Children’s books dealing with death: A Novel Prescription with Shae Millward

It’s funny how these things work, but I did not expect our guest’s second book to veer into the complex field of grief and loss. Shae Millward is a children’s author and mother of four who lives in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

I greatly admire her Seussian picture book, Koalas Like To, illustrated by Brent Wilson and published by the State Library of Queensland for the First Five Forever: Stories for Little Queenslanders program (if you read to the bottom of this article, you’ll be rewarded with a special treat).

Her new book, The Rabbit’s Magician, is illustrated by Andy Fackrell and published by Ford St Publishing.

What is The Rabbit’s Magician about?

The Amazing Albertino and Ziggy the rabbit love performing on stage together. The Amazing Albertino makes things disappear and reappear. He changes one thing into another. One day, Ziggy wakes to find that his beloved magician has disappeared.  

Ziggy waits for him to reappear.  

And waits some more.  

He worries that something went wrong with the trick. But, perhaps, the Amazing Albertino has performed a different trick, one that could be his greatest ever.  

Ziggy’s new friends provide understanding and welcome comfort. 

The Rabbit’s Magician is a gentle story of love and loss. This picture book offers comfort to anyone of any age who has lost a loved one – person or animal. It’s layered meaning and intertwining themes – including the universe, nature, the moon and its phases, reminders of loved ones, and the power of love – enables it to be interpreted in your own special way.

What was the inspiration for the story?

The story was inspired by The Law of Conservation of Energy – a fundamental law of nature, which states: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change from one form into another. I had long known of this scientific principle but had more recently come across a transcript of a speech by Aaron Freeman about why you want a physicist to speak at your funeral. It was incredibly moving, the way the science-talk, which is often cold and clinical, radiated with warmth – a heart-warming warmth.

Spread inside The Rabbit's Magician showing

It mentions the conservation of energy; particles and photons; and uplifting notions – the comfort of which is so profound, perhaps, because they aren’t mere notions at all. This is something you can lean into, the science is solid. I saved a copy and filed it away with selected inspirational quotes, lovely verse and pieces of touching text – a nice little personal collection to draw on when needed – and thought no more of it. 

Death, grief and loss

I never intentionally set out to write a story about loss – it was certainly not a subject I would have chosen to tackle. But an impression must have been made on my subconscious by those words I’d filed away because later in the year a scene appeared in my mind of a rabbit looking up at the moon.

I sensed he was waiting for something. The moon phases changed, and still, he waited. What are you waiting for? I wondered.

And then, he told his tale. In a matter of moments, the whole story of The Rabbit’s Magician suddenly existed, like a neatly wrapped gift. No tackling involved. 

There was some hesitancy on my part in regards to the potentially sensitive subject matter. Who reads children’s books dealing with death? But because of the blessed way in which the story came into being – the way it presented itself – I felt it had come as not only a gift for me but for anyone who might need it.

There’s no intention to oppose anyone’s beliefs. It’s simply another tool to help bring some solace to hearts. It offers a sense of comfort from the viewpoint and solidity of a sound principle of physics. It fosters a gentle shift in thought, from the total emptiness of loss to the presence of a continued energetic connection.

Page inside The Rabbit's Magician showing the disappeared magician still lives in the rabbit's heart.
The heart of the story

How did the title come to be and can you give us any insight into that? 

The title was originally The Magician’s Rabbit. After all, the main character is a magician’s rabbit. Paul Collins, from Ford Street Publishing, suggested tweaking it – just a simple flip – for a few reasons:  

Paul had found something else titled The Magician’s Rabbit

The Rabbit’s Magician is a nice twist and it’s original.

The new title would be an even better fit because even though the main character is the magician’s rabbit, the story is more about the rabbit’s magician. 

Is it similar or different to Koalas Like To

Vastly different! Like night and day – quite literally, as many of the images in The Rabbit’s Magician are night-time scenes, in contrast to the groovy colours and white space of Koalas Like To.  

Additionally, Koalas Like To is a funny-silly-wacky romp of a read, while The Rabbit’s Magician is a sweet, gentle, heart-warming story. Koalas Like To is all about the fun rhyme and repetition, whereas The Rabbit’s Magician is written in carefully chosen prose. 

But I hope both books are similar in that they both contain an enjoyable story that gives something to the reader. 

Why don’t you see for yourself?

I (Zewlan) don’t usually link to read-alouds, for copyright reasons, but the Stories for Little Queenslanders books are designed to be widely available and accessible for free via public libraries in Queensland. So, I will include Koalas Like To here because it’s just so good!

You’re welcome!

Shae’s Novel Prescription: 

Any of the HeartMath books, but The HeartMath Solution is a good introduction. HeartMath’s scientifically proven techniques strengthen the heart-mind connection, empowering people to reduce stress, increase focus and creativity, and enhance emotional balance, health and wellbeing.  Although it’s not necessary to have, I do enjoy using the HeartMath training app on my phone because it gives biofeedback and tracks progress. 

Thank you, Shae, for sharing a book that has helped your wellbeing. And thanks for sharing the inspiration behind The Rabbit’s Magician. I love that Freeman’s article conveyed the warmth, love and heart of science. Something we don’t often see portrayed!

I often feel that books that deal with grief, loss and death are better shared before people are grieving, so they can work through their feelings and, in a way, rehearse and prepare for a day that will surely come. Shae has shared many other grief and loss resources for children over on her Instagram account.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I collate some other good children’s books dealing with death.

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