Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

During a recent visit to The National Museum of Wales we got to view the Quentin Blake Exhibition. This has been running from July 16th and goes through until November 20th and celebrates the wonderful work of the popular author and illustrator. The exhibition is free, as in entry to the museum itself, and is located upstairs. We enjoyed looking at the many works of Quentin Blake, discovering his various work tools, film footage of him working and exploring the artwork. In a large, open and bright area of the room was a long table with books illustrated by Quentin with paper and colouring pencils for visitors to try their hand at their own illustrations.

At the far end of the exhibition the walls were painted in a muted grey. There were alcoves and the ceiling was much lower, giving the area a much more..... intimate feel.

There were no display units in this area, just illustrations with scripture painted underneath each one. I felt drawn down to this darker, quieter area. Away from the humdrum and busy nature of the rest of the exhibition, the mood in this part was hushed.

Along the three walls in this area were large illustrations from Micheal Rosen's Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Michael Rosen is a renowned children's author and poet, my personal favourite is "We're Going On A Bear Hunt." He also served as Children's
Laureate from 2007-2009.

I hadn't read this book before and took a casual browse along, viewing the artwork. As I went along and started to read the writing underneath I became drawn into the story so I returned to the start. 

The story deals with grief, more specifically Michael Rosen's own grief at losing his son Eddie to meningitis at just 18 years old.

It opens with an apparently happy portrait of Michael.
Colourful and smiling widely at the reader, wearing a bright red shirt, you initially view this man as relaxed, friendly.

But as you start to read, the words make you look again and you see him in a new light.

"This is me being sad.
Maybe you think I'm being happy in this picture.
Really I'm being sad but pretending I'm being happy.
I'm doing that because I think people won't like me if I look sad." 

When you read that, you look back at the portrait and the strained eyes, the forced smile, the ragged and unshaven look of a man in pits of despair are suddenly evident.

In the next illustration you see Michael's true emotions.

The story goes on to talk about his son Eddie, introducing the reader to memories of Eddie, from baby through to child and then as a teenager. Happy family memories, snapshots of special times, fun times, happy times.

Then the poignancy of the last photo.

The blank photo, the missing memories.

"because he's not there anymore."

Michael shares the raw emotions he experiences as he swings from needing others and wanting to talk, to the absolute forsakenness and needing to be alone.
He opens up to the reader about how we all experience these feelings at times and the illustrations cleverly change to feature other people feeling sadness.

"Who is sad?
Sad is anyone.
It comes along and finds you."

One page simply depicts Michael sitting alone, in the grey light of a bedroom, perhaps his son's bedroom, now empty, unused and bereft of life.

As the story continues the images show Michael trying to walk his way through normality, always depicted in grey in contrast to the bright colours in the pictures of everyday life going on around him.

Michael continues with his memories; the loss of Eddie evoking the feelings of losing his mother. Memories of both running alongside and merging together. Happy memories of family gatherings, birthdays and the childlike joy at seeing the birthday candles...

"and candles.
There must be candles."

To the reality that there will be no more candles for Eddie, no more happy memories.

Just sad.

The wretchedness of the last picture which is left with no words manifests the sorrow, the dark grief that this Father is left with.

I finished viewing the illustrations with a thick lump in my throat and rather wet eyes! 
When returning home I had to find a copy of this book to read it in it's entirety. 
A wonderful book for children to help them to deal with and understand loss. To realise their feelings and to start to comprehend that these emotions are normal and, yes hard, but felt by everyone at some point in their lives.


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