The Goblin and the Empty Chair

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Earlier I posted about a dear friend we lost recently. The week following I knew I had to read something about grief but not something so sad I’d be a puddle every time I read it to the kids. Just something that touched on grief that would help me and may be interesting to the little ones.

The Goblin and the Empty Chair was the perfect choice. It’s by the amazing Mem Fox and lushly illustrated by the Dillons. If you click on that link there’s even a full length video of Mem Fox reading the whole story. Wonderful stuff.

It’s written in the style of an old fairy or folk tale. Long ago there was a goblin who happened to see his reflection and was so terrified of his looks, he stayed hidden and covered his face. One day he comes across a family who have obviously suffered some loss and are still grieving. The goblin, in turn, does things to ease the burden of a farmer, his wife and their child. He takes great pains to not be seen, but he is seen and quietly invited in.

It is never obviously revealed who has been lost, who was the former occupant of the empty chair. In an interview Mem Fox has said she imagined it to be a grandparent. If you look carefully at the illustrations, there is one that shows a framed pictureof a family of four on the wall indicating the Dillons took it too mean the death of a child, which is even more tragic.

It was good for me though. I did cry a little the first couple of times I read it but not a big deal. By the end of the week it really had helped me and led to some interesting conversations with the children. I actually didn’t focus on the grief aspect of the book that much. Since I’ve been reading books about kindness for the last few weeks, or at least books with characters having to deal with unkindness (The Invisible Boy, Bootsie Barker Bites, etc.) I focused on how the goblin was doing kind things for this family without even expecting recognition for it. I had the impression that was a new idea for some.

I’m in the middle of inventory but I’ll try to finish up the last three publishers I heard from at the Midwinter book buzz presentations over the next couple of weeks.

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2 thoughts on “The Goblin and the Empty Chair

  1. I love this cover. I very rarely pay much attention to books written for this age group, my readers are all reading level 5 and up, thankfully. But, when I do, it’s for the artwork. Children’s illustrators are vastly under-rated in my view. I think adult market books would all benefit from a good illustrator.

  2. I agree! Stock photos and photoshop are cheaper than real illustrated book covers but the difference is often worth it. Kadir Nelson is, in my opinion, our new Rockwell. He does more than kids books too. He’s done a number of New Yorker covers.

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