Monday, November 8, 2010

The Purple Balloon

Author / Illustrator Chris Raschka paints during a talk
 at the OKI Children's Literature Conference
November 6, 2010

After listening to Chris Raschka speak at the OKI Children's Literature Conference, I read a copy of the book he wrote for Children's Hospice International (CHI) entitled The Purple Balloon.

The 24-page picture book begins with this note from Ann Armstrong-Dailey, Founding Director and CEO of CHI:

When a child becomes aware of his or her pending death and is given the opportunity to "draw your feelings," he or she will often draw a blue or purple balloon, released and floating free. Health care professionals have discovered that this is true regardless of a child's cultural or religious background, and researchers believe that it demonstrates the child's innate knowledge that a part of him or her will live forever.

Raschka said that when he was asked to write this book for hospice, he felt tremendously honored but wanted to be sure he approached the material in the right way. He needed to be diverse without being bland; a pitfall that can occur when an artist tries to include everyone and ends up depicting no one. His solution was to personify balloons.

It sounds simplistic, but the result is fantastic. The soft, humanized balloons quietly deal with the subject of childhood death. It only takes a few minutes to read the book and yet, you can't help but catch your breath by the end of it. Rashchka did an incredible job of choosing soft words and colors that deal with an oft forbidden topic.

Its poignancy is best captured in Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu's acclaim on the back cover: "...This is an important book -- simple, reassuring, and loving..."

I would encourage anyone to read this touching book. But I wish no one ever had to.

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