Title: My Father’s Arms Are A Boat
Author: Stein Erik Lunde, Kari Dickson, Trans.
Illustrator: Øyvind Torseter
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
Publication Date: 2012
Audience: 4 years and up
Summary: A young, unnamed boy lies in bed listening to the sound of the fire crackling in the living room. His bedroom door is ajar, “So that your dreams can come out to me,” says his father. It is cold and quiet and the sleepless boy returns to the living room and climbs onto his father’s lap. The father suggests that they will cut down a tree tomorrow and this leads to a conversation about the boy’s concerns: Do the red birds sleep in the tree? Have they eaten the bread crumbs we put out? “Granny says that red birds are dead people.” What about the fox? Will he get the bread crumbs? “Is Mommy asleep? She’ll never wake up again?” And the father says, “No, not where she is now.”. They go out to look at the stars, the boy thinking that his dad’s arms are like a boat sailing him out into the yard. Each one makes a wish on a shooting star and they return to the house. The boy can’t sleep. “Everything will be all right,” says the father. “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.”
Literary elements at work in the story: The boy narrates this almost non-event as he and his father are dealing with the death of mother and wife, a fact not revealed until midway in the book. The short sentences contain a wealth of detail about time, weather, temperature, sights and sound and especially about the relationship of the boy and his father. Actions involving touch and visual contact convey security, trust, and love: The boy’s confidence in his father is expressed in the image of his arms as a boat. The art extends their sense of sorrow and loss with stark shades of grey and black. Using paper sculpture and ink drawings the artists depicts emptiness, stillness, disorientation. Blocks of bright white and an occasional splash of red punctuate the dark and cold. Illustrations are a perfect partner for the sad and tender tale. Both author and artist have won awards in Europe and the US.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? These play no significant part in the story.
Theological Conversation Partners: Children in gang-ridden pockets of poverty or areas of war in far too many places around the world are touched by death daily. For most who will see this book however, death occurs infrequently and usually as the conclusion of a long life. But events do occur-a mother dies, a child develops cancer, a father is struck by an auto, or a parent who serves in the military is killed and these occasions are a special challenge to parents and teachers who nurture their children in faith in God who cares. This book depicts with aching honesty how a father and son deal with such an event. . The strength of the book is the relationship of love and trust between father and son. They stay engaged with life around them and make plans for the next day. With such a bond loss and anxiety can be faced. The reader may question equating death with sleeping for a child who must go to sleep each night, but there are clues here for facing pain and loss through relationships. Is this adequate for Christians who want children to know that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39)? This is not to suggest that we should re-write this very moving story. Rather we should use this occasion to hear what our children understand about death and share our own sense of belonging to God. Romans 8:31-39 and John 14:1-3 are two key passages that do not burden children with details about streets of gold or white robes. Storypath has both a bibliography about death and the theme index can provide other useful book reviews.
With whom will you share this book? And in what situations? Parents will benefit from reading it and thinking about the faith they have to share. Teachers will gain insight from its pages. For any group of middle schoolers or teens it will open conversation about a topic that is difficult for them. Use with lower elementary and preschoolers would be determined by individual situations: a death in his/her family, questions raised by remarks (God called him home. She’s in a happier place.), fear of death. When read with these children it should be done individually or with a very small group and conversation should always be part of the experience. “I don’t know but we can depend on God just like the boy depended on his father.” will be the answer to many questions.
Faith Talk Questions: (for older children and adults)
- Look carefully at the pictures. What do colors ( or lack of), space, furniture arrangement, size of objects make you think and feel?
- No one cries in this story. Is crying an important part of grief?
- What indications do you see that the boy and his father care for each other? How does this help with grief?
- Can our ultimate trust be in any person-parent? spouse?
- Have you been to a funeral? What is the purpose of a funeral?
- Plan your own funeral.
- What do you say when you visit a friend who has had a death in his/her family?
- What do we say about death in our creeds each Sunday?
- The Christian faith states that life does not end with death. Imagine life with God beyond death. The Bible uses a number of images (streets of gold, white robes, trumpets) but they are just images. Your ideas will just be images too but give it a try.
This review is written by regular reviewer Virginia Thomas.
My Father’s Arms Are A Boat by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.