Hawke’s Bay author writes book to help children grieving the loss of loved ones
For the past year, Hawke’s Bay author Sophie Siers has been hard at work on a project to bring grief and loss to the fore in an accessible way for children
Her resulting picture book, The Gift Horse, was first conceived after Siers was asked by a bookseller, who liked her previous work, whether she would consider writing about loss.
“She said there were a few books out on the market but nothing that was really hitting the spot.
“Almost every second person that was coming through their door was asking for something for the children in their life who might have lost a pet or had noticed their little one hadn’t been quite right.”
Siers’ book tells the story of a young girl whose mother has died and the feelings and emotions she’s dealing with in the aftermath.
The character of Olivia suddenly turned up her head one day, helping dictate the age range the book would be aimed at – around the 10-year-old mark
“You could read this story to younger children too…It is quite sad but not all stories have to be happy.
“It’s not just a story for children who have had loss, I think it’s important for children to read it so they know how someone else, who is grieving, might be feeling.”
Because of the heavy subject matter, Siers decided to engage with someone with an understanding of grief, former Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast, who served as a longtime patron of Skylight Trust.
Skylight Trust is a charitable trust providing specialised grief support for New Zealand children, young people, adults and their families who are facing change.
“We were quite lucky at the beginning because she looked at the first image and draft and gave some notes on other things to think about, Siers says.
“It was the best type of advice because it offered that outside perspective and got it on the right track.”
Skylight Trust chief executive Heather Henare attended the book’s launch in Wellington where she spoke about the large number of people using their services.
“She said about 20,000 people a year get helped by them, all ages, and not just for bereavement but other types of grief and loss. It comes in all sorts of forms,” Siers says.
Siers partnered with fine artist Katharine White who created the illustrations using pastels.
“This has been an amazing experience for me because I was able to have conversations with Sophie and publisher throughout the process so we co-created it all, White says.
“Instead of me just being a paint-to-offer artist, there’s been collaboration which I think brings better work in the end.”
White’s imagery of a horse, a character that helps the protagonist deal with her feelings, was based on Siers own horse.
She says it was a pleasure to illustrate more “gritty” subjects like grief and loss because they explore what it means to be human.
“Even for adults I think there’s something in the visual representation of the story … It’s not just for children.
“If someone looks at a painting and says it’s nice then I’ve failed in my opinion. I want it to stir something, good or bad.”
*The Gift Horse is available at all good bookstores.
Photo captions –
It took author Sophie Siers and illustrator Katharine White about a year to finish their book ‘The Gift Horse’.
The Gift Horse by Sophie Siers features beautiful pastel illustrations by Katharine White, including this one of the horse chasing main character Olivia across the paddock.