Mem Fox’s ‘The Tiny Star’ is Helping Children Grasp Loss

A life-cycle story aimed at the very young and also those much older.

Renowned author Mem Fox and illustrator Freya Blackwood have created this touching and charming story about the journey of life to help our little ones grasp the notion of loss.

We asked Mem Fox a few questions to get an insight into the thought process behind her newest book:

What inspired you to write this book?

I bonded with my grandson the day after he was born. He was premature and was in hospital for the first three months of his life, so he was in a fixed place and couldn’t escape my loving attention, my songs, my reading aloud, and my endless chatter.
But it was when he was about three that I came to realise the strength of our bond and I was alarmed about the future. No one in my acquaintance died until I was 38 when a friend died of a heart attack. None of my close friends has died even now, and I’m 73. My parents lived till their very late 80s, and although I was distraught each time, it was time for them both to die, given their dementia. Grief struck me hard when my younger sister died two years ago, but given her circumstances also, there was a sense of relief, for her sake.
I didn’t know my own grandparents because I’d grown up in a different country, so their deaths left me unmoved, except for the death of my paternal grandfather, whom I re-met when I came back to Australia. I grew to love him when he was in his 90s and I was in my early 20s, but I didn’t have a bond with him when I was a child.
My grandson will experience the death of my husband and me perhaps within the next ten years. The grief doesn’t bear thinking about. It took me six years to write The Tiny Star, so it’s not for him anymore. He’s nine. It’s more for me, I guess, to comfort myself. And of course, I hope it comforts parents and those very young children whose grandparents eventually disappear, and who need a more cheerful ending to the sad ending of that relationship.

Do we, as a society, talk about death enough?

No, I don’t think we do talk about death enough. If we did, it would be less ghastly for everyone concerned. It’s pointless pretending that everyone lives forever or hoping that the people we love won’t die. I don’t think it’s necessary to talk about death if it doesn’t come up in the conversation naturally, but when it does, or when a death occurs, it seems to me to be almost wicked not to deal with it with the greatest sensitivity, head-on. To avoid it is surely psychologically dreadful.

What can shared reading do for a child’s development?

Shared reading, from 0-5 and after, provides a bountiful basket of goodies that will nourish a child educationally, socially, linguistically, and scholastically for the rest of their lives. The attachments they form with us when we read to them, through the laughter and the sighing, the excitement and the silence, the love and the comfort, will make them feel psychologically safe, and thrilled to be alive. They will learn to talk early, with sensational vocabulary. They will fly into reading at school. Their success and happiness will be our success and happiness. Far from being a tedious duty, reading to our children is scrumptious fun and helps us, let alone the kids, unwind and totally relax at the end of our very busy days.

The Tiny Star is available from all good bookstores.

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