A Shelter for Sadness

A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David LitchfieldSome­times, I am so touched by a book that I can­not fig­ure out how best to share it with kids. Such is the case with A Shel­ter for Sad­ness by Anne Booth and David Litch­field. I was giv­en this book by a friend of mine who was dying of can­cer. It struck us both as so wise … such a gift … deeply mean­ing­ful. And I knew I want­ed to share it with chil­dren in my life, but I wasn’t sure how. So, I con­duct­ed an experiment.

In this beau­ti­ful book, Sad­ness — the emo­tion­al state — is giv­en a shape, a form. It has a sim­ple face with two dot eyes and a line for a mouth that can turn up or down, open or close. There’s a glim­mer of a heart, but the rest of its body is made of what can only be described as scrib­bles. Which seems like an excel­lent way to rep­re­sent sad­ness to me.

The boy who nar­rates the book builds a shel­ter for his Sadness.

Sad­ness has come to live with me, and I am build­ing it a shelter.

I am build­ing a shel­ter for my sad­ness and wel­com­ing it inside.

illustration from A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield
illus­tra­tion © copy­right David Litch­field from A Shel­ter for Sad­ness,
writ­ten by Anne Booth, pub­lished by Peachtree, 2021

In the shel­ter the boy gives Sad­ness a space to sit or lie down. Sad­ness is wel­come to curl up small or spread out big. Sad­ness can be very noisy or very qui­et. Or any­thing in between.

The book pro­ceeds with this gen­tle­ness and grace toward Sad­ness — the shel­ter allow Sad­ness to be what it will be. The shel­ter has win­dows — with cur­tains to draw if Sad­ness wants. There’s light from can­dles or lamps if want­ed. The shel­ter pro­tects and pro­vides space for Sad­ness. The boy plants a gar­den out­side the shel­ter and the Sad­ness can come out and explore … if it wants.

The illus­tra­tions are beau­ti­ful. The words are gor­geous. Sad­ness lives in the shel­ter through nature’s sea­sons and the boy vis­its with tea or for a hug or a talk. Some­times they just sit next to each oth­er and say nothing.

illustration from A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield
illus­tra­tion © copy­right David Litch­field from A Shel­ter for Sad­ness,
writ­ten by Anne Booth, pub­lished by Peachtree, 2021

So, my exper­i­ment …. I read the book to the kids with­out show­ing them the pic­tures, ask­ing them to draw their own ver­sion of Sad­ness and a shel­ter for it. I read the book slow­ly. They drew. It was fas­ci­nat­ing. Their Sad­ness­es had more form, no changes in facial expres­sions, and were made of hard lines and angles. (Except for the girl who drew a ver­sion of Sad­ness from Pixar’s Inside Out.) Their shel­ters lacked whim­sy. One was a fence with maybe barbed wire on top.

When I read them the book with the pic­tures they seemed almost relieved. They noticed Sad­ness’ heart right away. They noticed that the tan­gle of lines that made of Sad­ness at the begin­ning of the book looked like they’d been combed at the end. They added whim­si­cal dec­o­ra­tions to their shel­ters. One boy said he’d like to live in the shel­ter the boy made.

illustration from A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield
illus­tra­tion © copy­right David Litch­field from A Shel­ter for Sad­ness,
writ­ten by Anne Booth, pub­lished by Peachtree, 2021

We drew and talked a lit­tle about what it feels like to be sad, and what it feels like when peo­ple try to force you to be hap­py when you’re sad. We talked about when sad­ness is some­thing to shel­ter and care for and when sad­ness is some­thing we need to ask oth­ers for help in deal­ing with it.

But most­ly they dec­o­rat­ed their shel­ters with hearts and stars and twinkly lights. They put clothes on their Sad­ness characters.

I love this book so much — the gen­tle idea of offer­ing shel­ter for our Sad­ness. The impor­tance of plant­i­ng a gar­den out­side the shel­ter. The impor­tance of vis­it­ing our Sad­ness, but not mov­ing in with it. I’m grate­ful for the bib­lio­ther­a­py this book can pro­vide for kids. Chil­dren know Sad­ness. Some know depres­sion. I like hav­ing this book on my shelves to share. I like hav­ing this book on my shelves to read to myself and my Sad­ness who vis­its at times.

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David LaRochelle
7 months ago

What a beau­ti­ful, wise book. I’m sor­ry I have nev­er heard of it before, and I’m sur­prised it has­n’t got­ten more recog­ni­tion. I love the exper­i­ment you con­duct­ed with chil­dren. Thank you for let­ting me know about this title. It sounds like a book every­one could use.

Laura Purdie Salas
7 months ago

This sounds like such a won­der­ful book – I’m off to put it on my read­ing list. Thanks, Melanie. And it’s amaz­ing what the illus­tra­tions can do, isn’t it? I love that the art here gen­tled the sto­ry in kids’ minds…