Kids' Book About Death and Dying; By and for Kids. By the Unit at Fayerweather Street School. Eric E. Rofes, editor. Little, Brown and Co. $14.95.
Death is a sad fact of life, much as parents would like to shield their children from the pain and confusion that goes along with it. Children are exposed to death more often than many people realize. Youngsters are affected by deaths of pets, grandparents, celebrities and an occasional schoolmate. A few must deal with the deaths of parents or siblings.
Most of us can remember what a mixture of pain, confusion, fear and intense curiousity death stirred within us when we were young. And often it was hard to find adults willing to talk about it.
Among subjects that parents find difficult to discuss with their children, death ranks right up there with sex.
"The Kids' Book About Death and Dying" explains that uneasiness this way:
"Many adults fear death because of the way they were brought up. If people are taught that death is mysterious or something to be afraid of, then that's what they'll tell their kids. And so this attitude is passed down through the generations."
"The Kids' Book" attempts to take the mystery out of the subject for youngsters 8 years old and up. Written by youngsters, it does a good job of addressing even the toughest questions children have about death.
What do people look like when they die? Why would anyone want to be a mortician? What happens in an autopsy? What are the most common ways that children die? How does it feel when a brother or sister is dying?
All those questions are answered simply and directly. With the honesty of children, the authors don't shy away from such difficult topics as euthanasia, suicide, violent death and life after death.
According to editor Eric Rofes, the book is made up of the thoughts perceptions and feelings of 14 youngsters between the ages of 11 and 14, members of a class called "The Unit" at Fayerweather Street School in Cambridge, Mass. The project started as an informal discussion group, then the students went on to interview other children, parents, doctors, nurses, veterinarians, lawyers, rabbis, priests, funeral directors and cemetery workers.
Pets play a large role in the book because that's the first experience many children have with death. Tanya Wasserman wrote about the day she discovered her hamster dead in his cage.
"I kept trying and trying to make him move, even though he was dead. The reason that I did that, I think, is because I was so close to my hamster, I just couldn't believe he was dead."
There are lots of statistics and also a helpful section of book reviews by the children on other works of nonfiction and fiction dealing with death.
"The Kids' Book About Death and Dying" will be helpful to all children, not just those faced directly with death. The scariest things are those that are unknown. Knowledge can comfort.