Welcome to the second post of our Slog’s Dad special! If you missed the last one, it’s available here.
I have a great pleasure in inviting Jackie to talk about this book. Jackie’s an incredibly talented bereavement counsellor based in Henley-on-Thames (Twitter, Website, Facebook) and her passion and skills never fail to impress me. She’s one of those people who is genuinely committed to what she does and so, because she was as blown away by Slog’s Dad as I was, it felt logical to invite her on to share her thoughts. And this is what she thought.
Where to start with Slog’s Dad!
I absolutely agree with the previous post on the counterpoints it describes. The story flows so well between the illustrations and words. And yes, the story is about grief which is what initially attracted me to it. As a bereavement counsellor and book lover I am always looking for books which combine talking about death, dying and grief with child friendly and age appropriate language and illustrations.
When talking to children about death it is vital to be honest as children will make up what they don’t know and these fantasies can create anxiety and a feeling of isolation. Children can deal with harsh realities much better than grown-ups realise.
Slog’s belief that his dad has come back as he promised reminds me of the theory of children and magical thinking. Children of about primary school age sometimes strongly believe that they can influence the world around them with their thoughts (see Jean Piaget’s theory of developmental stages). This is quite common when an important person dies.
When I read the story I switched between Slog and his friend Davie’s perspective. I absolutely love the connection those two characters have and how Davie supports his friend not by ‘doing’ much but by just staying beside him. I think Davie is bewildered but also intrigued by the idea that this man on the bench could be Slog’s dad. He creates a bit of space for himself by going into Myers’, the butchers, but he is never far away. I adore the way this book is illustrated. In fact the story doesn’t start with words but with the illustrations zooming in from a view of our universe through a cloud on the inside cover to the man on the bench on page 13.
When working with children, bibliotherapy is one tool in the box of a counsellor. Stories can help us to access feelings and emotions as we connect on an individual level with the story. ‘Slog’s Dad’ doesn’t prescribe; it offers a wonderful balance between illustrations and text. The reader can choose what speaks to him most.
If you are intrigued and thinking about using the book in a therapy session I would strongly suggest that you should read the story beforehand. Reflect on it and check what is happening for you. Is it taking you to some of your own experiences as a child? What kind of feelings are you left with after putting the book down? What impact do the illustrations have on you? If they evoked strong feelings where do you think they came from? Which character did you connect with most and why?
How could it be used for grief work? You could read the story together aloud or silently. Go with the rhythm of your child. Some children will read/listen until the end, others may want to talk about certain parts of the story/illustrations right away. Gentle questions may help to discover the child’s take on the story. You could ask “I wonder what you think was the most important bit of this story.” or “I wonder whether any part is about you and your own experience.” This could be done in an individual session but also suits a group environment.
Activities around the story could include making paper-people like Slog does. They could represent the loved one that has died or the child itself. Use this activity to talk about how the child understands their loved one has died. Alternatively your children could mark parts of the body where they experience certain emotions the strongest. Colours could be used to represent feelings.
A balloon features in the story. How about an activity where the child uses either real balloons or printed/drawn pictures of one to write/draw memories shared with the dead person on it, including happy and sad ones? Offer another balloon to write about what the dead used to do/say/like or what they would like to tell them now. When finished, how about letting them fly off into the sky just like the end of the book ?
These are just a few ideas for you. You will know your children best and chose what suits their way of communication. Let me know how it went and most of all: HAVE FUN as it’s okay to grieve and have fun.