Author: Nadishka Aloysius
Illustrator: Iaz Abdul Cader
Publisher: Self Published
Ages 8 – 11. Parental or Teacher Guidance Recommended.
This review is published on Easter Sunday, 2021, two years after the bombing of three Christian churches and two motels in Sri Lanka. Two hundred and ninety-five people lost their lives. This story for children is an account of those events as told by a little church mouse who witnesses firsthand the destruction and mayhem that follows one of the church bombings.
The story is not graphic in the sense of retelling in detail the gory and deadly aftermath of the bombing. The story explores the feelings of shock, fear and grief that little Vibhu experiences. Vibhu and his friends tentatively search for their lost friend Seha amongst the rubble and destruction. Vibhu eventually realizes he must accept the loss of his friend Seha, and he is supported and comforted by his friends and family.
The story opens with: “I love my home. On sunny days the light pours in through painted glass. It’s like living inside a rainbow. It feels like heaven.” Beautiful prose is used to describe the humans’ funeral as “a river of brown flowing in a land of white”, making reference to the Sri Lankan custom of carrying the coffins with everyone dressed in white.
This story is very much about death and grief. There are not enough children’s stories that address the issue of death and the loss of someone close to you. But this story does a very good job of giving hope in the event of a terrible tragedy. Be warned the story is sad – obviously given the subject matter. Vibhu, his friends and family gather Sehu’s shiny, pretty possessions and put them in a box and bury them in the ground, copying what the humans have done. Vibhu is comforted to know he can visit this place anytime he wants to and remember his very best friend.
There are Catholic references to the customs of Ash Wednesday, the statues around the Church and waving palms on Palm Sunday. The Church is described as having stained glass windows, flowers and candles. Although the humans work hard to repair their Church and replace everything that was destroyed, they leave one statue of Jesus spattered in blood and embedded with stained glass just as it is. The church mice wonder why the humans leave the damaged statue in place – it’s a great discussion point to have with children as you read this story together.
I bought the kindle version of this book so I’m unable to comment on how the actual book design works. The front cover is coloured, but the inside sketches are black and white. There are many full pages of text which will be a challenge for some younger readers. The sketches work well to help children understand the story. I would love to see a colourful, glossy version of this book as the story and prose lend themselves to beautiful illustrations and design. For the time being this version appears to be adequate. I would suggest that given the subject matter, this story should be read aloud by a parent or teacher, with pauses and conversation along the way.
The story is an Easter story because it commences on Easter Sunday in a Catholic church. But there are other reasons that make this an appropriate story book for Easter. The themes of shock, searching, waiting and finally regaining hope mirror the triduum experience. From Holy Thursday through to new hope found on Easter Sunday, we experience the same human emotions as the main characters in this story.
Author: Nadishka Aloysius
I thoroughly recommend this book to use throughout the whole year, but it is particularly poignant to read during Holy Week. Finally, please purchase this book or kindle edition as proceeds from sales go to assist victims of the Sri Lankan tragedy on Easter Sunday 2019. A review of the story on YouTube HERE. The book is available from Amazon HERE.
Teacher and Homeschool Ideas
There are questions at the end of the book which will help children to talk about and process their responses to the story. There are also many places in the book that I would pause and ask questions of children. For example, Vibhu sits on top of a statue for days and watches the humans cleaning up – despite his friends and family encouraging him to come home, he stays there. This could open a helpful discussion about the process of grief, how different people grieve differently, and what we can do to support people when they are mourning the loss of a loved one.
I would probably ask children to write and recite a prayer for the souls of those who died in the bombings. It would be helpful to support children in this exercise by talking to them about:
- What do you want to say to God about the souls of all of these people
- What do you think their families would like you to say to God
- What do you think the people who died would like you to say to God.
Making a small ‘altar’ with candles lit and flowers and holy pictures or statue when you recite the prayers will help children to appreciate ritual and the importance of Catholic symbols. You could ask children to talk about what the symbols mean and why we use them (the cross and sacred symbols to help us think about God, the candles and flowers as decoration and to help us focus and appreciate the reverence of the moment etc.)
Funerals and rituals can be explored too – what colour do we wear when we go to a funeral. Why do you think people in Sri Lanka wear white? Some internet research could be helpful here.
Drawing or sketching any of the scenes from the story will help most children to process the story and themes.
I found myself wondering about the theme of ‘forgiveness’ which was not really emphasized in the story. The mice help the injured cat who chased their friend towards the bomb when it exploded. Although they don’t overtly ‘forgive’ the cat, they demonstrate courage and compassion by helping the cat. In human terms, it was probably too early to think about forgiveness as the story takes place over the course of about one week. People (and mice) are still shocked and mourning. This might be a further conversation to have with children.