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A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book – by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake


Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.
It’s not because Eddie’s gone.
It’s not because my mum’s gone. It’s just because.

Maybe it’s because things now aren’t like they were a few years ago.
Like my family. It’s not the same as it was a few years ago.
So what happens is that there’s a sad place inside me
because things aren’t the same.

A vast industry has grown up around death and grief. Go to any on-line bookseller and search for those two words together and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of titles offering to guide you through the loss of children, parents, siblings, spouses, friends and pets.

The Sad Book doesn’t offer anything. It isn’t a ‘how to’ book, promising healing and comfort and a light at the end of the tunnel  – and it doesn’t pretend to be. What it is is a painfully honest description of one man’s emotional journey following the death of his son.

In 1999 Rosen’s 18 year old son Eddie died in his sleep, a victim of meningococcal septicaemia.

As the then Children’s Laureate, Rosen was a frequent visitor to schools, reading his work to the children and introducing them to literature and poetry as exciting and vibrant concepts rather than the dull stuff of school textbooks.

Many of his poems feature the young Eddie, and the children inevitably asked about him – how old he was now, what he was doing – to which Rosen simply replied, ‘He died.’

Whereas adults would inevitably have responded with the usual platitude of ‘Oh I’m so sorry,’ Rosen noticed that the children were much more matter of fact about it, more along the lines of, ‘Oh. Right. Okay.’ That in turn lead him to the realization that young children, who are pretty pragmatic and  blunt creatures until we teach them to be otherwise, were probably much more capable of dealing with the truth about death than many adults believed them to be.

He wrote down a few hundred honest and simple words about Eddie’s death and his own reaction to it, and sent them to a publisher with a covering note that said, ‘Is this a book?’

That publisher, Caroline Roydes at Walkers, had the inspired idea of coupling Rosen’s words with Quentin Blake’s illustrations and the result was Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.

Although intended primarily for children it’s actually a book of universal relevance. In beautifully spare language he lays bare the bones of grief: the anger, the confusion, the bewilderment and the all-enveloping sadness that descends from a clear blue sky:

Where is sad?
Sad is anywhere.
It comes along and finds you.

When is sad?
Sad is any time.
It comes along and finds you.

Who is sad?
Sad is anyone.
It comes along and finds you.

He offers no pat solutions, no route map through the mythical ‘seven stages of grief’ and no quick fix – because the simple truth is there is NO quick fix. There is, in fact, no fix at all.

And that is what makes Michael Rosen’s Sad Book so different.

We each grieve in our separate ways, but anyone who has suffered loss – and that’s most of us – will recognize what Rosen describes here: that you don’t ever ‘get over it’, all you can do is accept that nothing is forever and move on, because there is no other choice.

The language is simple and the words are few. The spaces in between are filled both by your own thoughts and by some of Quentin Blake’s finest work – a bleakly beautiful and minimalist underlining and expanding of the text.

The Sad Book is exactly what it says it is. It’s a book which tells us that it’s okay to be sad because sadness is a natural and healthy reaction to loss – to be embraced and accepted rather than driven back and hidden behind a facade of cheery normality.


Copyright: Quentin Blake.

This edition: Walker. Paperback. 2011. ISBN: 978-1406317848. 40pp.

4 comments on “Michael Rosen’s Sad Book – by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake

  1. Pingback: Catching up with some old faves | Neil's Commonplace Book

  2. Angela Young
    September 19, 2015

    This sounds astonishing and astonishingly truthful. Thank you for posting a review of it.

  3. Becca
    September 19, 2015

    I think I might buy this for someone. As well as myself. Thank-you for reviewing it.

  4. tigerbaybooks
    December 4, 2015

    Nice article. Great book.

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This entry was posted on September 18, 2015 by in Entries by Moira, Non-fiction, Non-fiction: children's, Non-fiction: philosophy and tagged , , , , , .



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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