We often describe grief as a loss—an empty space where someone beloved once sat and ate and laughed. It’s a difficult concept to understand, especially for children, who may not be able to express how they feel.
Two new books, My Big, Dumb, Invisible Dragon and Maybe Tomorrow?, creatively turn grief into a physical presence, helping mourners connect to and cope with unimaginable heartache.
My Big, Dumb, Invisible Dragon by Angie Lucas paints the sudden death of a mother as an uninvited, expansive dragon. The dragon pops in on movie night, tags along at the beach, demands birthday cake and cannot be bribed, tricked or forgotten away. It even turns away loving friends. Sometimes it takes a day off, but it always returns to the boy. How can he live with this dragon?
Grief is complex and confusing, but Lucas writes with sincerity and a child’s voice. Cleverly turning loss into a visible character, Lucas gives words to those sadness and anger: The dragon has “stupid, tiny arms” and “weighed a ton.” Acknowledging the dragon gives children permission to feel. It’s alright to be angry at a dragon eating your dinner. It’s normal to feel lost at school when you’ve got a dragon sitting on your head. It’s even fine to take comfort in that same dragon at times.
Muted colors and softly lined illustrations create a familiar, safe world for this difficult journey. Illustrator Birgitta Sif’s boot-wearing dragon isn’t frightening or menacing, it’s just always present—wearing a sun hat, reading a book, listening to music. With her gentle illustrations, Sif shows readers that it’s OK to be sad or mad.
People of any age who grieve know how difficult it is to talk about death; it’s doubly hard for children. My Big, Dumb, Invisible Dragon helps open that door.
In Maybe Tomorrow? by Charlotte Agell, grief doesn’t walk or fly like a dragon. It sits there, dense and quiet. With it, Elba the elephant feels dense and quiet as well. It’s hard to do things with the block around, and pulling it takes a lot of energy, just as missing her friend Little Bird takes all of her time. But cheerful, kind Norris is willing to share the weight.
Author Agell writes with a gentle, patient voice, creating a story that is both personal and universal. Elba’s sadness is simple and sincere, her thoughts shared by grief-stricken of all ages. Like the best kind of friends and counselors, Norris is persistent and curious, but not pushy or intrusive. Through Norris, Agell encourages grieving readers to share their sorrow in their own time and way.
Illustrator Ana Ramírez González infuses each page with soft color and cheer, a hopeful backdrop for Elba’s shadowy block. Norris’ butterflies frolic in every scene, flowers dot the ground, and even the rainstorm seems soft. Most impressively and with relatively few paint strokes, Ramírez González creates two eminently relatable characters. Elba’s sorrow is tangible, but so is the empathy in Norris’ eyes. This is a book that readers will hold close.
As Elba and Norris become friends, Elba’s block shrinks in size, and she begins to tell her story, letting readers know that grief may linger, but it’s also OK to be happy again. Sweetly illustrated and compassionate, Maybe Tomorrow? is the friend we all need in the difficult days.
Encouraging and engaging, My Big, Dumb, Invisible Dragon and Maybe Tomorrow? imaginatively tackle loss and grief. Anyone—child or adult—who shares space with a dragon or a weighty block will find solace in these compassionate books.