Explaining the concept of death and loss to young children can be a difficult subject to tackle for most parents. The Wattle Tree tries to deal with this issue by relaying the story of Molly – a little girl who has lost her Grandma. The prose is sparse and the illustrations are bright and simple, yet the message is not lost – Molly is sad and so is her mum. And that’s OK. Sadness takes time. We also get a sense of Molly’s yearning – she misses baking with her grandma, she misses visiting her and she misses her smell. Molly notices too how her mum isn’t acting like she used to, how she seems withdrawn.
Molly, like most children her age, has an innate sense of optimism. She wants to make things better. And so she goes to find a way to reconnect with the grandmother who has “gone away”. She puts on her grandma’s big straw hat and goes for a walk in the bush where she discovers a wattle tree that for some reason seems familiar – its leaves remind her of grandma’s dress; its curves remind her of grandma’s hair. Spending time sitting beside the wattle tree makes Molly feel better.
Molly’s mum on the other hand is finding it hard to cope with the loss of grandma. When Molly finds her mum crying in the kitchen she decides to make her feel better. So they bake scones, like Molly once did with grandma, and Mum wears grandma’s hat that still retains grandma’s smell. Molly also introduces her mum to the wattle tree – something that finally brings a smile to her mother’s face.
At the end of the book we get a sense that not only has Molly found a way of coping with the death of her beloved grandmother, but she has enabled her mother to do the same. Along the way mother and daughter find a way to reconnect.
This book will suit any parent trying to explain death to young children. However, it can be quite a heavy book to read to children who are fortunate enough to not have had to confront this issue; Children like my 5 year-old daughter who found the book quite sad. Nevertheless, I will keep this book in mind as something to recommend to parents of young children who are dealing with grief, loss and sadness.
Saman Shad is a freelance writer for the Guardian, SBS and Fairfax. She can be found on Twitter @muminprogress