Papa, hoor je me?
Polle is sitting beside his father’s dead body, giving him a lively and honest account of the events following his death: who’s been to visit, how strangely grown-ups talk about death and what’s going to happen at his funeral. He brings up memories of his father, both good ones and not such good ones. He’s even brave enough to say: ‘Sometimes, but hardly ever at all, I was sorry you were my dad.’
This may sound a little like the well-known Dutch pastime of breaking taboos, but this honesty is the true strength of this story by Tamara Bos, as both the dead father and his son are presented in a way that is very believable.
Bos has written subtly and realistically about death and mourning, whereas other books on this theme are often overly sweet and sentimental and aim only to convey the message that it’s okay to grieve, attempting to offer consolation with their talk of heaven, stars and candles. For this reason alone, Papa, hoor je me? can be counted as one of the best books to have been created in this genre.
And then there are those illustrations by Annemarie van Haeringen! Polle’s dad came up with a metaphor for his sickness: it’s a war between the red and blue soldiers in the Stratego game that he played so often with his son. The blue soldiers seem to be winning. But as they’re resting, the red soldiers sneak closer, armed to the teeth. And in a bloody scene, one of the blue soldiers is killed.
On the following pages, his fellow soldiers, clearly devastated, accompany him to his final resting place. The illustrations by Van Haeringen, which will continue to fascinate on subsequent readings, ensure that Papa, hoor je me? is so much more than a book about a father’s death.