February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Funeral by Matt James | SLJ Review

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redstarJAMES, Matt. The Funeral. illus. by Matt James. 40p. Groundwood. Apr. 2018. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554989089.

K-Gr 2 –A girl’s experience of her great-uncle’s memorial service starts as these things characteristically do—with a ringing phone and a mother’s tears. When the day arrives, Norma is “practicing her sad face in the mirror of her parents’ room. Though she was, in fact, pretty happy.” The first clue that the narration will be an honest expression of her feelings (and that possibly she was not close to the older gentleman) appears on the book jacket. The title is painted in two colors: “fun” in yellow, “eral” in blue. For Norma, this is a day without school, an opportunity to see her favorite cousin Ray, and a chance to play in the churchyard—painted in life-affirming green and surrounded by pink trees. There are signs, however, that Norma is not insensitive to the day’s meaning. She ponders her cousin’s (unanswered) question: “Is Uncle Frank still a person?” A smiling photo of the relative prompts quiet contemplation. James incorporates a variety of page designs and media into his acrylic-and-ink on Masonite compositions, thereby creating richly textured, transforming environments capable of emotional nuance. The cardboard organ with Masonite keys and pipes exudes colorful, swirling sounds. Cut paper caricatures create shadows, adding depth. Dazzling abstract details are paired with evocative language to quietly undergird the spiritual dimension. VERDICT Witnessing the acceptance of varied reactions to death and the elements of memorial will help children prepare for or reflect upon their first funeral. A notable portrayal.–Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

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