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Duck, Death, and the Tulip

Title: Duck, Death, and the Tulip

Author/Illustrator: Wolf Erlbruch

Age Group: 5-8

Synopsis: Duck finds that Death is following him and they become unlikely friends.


The Low Down:

Death is such a difficult concept. I was going to say for young ones but honestly it can be difficult for everyone. We’ve had a loss close to the family recently, and while it is certainly not our first or only experience losing a loved one, I find it never really gets easier. Certainly we learn how to process our grief better but the ever looming idea of such a great finality can be emotionally draining. And of course, explaining such an occurrence to little ones is difficult. We are constantly saying goodbye to people but the loss we can experience at times of death are unique and personal. It seems a bit daunting figuring out where to even begin. Wolf Erlbruch certainly handles such a heavy topic with aplomb. He creates a stepping stone for discussion that is hauntingly friendly and beautifully constructed. Duck, Death, and the Tulip is a fabulous sort of masterpiece that weaves a beautiful tale with illustrations that seem to perfectly compliment each other.

The story opens with Duck, as he feels that something or someone is following him and turns around to find Death. Death just smiles and mentions that he’s glad Duck finally noticed him. Duck then asks if Death has come to collect him but Death explains that he’s always there throughout everyone’s life, just in case. Death seems nice enough and so Duck invites him to go down to the pond for a swim. But Death gets quite cold from the water, however Duck (who never gets cold) offers to warm him up with a hug. The next day the Duck wakes up and is happy to find he’s not dead. He talks to Death about angels and hell but Death only responds by saying that anything is possible. They climb trees and talk about death. By the end of the next day, Duck begins to feel more comfortable with the topic. In the next weeks the Duck and Death become friends and then one day Duck feels cold for the first time. He asks Death to give him a warm hug but then as soft snow begins to fall Death realizes that the Duck has died. Death straightens Duck’s feathers and takes him to a great river and gently lays his friend in the water along with a tulip. With a soft push he sends Duck and the tulip into the river and watches as they disappear from view. Death feels sad that Duck is no longer right next to him but recalls that in the end, that is life.

Erlbruch creates a juxtaposition between his story and illustrations, placing such a heavy theme with light and friendly sort of pictures. Death is surprisingly sweet and friendly looking, dressed in a plaid, sheath dress and clunky shoes. The squat skull too, fails to intimidate, creating a new sort of take on such an iconic idea/character. Duck too, differentiates from a typical representation by being tall and lanky. Both characters though exude a sincere goofiness that is the perfect balance for this story. There is little background displayed in the book. There are occasional references to the setting, but for the most part, unless something is directly referenced (tree, pond, river) the background stays blank, allowing the reader to focus on the characters and story with the needed intensity they deserve.

Duck, Death, and the Tulip is truly a unique work that maintains its beauty and depth while opening a door for conversation. It presents the beauty of life and the sometimes overpowering unknown of death in a open way. And in doing so, allows a concept that is overwhelming and, at times, scary to become something simple. Of all the images and ideas of death, I think this will forever be my favorite. A friendly sort of being that accompanies us throughout our lives and helps us onward when our journey is finished, laying us gently down and watching until we’ve passed from sight.


Story Tips:

  1. Use this as a stepping stone for a discussion.

I need more!

I love it when people show me books they love or books they think I will love. It makes me smile, especially when they’re right. This story showed up at a perfect time too because right after my upstairs neighbor dropped it off, I also attended the Frankfurt Buchmesse. During my brief stint there I attended an ALMA (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award) event. The 2017 recipient was Wolf Erlbruch! I love coincidences. I’d never heard of Wolf Erlbruch before but now, twice in one moth he’d jumped on my radar. Now that I’ve seen more of his work, I find I’m a bit hit or miss. His stuff is not classically kid-friendly but reminds me more of a Grimm fairytale sometimes. He’s not afraid to explore mature topics in his books but he’s also not afraid to be silly. That being said, Duck, Death, and the Tulip is my first and favorite.


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Duck, Death and the Tulip


 

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