Monday, June 29, 2009

The Goodbye Boat

There is a vast amount of children's literature available about death. I wanted to review one such book I came across recently. It is a visually beautiful book, with sweeping oil paintings depicting the metaphor of death as leaving on a boat. The book "The Goodbye Boat" is by author Mary Joslin and is illustrated by Clarie St. Louis Little.

There are few words in this book, leaving the message to be portrayed visually. Two grandchildren are depicted with their grandmother. At first they are at play in summer by the beach. Then in the sunset a ship approaches. The grandmother waves goodbye and as the climate turns to winter the boat sails away. However as summer comes again the message is clear, with the children once again playing on the beach and happy.

The final phrase of the book, "yet when the boat is gone from view it's surely sailing somewhere new" is meant to provide hope after all of the sadness.

I like that this book gives its message in short words like "wondering", "weeping" and "lonely days". These phrases coupled with the moving pictures would surely help instigate conversations with children reading it.

In fact, in one of the reviews on, I noted a reviewer said she read this book to her grandnieces after a death, and they asked to re-read it multiple times, each time asking new thoughtful questions about death.

I also like the various metaphors. The seasons that match the emotional responses is nice touch. The boat metaphor I like better than the "going to sleep" metaphor which can be confusing for young kids. However, this too can be confusing if the child assumes this as concrete fact. As one review pointed out, a child may assume the boat will come back... awaiting their loved ones return.

I also appreciated that the boat was seen approaching, long before the grandmother left on it. Although very much an ideal, it gives the sense that one can prepare and have a chance to say goodbye.

I think if I had to pick my favorite page of the book it would be this one below, with the words "wondering,". I encounter this feeling more often on a daily basis, doing palliative medicine work, than any of the other expected feelings of sadness, anger, etc. You can see the sad frustration and unknown in the expressions of the kids as well as the grandmother herself. Wondering is experienced by both patients and families, as well as with those of us in the medical world.

Joslin, Mary. "The Goodbye Boat" Eerdmans Books For Young Readers: Grand Rapids, Michigan. Copyright 1998

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