The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh & Åsa Gilland

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Published by Little Tiger Press, 2020.

The Perfect Shelter is a stunningly beautiful picture book. The front cover immediately drew me in. Åsa Gilland’s homely and decorative illustrative style really appeals to me; there’s a lovely warmth to her pictures.

It’s a tale of the love and friendship that exists between two young sisters. The Perfect Shelter begins on a sunny day in the woods. The two girls are there with their family and they’re busy building a den.

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After a while, the older sister becomes tired and has to rest from den building. Their parents don’t tell the youngest what’s wrong straight away but soon she learns of her older sister’s illness. Big sister goes to hospital and has to have an operation. The book deals sensitively with a very difficult subject – childhood cancer and the impact that it has on everyone in the family, in particular the youngest sister. Ultimately, The Perfect Shelter is a hopeful book with the family making another den together at the end – albeit this time indoors and out of sheets and blankets.

Running parallel with the sisters’ story are descriptions of the weather. The wind howls, rain lashes down and a storm wreaks havoc, destroying the den. The severity of the weather and the destructiveness of the storm mirrors that of the cancer. The storm raging outside reflects the storm of troubling emotions raging inside the younger sister; she feels cross, sad and frightened all at the same time. Using this symbolism in a picture book is a particularly powerful way of tackling a difficult subject and conveying a character’s confusing emotions.

The first time we read the book, my son was upset when the big sister got ill and he didn’t want to finish the story. We have since returned to the book and read it in full. He had lots of questions to ask and was reassured by the ending. It’s a tough subject to broach with young children, but The Perfect Shelter allows you to do it in a gentle and comforting way.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 3+

Thank you to Little Tiger Press for sending me this book to review. I reviewed it as part of The Perfect Shelter blog tour where illustrator Åsa Gilland talked to me about creating The Perfect Shelter. Click here to read the interview.

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