Three year old Bean was a bit too young to get it when Harvey Dog went to the vets and didn’t come back. Initially, there was no significant tangible response to his one-way trip. There was the occasional sigh of ‘Harvey Dog has been at the vets for a really long time now’, and, ‘When will Harvey Dog come home?’; but no amount of explanation of the finality of Harvey Dog’s journey truly sunk in. Consolation of others around her was acted out beautifully, with hugs and perfectly timed sympathetic exhalations in abundance.
But still nothing.
In one of the most delayed displays of grief in man-kinds history, it was the middle of the next summer when the penny finally dropped. ‘I don’t think Harvey dog is coming home and I really miss him’ was suddenly sobbed as we finished washing the car. Upset turned to anger that Harvey Dog wasn’t going to see her in her school uniform. There were cuddles and all the same explanations as before, but a year of emotional growth suddenly flowed with real tears and a degree of realisation.
Giles Paley-Phillips’ ‘Little Bell and The Moon’ plants the seed of wondering about our finite time on Earth perfectly for the curious mind of a child. Little Bell adores the Moon and the feeling is mutual. Wonderful adventures they have together play to a child’s imagination and, like all of the best teaching, draws them in to the bigger issue without even realising.
Bean, like many children, is fascinated with the moon. ‘Is the moon’s belly full of sun when it lights up?’, and, ‘Do astronauts go to the moon because it is the best place to bounce really high?’, are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her moon-based ponderings. The Moon is the perfect childhood friend for Bell, with the enduring nature of their friendship providing the security to deal with a difficult subject.
Bell and The Moon continue to explore faraway places; with Bell’s growing older not going unnoticed by Bean. Iris Deppe’s beautiful illustrations pave the way for discussions before being allowed to turn the page. ‘She’s fading’, Bean comments quietly towards the end of the story. And then, ‘Is that her soul?’, asked as we turn the page.
Bell’s being joins her friend in space; Little Bell, young again, consoling her friend with her brightness. Bean noted Little Bell’s happiness at being able to see The Moon even though she faded. A beautiful, touching, and reassuring ending to a lovely story of life and loss.
Little Bell and The Moon’s difficult subject matter and thought-provoking nature is perfectly balanced with well-worded rhymes painting images of childhood fun. It opens a child’s mind to the reality of death, while giving them relatable and reassuring images to hang their thoughts and questions on.
The Moon knows it is Little Bell that can be seen shining brightly. Bean asks ‘Are other people up in space with Little Bell, shining like stars?’, and I know that neither of us are going to look up at the sky in quite the same way again. Maybe Harvey Dog can see her in her school uniform, and perhaps Bean will see him when she next looks up at the stars.
‘Little Bell and The Moon’ written by Giles Paley-Phillips and illustrated by Iris Deppe, Fat Fox Books.