April 27, 2022

Last Week

Written by Bill Richardson
Illustrated by Emilie Leduc
Afterword by Dr. Stephanie Green
Groundwood Books
64 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2022

Last Week is a sombre little book. It is based on the last week of a child's grandmother, affectionately called Flippa, as she with her family prepare for her death via Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). It is sombre because of a child's recognition of time passing swiftly before that death in a week of six hundred four thousand and eight hundred seconds or in the seven chapter days.
From Last Week by Bill Richardson, illus. by Emilie Leduc

This last week begins with Monday and with a child and their father flying across the country to be with the parent's mother during her last week. The child recalls how Flippa used to swim every day in the sea, walking in her wet suit, goggles and flippers the three blocks to the ocean. But no more. Because Flippa always felt it was important to make every second count, the child does that with the seconds they have left with her, chatting while she rests in bed, trying to make her laugh, and more.

From Last Week by Bill Richardson, illus. by Emilie Leduc

Visitors come and bring food and stay to chat and cry and reminisce. When Flippa feels well enough to come out of her room, she recalls being there for the child's birth. Now they will be there for her, "For when I'm set free," she declares. A visit from the green grocer, Mr. Bark, has the two ribbing each other about the tomato plants she'd bought from him having not produced any tomatoes. It's all very low-key with everyone knowing that Flippa's end is near but rarely really discussing it directly. With Flippa's doctor scheduled to come Sunday at 11 a.m. and administer the trio of medicines, the conclusion of that last week is imminent, and the child finds a way to be with Flippa, connect with her and even share a good-bye gift.

From Last Week by Bill Richardson, illus. by Emlie Leduc
Bill Richardson has written a story of such elegance in Last Week. The death of a grandparent can be one of the first significant deaths a child can experience, except for that of a pet, but a scheduled death is a whole different issue. With that last week, the child understands the momentousness of that juncture while preparing for a loss, appreciating every moment and witnessing others' responses. Bill Richardson keeps the story from the child's perspective and what they see, feel, hear, and know. By doing this, it becomes the child's story, not about the death. In fact, Flippa's death is never revealed though readers will know it was impending and unavoidable. That inevitability permeates the story and the child's narration of it but this child does not manifest the same grief as their father or the other visitors. After all, grief for the dying or the dead is different for all. For this child, it's making those seconds count with support and love, easing Flippa through that last week in their own way.
From Last Week by Bill Richardson, illus. by Emilie Leduc
While it is an illustrated chapter book, Last Week is not awash in the colour or boldness of art. Emilie Leduc's illustrations are stark and hushed. The black, grey and white palette keeps the tone of the story soft and quiet. Even though Flippa's last week is busy with visitors and family, those moments are important but fleeting, not unlike the art. Both Bill Richardson and Emilie Leduc can do bright and cheerful, humorous and busy. (Check out Bill Richardson's The Alphabet Thief or Hare B & B and Emilie Leduc's All Year Round.) But they set the tone of the book with their words and art, making Last Week important in its dignity of story message –which includes an Afterword by Dr. Stephanie Green about assisted dying–while taking the opportunity to introduce young people to an important end-of-life discussion.

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