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by Michael Rosen
Candlewick, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 15th 2005

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

This short picture book for children is about grief.  The lead character and narrator is Michael Rosen, a grown man, and he explains that he is sad because his son died.  He covers up his sadness in front of other people because he thinks they won't like him if he is sad.  But on his own, he often feels angry, lonely, quiet, hurtful, nasty, and desperate.  It is a powerful book largely because of its subject matter.  Michael wishes he talk to his mother about his feelings, but she is not around any more.  He looks at other people and feels isolated.  These emotions are conveyed not only by words, but also by Quentin Blake's wonderful pictures, which do a great job at expressing Michael's various feelings. 

The book could possibly be difficult for young children because the book makes Michael's sadness a fact.  There is no promise that it will eventually go away, or that his life will get better.  If children expect a happy ending, they will be disappointed and maybe even alarmed that such sadness could go on forever.  Of course, the book also shows that children sometimes die, and young readers could find that frightening.  However, children are generally capable of coping with more emotions than adults expect, and so they may well take this book in without being disturbed.  The dangers of the book are also its strengths, because what it says is true, and it can help children understand adult grief and the enduring pain that can come with it.

One of the positive aspects of the writing is that it does not represent the grief as completely uniform, and Michael is able to have fun and remember happy experiences even as he is still in mourning.  The story includes a poem written by Michael where he describes sad as a place, and early on he says, "Sometimes sad is very big. It is everywhere. All over me."  These metaphors are powerful, and accurately describe many people's experience, bringing out how sadness is not just about feelings, but perceptions of the world.  So Michael Rosen's Sad Book is surprisingly sophisticated for a children's book, and it manages to convey sadness more powerfully than most books, whatever their intended readership.

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.