Luna’s Red Hat
An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope with Loss and Suicide
Written and illustrated by Emmi Smid
34 pages • Published 2015 (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
Recommended Age Range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Publisher's Summary: It is a beautiful spring day, and Luna is having a picnic in the park with her family, wearing her Mum’s red hat. Luna’s Mum died one year ago and she still finds it difficult to understand why. She feels that it may have been her fault and worries that her Dad might leave her in the same way. Her Dad talks to her to explain what happened and together they think about all the happy memories they have of Mum.
Dr. Annie's Takeaways
Recommended for: Exclusively for children who have lost a loved one to suicide, or who are aware of a loved one’s attempted suicide. It reassures children that suicide is not their fault or their loved one’s but rather the result of an illness, and it models and validates the complex range of feelings that a child may be having. Best read with a child after the family has had some time to restabilize to some extent and a child is starting to have questions and express complex feelings about their loved one’s suicide (i.e., not immediately after the loss).
Would a child like it? Any child being read this book just experienced something unthinkable. Liking it seems impossible and also irrelevant. There are messages in this book that a child needs to hear, and it provides space for a child to share about their own anger, which is often a confusing feeling for a child whose loved one died by suicide.
Evidence-Based Practices: Psychoeducation
Tone: Reassuring, a light touch on a heavy topic
Story Quality: This story addresses with a light touch some very large feelings and important questions that many kids have after losing a loved to suicide. It does a nice job showing how small reminders of a loved one can lead to a full array of feelings–from anger to sadness to nostalgia. Luna’s father is annoying (more on that later), but in general I liked the story, and I appreciated Luna’s emotional journey over the course of the book.
Illustrations: Lovely, emotionally-resonant drawings with somewhat muted colors and splashes of red.
Representation: Luna is a White girl with a White father and a White mother (Mum) who died by suicide a year ago. Luna has a little brother. Most of the book takes place in a park with a pond. The family visits Mum’s gravestone, but there are no additional religious markers included.
Psychological Practices: This story nicely articulates the range of feelings children often feel when a loved one dies by suicide (anger, fear, guilt, sadness), and it provides psychoeducation about suicide to correct some common misperceptions (e.g., a child blaming themselves). It starts with Luna being angry at her father for comparing her to her mother (“I am not like Mum…I wouldn’t just stop living when I wanted to! People you love don’t get to stop living and leave you behind!”). This leads into a conversation with her father about her fear that he might also leave her (he reassures her this isn’t the case), and he talks with her about suicide–that it isn’t her fault or anyone else’s and that it happened because her mother was very ill (“Sometimes even doctors don’t have all the answers”). Luna shares that she misses her mother, and they reminisce about a positive memory they shared with Luna’s mother.
Concerns: Luna’s father is initially pretty misattuned to Luna and says some things that strike me as really insensitive. For example, he apparently thinks he’s being funny when he teases her about having a frown like her Mum on the anniversary of her mother’s suicide. WHAT. When she expresses a fear that he might leave her too, he initially makes a joke (which she apparently does find a bit funny, but I didn’t really) before he settles into a serious conversation with her about it. AFter this, he’s reassuring and validating, and the rest of the book goes much better.
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