CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 10. . . .November 6, 2015
A child’s first experience with death is often that of a pet or a grandparent. Having to explain death to a child is one of the most challenging tasks that life presents to a parent or some other significant adult in a child’s life. While This I Know, which is dedicated to the memory of the author’s father, appears in a picture book format, its brief but sophisticated contents are definitely not aimed at the typical “young” picture book audience. Instead, this is a book that’s likely best shared by a “believing” adult with an older child who may be trying to understand or make sense of the death of someone close to her/him.
And what is it that the author/songwriter knows? All of life is but a journey that can be interrupted at any point in time by a living God who is waiting to have our souls return to Him. In the book, verses two, four, six and seven conclude with a “God is..., this I know” statement, as found immediately below:
In the lyrics of the song, which are reproduced on the book’s final text page, each of these lines is repeated twice, thereby underlining the importance of the griever’s having a belief in a supreme being if s/he is to have any understanding of death. And for bereaved Believers, comfort is offered in the line “God is replying, this I know”, but it will be up to the individual to “hear” God’s specific response to her/him. Some lines of This I Know, such as “Every day we live is borrowed”, are beautiful in their obvious simplicity while others, like “In the taking there’s a giving / In the sorrow there is singing”, demand that readers/listeners struggle with what appear to be contradictions.
Those who want to see and hear Michael Prendergast performing This I Know need only web search MICHAEL PRENDERGAST THIS I KNOW. Two small differences will be noted between the printed lyrics and those sung by Prendergast with one occurring in the line “Every face will turn in sorrow” in which the oral version substitutes “bend” for “turns”. The second difference is found in “Everyone must cross the water” where the sung version is rendered as “Everyone will cross that water.”
Joanne Snook-Hann’s illustrations do not try to reproduce Pendergast’s text visually. Instead, they attempt to evoke each stanza’s mood, with a full-page illustration or double-page spread appearing on each pair of facing pages, accompanied by the appropriate text. If there is any place where the illustrations do “tell” a story, it’s found in the book’s final five sets of illustrations which begin with the portrayal of an elderly man standing alone by a body of water (verse 3).
The next illustration (verse 4) shows an empty rocking chair next to the water, the setting sun reflecting off the water. The setting sun image is rendered anew in the next illustration (verse 5), but, this time, without any evidence of a human presence. The penultimate illustration (verse 6) sees an adult couple, their backs to the reader, sitting under a tree, its leaves in fall colours. The man has his arm around the woman’s shoulder while her head rests on his shoulder. The final illustration (verse 7) portrays a mother swinging a child on a swing that is attached to a large mature, green tree.
The cover illustration in which Snook-Hann portrays a young girl standing in a field of sunflowers while releasing a monarch butterfly can be seen as highly symbolic. Though sunflowers do track the sun across the sky through their bud stage, their mature flowers all face east and daily “greet” a new beginning. And if death is a mystery, so is the amazing migration that Monarch butterflies undertake. Perhaps even more amazing is the transformation that occurs in the insect’s transformation from egg to larva/caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.
Despite the book’s “religious” content, I do see This I Know having a place in public and school libraries, even if it’s just in the school counsellors’ office. Public libraries should definitely consider adding a copy to the adult collection.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.