It’s a rare child whose life remains untouched by grief. It can be heart wrenching grief like the death of a beloved grandparent, or something less traumatic but still real. Like the loss of a friend whose family moves away, or a pet dying, or even grief over something as simple as a lost toy.
Books that offer positive mechanisms for coping with grief that aren’t overly sad or far too heavy thematically for young children are thin on the ground, but this is one.
The Memory Tree is the story of a fox who dies, whose friends gather around him and, in their grief, begin to tell stories about how the fox has improved each of their lives.
As they each share their stories, a tree begins to grow. And over time, as more stories are told, it flourishes and becomes '... the tallest tree in the forest… a tree made from memories and full of love.’
The animals shelter in the tree and it becomes a place of joy and hope. ‘And so, Fox lived on in their hearts forever.’
The animals in this story do not display animal behaviours—the owl, weasel, fox, rabbit and others are friends. The fox isn’t going to eat the owl and the rabbit is safe with the weasel.
These unlikely friendships add another dimension to the story—we can be friends with others who are different to us—and they also remove the story from the human realm, positioning it in a place where it is safe to talk about emotions and grief without requiring a human face.
I really appreciate how the story shows the animals working through a few different stages of grief. There’s a time when the animals come together and can’t imagine life without Fox, there is sadness, there is silence, there is remembering and storytelling; and there is continued life with the memory of Fox making life better for the other animals.
While the story is certainly about grief, it is also about:
Resilience. In the face of great grief the animals find a way through.
Remembering. The animals use storytelling to strengthen their friendships and to bolster their spirits.
Reassurance... that there are good times to come.
Reflection... on times past / and
Renewal. The tree grows where Fox died is life giving and nurturing
This is a story that would ideally be read over and over again before a child is confronted with serious grief. It’s a story that will settle into their inner self and provide strength at crucial moments.
Those moments are not always devastating grief—they can be simple life-moments like a hurtful comment from a friend or a less-than-stellar result on a test. The lessons of The Memory Tree apply in these times too.
Small reading hints:
Reading stories like this aloud is not always easy—the right tone needs to be struck. I’d suggest a slow whisper that moves from solemn to joyful as the story progresses. You might like to try imagining yourself in the place of each of the animals who are remembering Fox.
Most of all though, it’s important to move from grief to joy in the reading, because ultimately the story is about celebrating the good.
The Memory Tree would also make a thoughtful and wonderful gift for an adult who has lost someone dear and important in their lives.