Reviews /

Goodbye Hobbs

Authored by Emma Bettridge
Illustrated by Josephine Birch
Published by Graffeg

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Goodbye Hobbs is a picture book about saying goodbye, grief, loss, friendship and love. Like many books dealing with this often tricky subject, the subjects of the story are animals – Merlin, a scruffy looking lurcher and his friend Hobbs, a black Labrador. Merlin doesn’t want to go out for a walk: his friend isn’t there, he is miserable and it is raining, but his human drags him out and they set off on their usual route into the village and up the hill into the wood. There, Merlin picks up a scent: messages left for him by his friend Hobbs. As he dashes through the wood, along paths through puddles and across the fields following the familiar smells, Hobbs leads him on a journey of discovery, reassurance and understanding, which ends peacefully at the cherry tree in their garden.

There is a level of poignancy and nostalgia in this book which is extremely affecting for adult readers. The illustrations have echoes of Edward Ardizzone with their scratchy ink and fluid watercolours which immediately convey the damp, windy chill of autumn and draw the reader into memories of times past. They invoke all the senses and emotions and every teacher I have shown this to has had a tear in their eye by the end of the book. It is interesting to note however that at no point in the story or in the peritext are the word ‘death’, ‘dying’ or ‘dead’ mentioned. The reader is told that Hobbs has ‘gone away’ and that the book is about ‘what it means to love and lose a friend’ but at no point is it made explicit that Hobbs has died.

This would be a brilliant book to sensitively explore the idea of death and dying with all children; there is a level of inference that is needed which would allow the teacher to gauge children’s previous experiences and levels of understanding. It could be used to discuss the death of a pet but also to examine the relationship between the two dogs, allowing children to empathise with Merlin and see similarities between his feelings and their own. Unlike other books which are written to support and counsel children through grief (like The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup or Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley both of which also tackle this sensitive subject using animals as the protagonists rather than humans), this one has a more universal appeal and could be more broadly applied to talking to children about sadness, loss and hope rather than specifically about bereavement.

It is worth mentioning the design and visual coherency of this book which has been so cleverly created. The use of Sassoon font throughout makes it clear and easy to read, and the text is positioned in white spaces either inside the illustrations or underneath them. There is a clever font change to a calligraphic style for onomatopoeic sounds for emphasis which would make for an interesting discussion. The only time Hobbs is seen in the book is in grey photographs of him and Merlin together which contrast with the rest of the colour illustrations which flow through the pages in a series of full-page double spreads and vignettes which perfectly complement the text. Josephine Birch has created illustrations which perfectly complements Emma Bettridge’s text making this a coherent, beautiful and well-designed book which would work well on so many levels in the classroom.