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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gentle Norwegian Story Helps Children Understand Death

Life and I: A Story about Death
Written by Elisabeth Helland Larsen and Illustrated by Marine Schneider
Translated by Rosie Hedger
Little Gestalten, Berlin, 2016
Ages 5 – 8

With clear green eyes and a flower in her hair, Death rides a pink bicycle and visits small animals with soft fur and big animals with sharp teeth.

In this Norwegian import, “Life and I: A Story about Death,” death is portrayed as a kind and gentle black-haired girl. The words are poetic and pretty. Colorful pastel drawings create a warm, soft mood for the story.

The story is reassuring for children who may have questions about death. But a parent should read the story first before deciding whether to share it with their child.

Sometimes disturbing ideas, such as many people dying in a fire, are broached. But they are discussed in a tender way, “Shoulder to shoulder we stand in a circle. I put up lights for all to see.”

Another page brings up the death of children: “From time to time I meet those with downy soft hair and little warm hands that I hold in my own.”

And another considers, “Many people ponder all their lives what will happen when I come. Will it be chaotic or quiet, with the loss of a heartbeat and one last breath?”

The story brings up several positive ideas about death. One is that death makes way for new living things to grow. Another is that life and death live together in every body.

Life is portrayed as a red-haired twin to the black-haired Death. The two girls sit quietly together huddling over a town, or resting against tree trunks.

Finally, the narrator Death tells the reader, “If you are afraid of me or of Life, I can whisper something to you ... Love!”

Love does not die, even when it meets Death, the narrator says.

About the Author and Illustrator:

A native of Norway, Elisabeth Helland Larsen studied theater in Paris at the Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq and children's literature in Oslo at the Norsk Barnebokinstitutt. She has worked as a clown for more than 20 years in hospitals and hospices, as well as refugee camps, circuses, and theaters.

Marine Schneider has drawn since she could hold a pencil. The young Belgian illustrator just received her degree from the LUCA School of Arts. “Life and I” is her children's book debut.

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