When she was lost to sight, he was almost a little moved.
“But that’s life,” thought Death.
Duck, Death and Tulip is a beautiful, light-hearted story about death that manages to remain sensitive in the face (skull?) of Death (who can actually be a bit coy about himself and what happens after him). Perhaps more importantly, it is a story of life and the uncertainty accompanying the realization of the inevitability of death, as Duck comes face to face with Death personified, carrying with him a Tulip. We don’t see the Tulip for most of the story – only at the beginning and the end – and I think it serves as a reminder of just who this friendly character is, which is something we might forget since they do become friends. Duck, Death and Tulip reads much as a tale of friendship: Duck meets Death and has some early misgivings about this shadowy figure that had been following her a while, but soon befriends him*, even offering to warm him up after they got soaked in the pond. The time comes later in the year when Death reciprocates the gesture for Duck, who suddenly feels the chill, and this action coming full-circle is both touching and incredibly sad, because it is at that moment that you realize it’s all about to come to an end. (This page is actually foreshadowed by the appearance the page before of the only other creature to make an appearance apart from our protagonists: either a crow or a raven, an ominous portent**.) Erlbruch has done a wonderful job bringing such a sensitive topic into the realm of children’s picture books, and creating a touching story where Death, too, is touched by the death of his friend, Duck.
If you are looking for other picture books that broach the subject of death in approachable, sensitive ways, here are a couple of recommendations:
- Nicolas by Pascal Girard (we don’t own this one)
- The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
- Life and I by Elisabeth Helland Larsen
- The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup
- Ida, Always by Caron Levis
- My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde
- The Flat Rabbit by Bárður Oskarsson
- Shine by Mary Joslin
- The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen
* It’s also a testament to how far a smile can get you: Duck came to realize that Death was actually quite nice, what with that friendly smile on his face.
**Although it’s a bit different from the case with wolves, where wolves in reality have faced and continue to face danger with respect to their population numbers, I’m not sure how well-deserved this reputation of them being omens of doom is.