Hello there, sorry for the late post!
So, few weeks ago I’ve requested a book on NetGalley titled “Luna’s Red Hat”. First, I attracted with the cover. After that, the synopsis caught me.
It is a beautiful spring day, and Luna is having a picnic in the park with her family, wearing her Mum’s red hat. Luna’s Mum died one year ago and she still finds it difficult to understand why. She feels that it may have been her fault and worries that her Dad might leave her in the same way. Her Dad talks to her to explain what happened and together they think about all the happy memories they have of Mum.
When I finish read it, I remember “Children and Young Adult’s Literature” project and thought it would be great if I can have further discussion with Emmi Smid, the author. So I contacted the publisher and luckily, they were excited to help me ask some questions to Ms. Smid.
So, here you go!
Luna’s Red Hat – An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope with Loss and Suicide
Text and illustrations: Emmi Smid
With a contribution by Dr Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, www.jkp.com
10.63in x 8.46in / 270mm x 215mm, 34pp
£10.99 | IDR Rp 434.000 (OpenTrolley)
1. What inspired you to write Luna’s Red Hat? Would you mind sharing the story behind the writing process?
I lost my friend Bram to suicide when I was 16. We’d grown up together on the same street and went to the same schools, so it came as a big shock when I learnt that he was gone. My other experience with suicide happened when I was 21 and lost my aunt Judith. She left behind 2 daughters, Merel and Silke, who were 14 and 10 at the time. I felt very powerless, not knowing what I could do to help them.
In 2013 I was doing a masters at the University of Brighton, UK, called Sequential Design/Illustration. I had rediscovered my love of picture books, and while looking through my collection of picture books that cover the topic of death, it struck me that none of them covered death by suicide. Looking at the suicide rates in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium, I realised that a tool for children to help them cope with their loss constructively was needed. I decided to write a picture book myself, and to dedicate it to my cousins Merel and Silke. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, I decided I needed help from specialists regarding the specific grieving process after loss through suicide. I contacted Dutch bereavement specialist Dr. Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers (www.rietfiddelaers.nl), and Belgian bereavement institution Werkgroep Verder (www.werkgroepverder.be). They have been a tremendous help to me, providing me with feedback on the manuscript of Luna’s Red Hat as well as my illustrations. Writing and illustrating this book has been a tough but positive learning curve, personally as well as professionally, and I hope that it will help others.
2. I read on your website (www.emmismid.nl) that you focus on designing picture books that tackle social taboos as well as global topics. Could you kindly explain why you are interested in this?
Picture books are the perfect vehicle to bring across important messages to children, without them feeling like they are being lectured to. I believe children are very allergic to being patronised, and rightfully so. Children have the same brains as us adults do, the only difference is that they lack life experience. Picture books that openly and honestly cover certain difficult topics, such as for instance death, suicide, domestic violence, etc. can show children that they are not the only ones going through said painful emotions and experiences. Picture books can function as a tool between parents/carers/professionals and children, giving all parties the opportunity to discuss these matters, and learn to deal with them together.
In terms of covering global topics: My next picture book, Bessi’s Bees (working title), aims to make children aware of the plight of bees. In the shape of a story the book explains why bees are in danger, why they are so important to us, and what we can do to help them (and consequently ourselves). It will hopefully encourage children to plant bee friendly flowers in their gardens or on their balconies. The story is written in collaboration with biologist Chris Owen, and supported by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (www.bumblebeeconservation.org).
3. In my country, parents have a long list of taboos that shouldn’t be discussed with children. The topic of suicide, I believe, would be near the top. Some say that it is best to only share positive things with children. Or, if in the rarest case we have to explain something bad, we tend to “sugar-coat” it. What do you think about this? Should parents watch their words or just tell their children the truth?
This is a very interesting question that points out differences within cultures. Let me start by saying that I am not in the position to judge how one chooses to raise one’s children. Being born and raised in the Netherlands, I vote telling children the truth. From my point of view, the only way to gain life experience and learn how to cope with difficult situations is to live life fully, starting from the moment we are born. Life in its very essence includes the good as well as the bad. I don’t think it will help the child in later life if we underestimate their ability to deal with painful situations and wrap them up in cotton wool instead. Don’t get me wrong: I would never advise dumping bad news onto a child and then letting them get on with it on their own! Making sure that children are emotionally supported by adults when undergoing difficult times is of great importance. Consequently, this means that there needs to be time and space for children to talk about their questions and issues, meaning that taboos need to be broken, no matter how difficult. See also the answer to question 4.
4. In my humble opinion, “Luna’s Red Hat” is a perfect read for children aged 10+. Is that correct, or did you write it with younger readers in mind? Do you feel parents should accompany their child while reading it?
Children aged 10+ will still benefit from reading Luna’s Red Hat, if they’ve encountered a loss through suicide. However, the book is written for children aged 6+. At this age, children are starting to understand that death is something definite. That said, children younger than 6 may not be able to fully comprehend the notion of death and suicide, but they will understand it to their own level. It is understandable that one might want to refrain from telling their child the truth, but is important that one is honest. Children and even babies will intuitively pick up on strong emotions surrounding them, which will make them feel anxious and unsettled. If the truth isn’t explained to a child, the child will feel left out and confused, and will end up feeling left alone with his/her questions and emotions. Not being supported by a parent in dealing with these difficulties as and when the situation occurs may have a negative effect on children in later life. As Dr Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers points out in her contribution to the book, the ‘Guide for Parents’: “Besides that, there is a chance that they (the child) might find out that it was suicide via neighbours or friends at school. It is important that they hear it from someone they trust, such as a parent.”
5. What or whom are you inspired by?
I suppose “everything” isn’t a very satisfying answer. Sir Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl have always been big inspirations to me. I love going to bookshops, to read other people’s picture books. I surround myself with like-minded artists and together we bounce off new ideas. I visit museums and illustration fairs and I like to travel: change of scenery is change of mind, like my dad always says. No input = no output, so I try to live life with my eyes and heart open as much as possible.
6. Do you have any rituals while you write or paint?
I don’t think I have any particular habits, really. I like to listen to TED-Talks or audio books while I draw and paint. When I write I tend to listen to classical music, or any music without lyrics, so as to not get distracted by the words. Endless amounts of tea are a necessity, and preferably the occasional chocolate-boost to feed the soul!
7. What do you expect for the reader to experience while/after reading your book?
I hope that children as well as their parents/carers will be able to identify with the different emotions and questions Luna goes through in the book. I hope that it will help them understand their own emotions better, and give them the sense that they are not the only one struggling with having lost someone through suicide. I created Luna’s Red Hat to encourage children and parents/carers/professionals to discuss what they are going through, and help each other to learn to accept their loss as part of their lives, and live a beautiful, positive life nonetheless.
Emmi Smid is a UK based author and illustrator. Her debut picture book, Luna’s Red Hat, deals with the stigma of suicide. It will be on the shelves in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia in April 2015. A must-read book, trust me! 😉