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Reviewed by:
  • The Funeral by Matt James
  • Deborah Stevenson, Editor
James, Matt The Funeral; written and illus. by Matt James. Groundwood, 2018 40p
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-55498-908-9 $18.95
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-55498-909-6 $16.95
R* 4–7 yrs

When Norma’s great-uncle Frank dies, she knows it’s officially a sad thing, but she’s actually pretty happy about getting a day off of school and a chance to see her favorite cousin, Ray. While the adults mourn, Norma takes in the funeral procession and the long funeral service, and then she and Ray head off to play in the cemetery. On the manifest level this is a low-impact story about a kid’s break from routine, but a closer look makes it clear that this is an intensely child-focused story about a kid’s first experience with loss and ritual. Norma and Ray occasionally ask questions about the proceedings (“Uncle Frank was really old, right?” “Is Uncle Frank still a person?”), but there’s no documentation of answers, because they’re not the point. The point is what it feels like to sit in a light-filled church for too long, to have your own special kid moment away from the adults that’s meaningful in its own way, and to touch gently on the edges of grief from a safe and happy place. The mixed-media art, mostly acrylic and ink with some digital touches and layering, is luminous and evocative, and occasional clever uses of panel sequences provide pacing variety. Glimpses of tear-stricken adult faces and bowed heads make it clear that there’s genuine bereavement here, and the collection of Frank photographs, ranging from a posed formal shot to a snapshot of him out grilling in a goofy hat, suggest an eminently missable man. However, Norma’s experience is bright and lovely, with flowers, whether in digital insets or in the church, decorating this beautiful spring day from start to finish. The result is a book that gives young viewers a glimpse of the funeral experience but tacitly champions their right to process it in their own way. “I think Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral,” says Norma finally, and other youngsters and their grownups will agree. [End Page 432]



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