The Swan’s Child
by Sjoerd Kuyper, published 2000
“Josie often thought of Sanders and then she grieved. But she had never put that grief in the wardrobe…Her memories of Sanders would be the poorer without grief.”
As soon as I finished this small, mystical children’s book, I immediately read it a second time cover to cover, in the same way we review a dream after we wake from it, to catch every detail and nuance. This entire book is very much like a dream – hauntingly, melodically beautiful, a long poetic piece of prose about life and death, immortality and love, grief and happiness. I have never run across a book like this before, one that can only be fully captured by reading it, perhaps over and over.
Is it a children’s book? I don’t know. It is written as a fairy tale, a dream tale, and is peopled by animals and only one, then two, humans. However, it addresses the truth of life and death in a way that is tender and sophisticated. What would a young reader understand?
Perhaps it’s best to say that this children’s book is not meant to be understood, but to felt, to be lived into, to let it seep into consciousness. It is particularly true because, like any dream, the threads in the book are confusing at times. One has to be able to tolerate that, in the way that everything was confusing to Alice in wonderland.
One review of this book labeled it “maudlin.” Yes, it had three deaths in it, but it is not maudlin. Death is a reality. Another review called it “unusual, deep, and existential.” That captures it best.
For any child wondering what the word “death” means, this book could be read together with a parent, even read aloud.