We're getting to that stage in Sprout's life where questions are starting to emerge. Questions about people in his friend's lives who aren't in his ("why don't I have a Papa?") or about significant relationships that he doesn't remember. There are people who were crucial in Sprout's life before us that are now gone, and some in our lives, like my own father, who passed on before Sprout was born. And as these questions arise so too do opportunities to discuss these important people, how much they meant to us and how we wish, deeply and dearly wish, that Sprout could have met them.
We believe that they are angels looking down on him, on all of us. And we tell him this, but that can raise even more questions in his mind.
And so to stumble on the book Angels Watching Over Me by Julia Durango felt especially providential. The narrative is an adaptation of the African American spiritual "All Night, All Day" (Durango gives lyrics for one of the more common versions of it in her author's note). She has expanded the verses, building imagery of a young African American boy who is first playing in the sunshine, then flying through the air as he chases his kite. Joining the boy are various creatures - gorgeous birds with multi-colored wings, squirrels and insects in the leaves of a tree, deer drinking from a stream below. It's a playful yet comforting experience, and most importantly what becomes clear is that the boy is never really alone. And as the chorus is repeated, a circle of multicultural angels surrounds him, singing the refrain "All night, all day, angels watching over me."
Elisa Kleven provides the illustrations for Durango's words. Kleven's art provides the ideal backdrop to this gently soothing story. The colors are rich and yet not overpowering, and she blends a collage of texture and pattern that adds subtle depths to each spread. Best of all we like the whimsical touches -- a flying elephant, a sleeping donkey and cat curled up together, an owl peeking out from a hole in a tree trunk. With each page you are pulled into the words and at the same time drawn further out into the heavens, until at last we see the globe with angels of all colors encircling it. Peaceful and comforting.
At some point all parents end up discussing loss with their children. For those of us parenting through adoption, the topic might come up sooner and might hit a little closer to home, but it's still the same process all children eventually go through. No matter how you decide to approach the subject, I believe that well-written books can be a tool to help children deal with their feelings. For us, we have given Sprout the image of his loved ones looking down on him from above, and Durago's book helped him understand how these individuals can always be with him even though he cannot see them. It's how I like to envision the special people that I've lost, and I hope this will be the comfort Sprout needs in this moment, as he begins to understand loss. In any case, it's been another way we can retell his story, experiencing it together and drawing us closer as a family.
Angels Watching Over Me, adapted by Julia Durango, published by Simon and Schuster
Sample: "Grass says rest, I curl up snug. Dusk surrounds me like a hug. / Dusk says sleep, I close my eyes. Moon is full and on the rise."