Bug in a Vacuum, by Mélanie Watt (Aug. 2015, Tundra), $21.99, ISBN: 9781770496453
Recommended for ages 4-8
A bug flies through a window and through a house. He settles on a globe, only to be sucked into a vacuum cleaner! He moves through the five stages of grief, as postulated by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and eventually, acceptance. In a parallel story, we follow the family dog, whose stuffed toy has also become trapped in the vacuum cleaner; the dog moves through its own stages of grief.
I have to admit, at first, I was a little confused by the book’s message – it’s adorable, and the material is presented in fun manner – but the content is about moving through grief, so how would I position this to kids? After a second reading, I realized that it’s not necessarily about death – it’s about loss, and what better than a lost toy, or a bug’s exaggerated reactions, to explain that to children? My toddler goes through the five stages of grief every night when it’s bedtime, so I really need to open up my thinking when I approach new material.
This is an interesting way of explaining the blues, the grief process, however you term it, to young children. The mixed media artwork gives the art texture and depth, really drawing the reader into the story. Retro advertisements for household products introduce each new stage. The bug’s word balloons and gestures equal the intensity of each stage – anger is big and bold; acceptance is smaller, thinner.
This would provide an interesting read-aloud. Let the kids tell you what’s going on and how they think the bug and the dog are feeling. Ask the kids, when did you feel sad? What made you feel that way? What makes you angry? Phrase each stage as a chance for exploring feelings. This would pair really well with a book on feelings or emotions.
Melanie Watt is the author of the award-winning children’s book series, Scaredy Squirrel, which is also a television show on Cartoon Network.