance of honouring a life, regardless of relationships.

The Flat Rabbit is suitable for children aged six years and over. Find it online at Book Depository, which delivers free to Australia.

For more children’s books dealing with the topic of death, see our previous reviews of books about grieving, as well as Harry & Hopper, and The Lilac Ladies.

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Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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