Ringtved, Glenn. Cry, Heart, but Never Break. Enchanted Lion Book: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1592701872
Four children make a pact to keep death away from their grandma. But death comes eventually. And he comes with enough time to tell the children a story that will help them understand him better.
The story starts with a woman dying, and her four grandchildren When Death comes for the grandmother, he leaves his scythe by the door, hoping not to scare them. I love the symbolism in this, that death isn’t something to be scared of.
Death, having great kindness and compassion, tells the children a story, to illustrate why death is important and not something to be feared.
“Some people say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death’s heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life.”
Death tells the children a story about two brothers, Sorrow and Grief, and two sisters, Joy and Delight. When the brothers met the sisters, they found out that they balanced each other out.
“It is the same with life and death… What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for the day if there were no night?”
It is Danish custom to leave the window open when someone is dying/dies, so that their spirit can be released and begin it’s journey from this realm. We see that in this book, when Death opens the window and tells the grandmothers soul to fly away. It also symbolizes new hope and a fresh start.
“Moments later, the children heard the upstairs window open. Then, in a voice somewhere between a cry and a whisper, Death said, ‘Fly, Soul. Fly, fly away.'”
When their grandmother inevitably dies, they are first filled with sadness, but soon after, peace.
“The curtains were blowing in the gentle morning breeze. Looking at the children, Death said quietly, “Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life.”
The illustrations are simple, dark, and fit with the tone of the book. The simple illustrations help to paint the narrative of the book.
This book is very sweet and beautifully written. Polar opposites are a reality we must live with. We can’t have life without death. And just because someone dies doesn’t mean they are fully gone from us. They live on in our memories and hearts. The book does a good job of explaining the complex nature of death, grief, and healing. I love the title, and the overall theme of the book: Cry, heart, but never break. Allow yourself to grieve, but continue on with your life. It handled the theme in a very kid friendly way and I would recommend it to children facing the death of a loved one.
From The New York Times:
“Rich and affecting.”
From Kirkus Reviews:
“The removal of any parental buffer in this episode reinforces the salutary suggestion that children are resilient enough to be in death’s presence without fear. […] Gentle, wistful reading for times of imminent loss.”
Mildred L. Batchelder Award winner, 2017.
Other books by Glenn Ringtved:
Verflixtes Piratenlenben ISBN 978-3922681175
Gaerd Blot Hjerte ISBN 978-9866407222
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers ISBN 978-0399254529
The Strongest Bond: A Memoir by Susan Brougher ASIN B00IZ1BY0G
“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” -Albus Dumbledore
What does this quote mean to you? What do you get from it?