CM Magazine: The Funeral.
________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 24. . . .February 23, 2018


The Funeral.

Matt James.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books, April, 2018.
40 pp., hardcover & ePub, $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-908-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-909-6 (ePub).

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4 7.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4



"No school for Norma!"
said Norma,
putting on her Mother's shoe.

A few days earlier, there had been a phone call.
Her great uncle Frank had died,
and today was for saying goodbye.


Saying goodbye to Uncle Frank means that Norma has a holiday from school and will be spending the whole day with her favourite cousin, Ray. On the way to the funeral, Norma notices that the word "funeral" starts with the letters "FUN". Norma is all set to have fun, having practiced her "sad face" at home. As the day unfolds for Norma, she is introduced to an important ritual of adult society.

      "Mom, Uncle Frank was really old, right?" she asks her mom, needing assurance that only old people die. She puts her face into her mom's purse to escape the "old book " smell of the church. She endures a "looong" sit on the hard seat of the pew listening to " about God and souls, and not very much talk about Uncle Frank." Unlike her younger cousin, she cannot keep escaping to the bathroom, but after she and Ray sample the triangular sandwiches at the reception, the children slip outside into the spring air to explore their surroundings – a grassy hill, a pond and an old graveyard. From Norma's point of view, it does indeed turn out to be a fun day. "I think Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral," Norma says as she arrives home.

      Matt James is a painter/illustrator and musician who has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books. In 2013, James' artwork earned him the Governor General's Literary Award for Illustration for the picture book Northwest Passage, a tribute to Stan Roger's song of that name.

      The Funeral is the first picture book that the author has both written and illustrated. He has chosen a most unusual topic for a children's book – an account of attending a funeral viewed entirely through the eyes of its young protagonist. The book features 19 bold and sweeping double page paintings in James' unique, naive style, a technique which perfectly complements the simple child like text. Not only do readers hear Norma's voice in the words, but also they also see her thoughts in James' illustrations.
      The Funeral is something of a special interest book in that it is a sensitive and positive treatment of a difficult subject. It may provide an opening to share thoughts on ways of saying good bye when shared with a young listener, but the success of using it as a read aloud to a group would present more difficulties.


A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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