Let me begin with a warning that today’s blog discusses a concept that makes many of us grimace with pain. Death. Five letters that can quite literally shatter our lives. When I came across this book by Hervé Bouchard and Janice Nadeau, I was both deeply moved and in awe.
Harvey, written by Hervé Bouchard and illustrated by Janice Nadeau is a project that truly synchronizes illustration with text. And with that segue, I will begin with the technical elements that make this book a gem to own. When I think about categorizing this book, I am unsure whether it falls within the realm of picture book, it is a bit too long for that, graphic novel, while it does have graphic illustrations and real-time dialogue(minus the speech bubbles) it is missing the characteristic panel-structure of graphic novels, or junior novel, the subject matter and the textual length and level seem to offer signs of this. I then came to the conclusion that it really is all 3: picture book with a hint of graphic novel and junior novel.
Now, the subject matter focuses on the death of our main character, Harvey’s, father. Harvey and his brother, Cantin, live in Quebec, and on their way home from school one Spring day, find an ambulance and a crowd of people outside their home. A stretcher holding a blanketed figure is brought out of their house with their mother wailing behind. Then, a key set of events is set off in slow motion as our writer and illustrator quite dexterously capture the grief inherent in loss. A child often processes the loss around death differently than an adult. And while the stages of grief are similar for more or less all of us, children often are left confused and filling in the gaps that a loved one’s demise has created. There is the knowledge of loss, but pieces of life seem to move out of kilter, with a child having to struggle to return to some semblance of normalcy. Harvey processes his loss in a very practical matter. He lays out the facts and then follows through on what must be done to deal with his father’s death. His younger brother, Cantin, however, takes a different route when dealing with his loss. His reaction is more emotive. Harvey is the older one of the two and perhaps this difference in reaction is in part due to age and maturity. I would argue though that loss affects us all differently depending on our different personalities. The matter-of-fact text that Bouchard uses to explain the progression of events gnaws at your mind and heart. Nadeau is exceptionally clever with her use of colours and lines and spaces. She employs darker, smudged-out, and consistently faded and ragged colours to convey the heaviness of loss. A “grayness”, both of feeling and colour, hover over throughout the book. I don’t normally tout the illustrator of the picture books I review, but that is usually because the text stands out more to me. In this book, Nadeau’s illustrations take the cake. She is superbly talented in conveying the gravity of emotion and state of mind that someone dealing with loss encounters. And it is this talent of hers that I believe renders this book a masterpiece.
Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, this book is a gentle reminder of death looming in lives. It offers a raw interpretation of loss suffered by a child and in doing so, makes us as adults more keenly aware of how we can better support our young ones through such a difficult process.
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