Friday, March 29, 2013

Dibs on This One (As If Anyone Else Would Want It)

    It happened a few years ago, and I haven't been able to let go of it since.  My friend Janet asked me over to meet her niece, Robin M. Bernstein, an anthropologist and a mom and a different-thinker who inspired me with her idea for a book she said I should write. Well, not necessarily me, I guess, but somebody.  She thought it was a terrific topic with rich, deep geographic and anthropologic material to which every child could relate.  The subject, in her view, had a natural fascination to kids, and would provide a service to them and their parents.
   We had an enthusiastic conversation, sparking each other as we told stories from our own lives and experiences, and came up with oodles of juicy ideas for chapters, sidebars, images, and more.  And when we moved on to something else for the good of the other people in the room, I promised to follow up on it.
   But I haven't. I've been busy. Yes, that's true.  And I did follow up, a little. I visited some websites, and browsed around on Wikipedia, and even jotted down a few bullet points. Beyond that, I didn't put anything on paper (or on computer). And yet the idea of a children's book on this subject won't leave me alone. So I'm tossing it out here to see what the community thinks, because I think I want to do it.  I dibs death.
  Death, not love and loss, although those would be there between the lines.  Death, not grief per se. What then?
 Burial Rituals. Religion? (Egad. Do I dare? ) Cemeteries? (I love cemeteries.)  Things people do with people's (and pets'?) ashes.
 Funeral Customs. (Geography. Anthropology. How will I ever limit things, categorize approaches, respectfully focus?)
 Biology. (Oh yes. I'm the one who did a series of experiments on such diverse topics as bugs, crime, families, and garbage in which decomposition somehow -- easily! gracefully! naturally! -- made its way into every volume.)
 Symbolism. You know, the Grim Reaper. (You're warming to this book now, aren't you?) St. Peter at heaven's gate.
 Commerce.  You would not BELIEVE what dying costs. You would? You must know somebody who has died.
  And that's the thing. There has to be a huge market for this book, especially if it's funny. (Not on every page, surely, but there's a lot of comedy in death. Or am I just twisted?)
  I think I've got a book.
  I don't have a title yet.  I could borrow from Taro Gomi (Everybody Poops):  Everybody Dies.
  Or I could do that cute thing where you borrow an adage: Kicking the Bucket.
  Or how about borrowing from the advice juggernaut: What to Expect When. . . 
  I want to do it. I really do. Definite dibs.  But tell me: would anyone want to add this to their shelf? (Besides Robin, Janet, and me?)

Illustration is from the proposed sidebar of adages and pseudonyms for the potentially forthcoming book temporarily titled Death for Kids.  Can you guess the caption for each picture?


Jim Murphy said...

My dear, sweet (and wise) Italian Mom took me to my first wake when I was seven. I wasn't overly enthusiastic about seeing my dead relative, um, up close, but my Mom said, "It's what happens. We're born, get older, and eventually we all die. It's our duty to say good-bye and remember them." Turned out that the wakes/funerals for both the Italian and Irish sides of my family were always amazing (at moments sad, but mostly get fun.) gatherings. You'd be surprised at how much family gossip a quiet kid can hear by drifting from one group of adults to another!

Sandy Brehl said...

Karen, PLEASE, do this!
Especially if you incorporated your fantastic humor and images. I'd buy it. and give it as gifts, if that doesn't sound horribly creepy, I don't know what does!
I like your various title ideas, too. What about something involving the word "afterlife" but with a space and maybe an ellipse:
After life...

Anyway, my vote is GO! You're the perfect one for dibs on DEATH!

Susan E. Goodman said...

Great idea, Karen, and I agree that humor is the key. Check out How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Bragg. It's so specialized it is a different book, but a great look at how humor can ease over the hard part. Of course the whole question of people's beliefs...

Vicki Cobb said...

Understanding mortality is one of the great motivators for children's literature--hence the endurance of fairy tales. I remember struggling with it as a child, invoking magical thinking that I could somehow live forever. In fact, I wrote a book called Why Can't I Live Forever? which deals with the fact that parents become expendable if they reproduce sexually. (Amoebas don't die, they divide in half.) This sounds like a great idea, Karen. Go for it.

Sue Macy said...

I agree. It's a great idea for a book--and for a blog post, as you're seeing by the enthusiastic comments. If I were doing it, I'd focus on the U.S. and call it Death in American Life (or have that as the subhead), but you're smart to make it lighter and more inclusive. Check out Penny Colman's Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial as a reference.

Jackie Glasthal said...

Karen--Cool idea! Another book you may want to check out for reference is "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach. Another clever title for the topic, but guess that one's taken already!

Good luck with the project.