Four children live with their ailing grandmother in a small snug house. One day, Death arrives to take her away from them.
Four anxious young children are sitting around a kitchen table. Their grandmother lies on her deathbed upstairs and they know that Death has come for her. He’s there, sitting at the head of the table (perhaps in Grandmother’s own place), his face shrouded in a black hood.
But far from being the ‘grim reaper’ of many a story, Death in Cry, Heart, But Never Break is a gentle, reassuring character. He leaves his scythe outside the cosy cottage the children share with their grandmother so as not to frighten them unduly. He has a ‘strong, sweet voice’ and when his hood is drawn back, it reveals a face etched with sorrow, wisdom and tiredness. Throughout the night, Death allows the children to ply him with coffee which, they hope, will stop him from taking Grandmother away. When that time does inevitably come, he first tells them a beautiful story about Grief and Joy, Sorrow and Delight needing each other to experience true happiness.
‘It is the same with life and death,’ he continues. ‘What would life be worth if there were no death?’
In simple yet eloquent prose, author Glenn Ringtved seeks to explain a difficult concept to the youngest of readers – and to comfort them. At the same time, he acknowledges that children may not necessarily grasp the complexity of his message: ‘The children weren’t sure they had understood Death fully, but somehow they knew that he was right.’
Even those who don’t comprehend Death’s words will be reassured by the scenes that follow. The moment of Grandmother’s passing is infinitely tender. Death simply opens the window in her room and asks her soul to ‘fly away’. And, as the children grieve, he stands quietly by, encouraging them to let their tears and sadness bring new life. From that day on, we read, the children think of their grandmother every time they open a window; they feel her on the breeze. It is a beautiful association, an everyday act that provides all readers, not just children, with a way to remember a loved one and to find peace. Life may be several shades darker without Grandmother, as Charlotte Pardi masterfully shows in the final double spread, but it goes on nonetheless.
Written, illustrated and translated from the heart, this book is a beautifully tender portrayal of death that will comfort readers of all ages.
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi, translated from the Danish by Robert Moulthrop (Enchanted Lion, 2016)
Glenn Ringtved is a Danish children’s and YA author with more than 40 books to his credit. Much of his work has been translated into other languages; Cry, Heart, But Never Break is his first book translated into English. He lives in Hjørring, Denmark.
Charlotte Pardi grew up in the village of Spentrup in Jutland, Denmark. She has illustrated more than 40 titles since the release of her first picture book in 2000.
Robert Moulthrop is a playwright and fiction writer whose chance meeting with Danish author Glenn Ringtved in Central Park led to the translation into English and subsequent publication of Cry, Heart, But Never Break. He lives and works in New York.
Read about the chance meeting in Central Park that led to the translation and subsequent publication of Cry, Heart, But Never Break in publisher Claudia Bedrick’s 2017 Batchelder Award acceptance speech.