We know the benefits of reading to our kids; here’s how you can help them process and learn from Angela Campagnoni’s I Want To See My Papa
When children experience the death of someone they love, parents often struggle with how to explain it to them. Not knowing what to say or how to manage their children’s grief, alongside their own, can make a difficult time even more painful.
Halifax author Angela Campagnoni recently released a picture book for children, inspired by the loss of her own parent as a young adult, called I Want To See My Papa.
Little Bear has lost his Papa and is struggling to understand why he can’t see him any more. He is confused and upset about Papa being gone and he ponders, as children do, about ways he might be able to get to Papa, perhaps with a car or a plane? He has a dream in which his Papa is able to console him and give him some tools to process his loss.
The gentle illustrations and comforting, rhyming text carefully explain that while Papa is no longer physically there, he will always be in the hearts and minds of those who love him.
Campagnoni has written a book about loss for children that can be adapted to any personal belief system, making the focus about helping children understand death and ways to move forward, while remembering and honouring loved ones.
The following reading-extension activities were inspired by I Want To See My Papa and are designed to help children process their grief after reading the book.
During the story Little Bear talks about all the things he remembers doing with his Papa, such as playing outside, getting ice cream and going for walks. Have a conversation with the child about things they remember about their loved one and collect artefacts to represent these special memories. For example, if they enjoyed baking together you could get a copy of a favourite recipe; if they liked to go for drives you could get a toy car; if they liked going for walks in the woods you could collect some branches or pine cones.
Find a special box to keep the treasures safe and decorate it with the child. Have them paint it or decoupage photographs on it to personalize it.
Once completed, be sure to look at it on a regular basis to talk about their special person and remember how they are always in their heart.
WRITE A LETTER
In the story, when Little Bear sees Papa in the dream, he is upset with Papa at first. Upset with him for leaving and for not being there for him any more. This is a natural reaction with loss and children need to understand it’s okay to experience any range of emotions they may have. Little Bear processed this feeling by confronting Papa in his dream and Papa was able to soothe him and move him on to the next stage of grief.
If the child is old enough, encourage them to write a letter to the person and express their feelings of grief. They may need to write multiple letters as they go through the stages of grief. If they are younger, they can draw pictures and/or dictate their feelings for you to write down.
The children can then tuck these letters somewhere safe (such as their memory box) and know that those feelings are okay to express and revisit as they work through their loss.
Another way Little Bear said he knew Papa was close to him were the “signs” he saw all around such as a bird singing or the sun shining. Talk with your child about special things they may see, hear or smell that makes them think of their loved one. Perhaps the sound of crickets on a warm summer evening makes them think of a special moment; or the taste of vine ripened tomatoes reminds them of gardening with their loved one.
Record these thoughts and signs, perhaps by creating a story with images in a photo book, and then remind your child when these moments occur about their special person and how this is a way to feel close to their loved one for a lifetime.