Portland writer and illustrator Winslow Furber wrote the book to help parents and kids talk about mortality.
By Bob Keyes
As a parent, Winslow Furber wanted a better way to talk to his kids about death. As a creative person, he was seeking an outlet for his ideas.
The result of both yearnings is Furber’s first children’s book, “A Very Young Reaper,” which tells the tale of young Tim Reaper, the son of Kim and Grim Reaper. Everything Tim touches dies, leaving him sad and alone because no one wants to meet the son of the Grim Reaper. Until one day, when he meets a very old porcupine who teaches the boy that what makes him different than everyone else is also what makes him special.
Furber wrote and illustrated the book, issued by an Indiana-based on-demand publishing house, to help families talk about death and dying with kids, as well as the concept of death with dignity. The book also speaks to the idea of adapting your world and lifestyle to accommodate people who are different and who possess peculiar, other abilities.
Furber, who lives in Portland and works as a building contractor, has been thinking about death with dignity and related issues since college, when his roommate’s mother suffered a difficult, painful death from cancer. “I’ve had some experience with the death of pets and having to have that conversation with my own two children,” he said. “I just thought it would be nice to have something that works around the whole death-with-dignity theme. I started thinking about a very young reaper – the son of Grim Reaper – and how he would grow up, overcome obstacles and come to grips with his own unique circumstances. How does he adapt to the fact that everything he touches dies?”
Furber is sharing proceeds of book sales with the Center for Grieving Children, the Animal Refuge League and the Death with Dignity National Center.
Furber, 54, has always had artistic instincts, but spent most of his professional life working for others. He was a financial planner for many years – “the worst mistake I could have made” – and worked as director of development and maintenance for SailMaine, which supports community sailing programs in the state. He’s an avid sailor and loves spreading his family’s love of sailing with other families.
A few years ago, he went off on his own as a contractor, enabling him to work for himself and balance his many interests. He went to Middlebury College, where he majored in sculpture and also studied math and physics. He also makes jewelry, and ultimately would like to make art all the time. “I’d like to stop swinging a hammer and tell more stories,” he said.
The book is a step in that direction. He attended a children’s book conference in New York last February and began writing the book soon after. He pitched “A Very Young Reaper” to several publishers and ultimately decided to go the self-publishing route because he didn’t want to wait for a publisher to come around to his idea.
“I sent it out to six or eight publishers, and got one to talk to me. The publisher said, ‘It’s a beautiful story, but you are going to find it very difficult to find a publisher willing to take a flier on it,’” he said. “I felt it was important to get it out. I would have loved to have had something when my kids were little, when the bunny died. That’s what Tim does. He helps people who are old or sick.”
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