4 Stars Farfalla: A Story of Loss and Hope Vanita Oelschlager Vanita Books 978-0-9832904-0-7 No. Pages: 42 Ages: 4 to 8
From Publisher’s Website: Farfalla (the Italian word for “butterfly”) is a unique look at the death of an unborn child. The story is told from the perspective of young Beetle who, with his mother, meets a crowd of caterpillars in the garden they all frequent. Soon they become friends and he watches in awe as the caterpillars weave themselves into cocoons. A special one catches his attention and Beetle “adopts” it by making all sorts of plans of what they will do together when it hatches.
. . . . . . .
Little Beetle meets a caterpillar and they play together in the garden. Then one day, the caterpillar is not around and Little Beetle cannot find him. Little Beetle is upset until his mother has him look up toward the sky. There in the trees are cocoons. Mother Beetle explains to her son how the caterpillars will soon become butterflies. Little Beetle patiently waits for the butterflies to emerge.
While Little Beetle waits, he sees one cocoon and decides to adopt it. While waiting for his new friend to open into a butterfly, Little Beetle tells the cocoon what fun they will have. Soon the butterflies begin to emerge from their cocoons—but not Little Beetle’s adopted friend. Little Beetle checks each day to see if the cocoon has blossomed into a butterfly. He has named the still unborn butterfly Farfalla. All the cocoons have opened except Farfalla. She has died. Mother Beetle explains death to her son, telling him that Farfalla has gone.
. . . . . . . .Butterflies that are not not born go to live
. . . . . . . .with all the other butterflies who die and
. . . . . . . . fly up in the sky with the stars and the moon
Farfalla is a sensitive story about a delicate situation—the death of an unborn child. I like the use of cocoons and butterflies as “the baby in mommy’s tummy.” With the cocoon, the child can see the caterpillar lying in his cocoon. The unborn butterfly goes up to the stars and the moon; unborn children go up into the sky to heaven. This is a wonderful way to make this subject accessible for the youngest minds.
The illustrations are beautiful, with oversized objects, and color from edge to edge. The pages are lively, until the cocoon has died. At this point, the illustrations become darker, as if night has fallen. I think the black background represents Little Beetle’s grief and confusion. Once he says goodbye to Farfalla, who waves from high in the sky, the background returns to the bright blue of the clear sky. Little Beetle has accepted Farfalla’s death.
Children excitedly await the birth of a new brother or sister and then, for whatever reason, the baby does not survive birth. Young children often do not have the ability to understand the concept of death—of someone leaving and never, ever returning. Three, four and five-year-old children do not see death as a permanent state of being.
Cartoons help reinforce the idea of non-permanence of death when the character “dies” in one episode, only to come back to “life” in the next, or even the same, cartoon. The Tom and Jerry cartoons and the Roadrunner and Coyote are good examples of cartoons that reinforce children’s idea of death as temporary.
Toddlers understand that something is “all gone,” such as their dinner. Yet, that dinner returns each night. Not until age ten, do most kids firmly grasp that death is permanent and can happen to anyone. Farfalla helps parents talk to their young children about the death of not only an unborn child, which is the intent of the author, but also the death of anyone, or anything.
Vanita Books tend to have messages but they are not preachy in any way. Vanita Books tell great stories that are fun and lively. Children will love and treasure these books, and Farfalla is no exception. The illustrations in Vanita Books are gorgeous and interestng. They capture the mood of the story.
Farfalla is a sensitive story with profound meaning. I recommend this to anyone who must explain death to a young child. While the cocoon represents a child in the womb, Farfalla can help explain any death to a young child. The main thing for a child to take away is the person, or pet, went to heaven and are happy there, just as Farfalla is with the stars and the moon, happily looking down upon Little Beetle.