This article is by Publisher Liaison Manager Emma Schneider
Pregnancy is a time of excitement and expectation as parents prepare for the arrival of their baby. But tragically, approximately 1 in 4 women in both the United States and Ireland suffers a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. In times of grief and confusion, books often help us put into words or pictures a feeling that we’re unable to express, especially for children. The number of picture books centered on the topic of infant loss is slim, but Irish publisher Little Island Books seeks to fill the void with the recently released All Shining in the Spring: The Story of a Baby Who Died, a new edition of a book first published by O’Brien Press in 1995, and now available from the publisher subsequently founded by its author, Little Island.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and we talked with author Siobhán Parkinson about the inspiration behind her first book, which was a ground-breaking offering when first published and now is a welcome resource for parents, families, librarians, and teachers.
Q: October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. There are not very many books on this topic. What inspired you to write All Shining in the Spring?
My son was five when we learned that our second son would not survive birth. Being a bookish kind of person, I went looking for a book to help my little boy to understand what was happening in our family, but all I could find were books about hamsters dying, or maybe grandparents. So I wrote the book I needed myself. I wanted to tell my child our story, and I wanted to be gentle but honest. I didn’t want it to be sentimental, or to offer false hope, but I didn’t want it to be gloomy either.
A few months after we lost our baby, we were going to visit the grave, and we stopped off at a garden center to buy bulbs to plant there but for some reason, they only had daffodils and yellow tulips. So I said, well that’s OK, we’ll have lots of yellow flowers, and my son piped up, “So in the springtime, when the flowers come out, it will be all shining” and that is of course where the title came from – I really like that note of hope that the title brings.
Q: What was the thing you most wanted to accomplish with the book and how did you set about doing that?
Initially, I wrote the book for my own son. Then I thought, there have to be other families where this happens, and who would appreciate a book to help the parents to talk things through with their child. Simple as that! And so I approached a publisher.
Q: What are some memorable stories from the parents that have shared this book with their children over the years?
I do get emails from time to time from families who have found the book at just the time they needed it, or someone in their family did, and they say things like ‘very grateful’, ‘so helpful’ but they don’t usually share their full story.
On one occasion I was in a tiny country school, talking to children of varying ages, and they asked me to read this book. I wasn’t sure, as I didn’t want to bring up a subject that some of them might find upsetting, but the teacher told me they’d already read the book in class and that the children had responded very well to it, so I did read it. There was utter silence as I read, and for about a minute afterwards. Then a little girl came forward to talk to me and said something like this: “When the teacher read this book to us, I felt as if a pain I had in my heart all my life had suddenly flown away. When I went home, I told my mammy about it, and she told me that when I was only two she had had a stillbirth. I was too young to remember, but I must have known about it somehow.” That was the most moving reaction I have ever had to any book I have written, and I really treasure that story.
Q: How would you suggest libraries and teachers use this book with children, who may or may not have experienced an infant loss in their family?
This is a book whose relevance is immediately obvious to families who have experienced the loss of a baby at or around birth, especially if there are siblings, and those families will usually be very glad to be introduced to the book.
It’s a sensitive topic, of course, and I would say it might be better not to shelve the book alongside children’s fiction in the library, but to put it with books about parenting, so that it is first picked up by a parent, and then read to a child in an appropriate way.
If the librarian or teacher knows there is a child in the library or in the classroom who has experienced such a bereavement, I would think the appropriate thing is to give the book to the parents, or to get parental agreement to reading the book to the child or children.
I’ve always been very careful myself not to introduce the book to children unless I know it’s relevant to them, either because of an incident in their own family or because one of their friends has had such an experience. So I would say to librarians and teachers to check with families before reading this book, but to be brave also, and to tell parents that children do find it very helpful, especially, but not only, if they have had the experience in their own families. Children are aware of and curious about death, but of course the idea of a baby or child dying might be alarming for them. But even an idea that is theoretically alarming can be mediated as long as it is done sensitively and with love, and even children who have not had the experience in their own families can find a book like this moving and even comforting, as it can help them to think about what seems like a frightening idea in a way that they can cope with. At the end of the day, it’s about the human condition, isn’t it?
More about Siobhán Parkinson
Siobhán Parkinson has written more than thirty books for children and adults. She was Ireland’s first Laureate na nÓg (children’s laureate). She is also a translator from German and she writes in Irish as well as in English. She lives in Dublin with her husband, the wood artist Roger Bennett.
All Shining in the Spring was her first book. It was in writing this book that Siobhán found her voice as a children’s author, a gift she attributes to the baby she lost all those years ago.
Illustrations for All Shining in the Spring are by Donald Teskey.