'The Perfect Shelter', with author Clare Helen Welsh

The Perfect Shelter
with author Clare Helen Welsh
 
The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland is a book that I and many others have been anticipating for some time. Like Clare's previous book 'The Tide', this story encapsulates elements of life for children in a way that resonates with them, makes them feel understood and let's them know that they are not the only ones who feel this way. There are so many beautiful levels to this story that I can only hope my post here will do it some justice...



The Perfect Shelter
It is a tale of a young family featuring a Mum, a Dad and their two young girls. The family enjoy spending time in nature and the girls adore constructing dens. Together, the sisters aim to build "the perfect, perfect shelter!" However, unbeknownst to them, a harsh storm is brewing. The storm is set to test the strength of their den and anyone who takes shelter within it.
 
The imagery here of the storm and the shelter is so utterly brilliant because visually, it speaks volumes. At first, the storm is just like any windy night, but throughout the year, the weather worsens. Roaring rain and thunder storms ensue next. And what of the shelter? Well, now there is barely any remnants of it at all. 
 
In this tale, the shelter could symbolise the older sister's health or the family unit as a whole, while the storm depicts an illness. From the savage nature of this particular illness, we can guess what it might be representing and predictably, the 'storm' has a negative impact on everyone. The older sister needs medicine, the younger sister needs her big sister and Mum and Dad are just trying to keep it all together. But the storm can't last forever... can it? At this point, you might think that the shelter holds another possible meaning - hope! When the storm destroys the shelter, at first you may believe that that is the end of the journey. But with little sister's determined (however slowed) efforts to rebuild their safe space, surely there must still be hope?

Memories of "the perfect, perfect shelter"
When I was first asked to write a post about 'The Perfect Shelter', my first thought was to think about the imagery in this story. The many meanings and layers to this particular children's picture book. It also reminded me of a time when I was around 7 or 8. My younger sister and I built our own den in the garden. It was made from open umbrellas, dining room chairs, bed sheets, an old piece of carpet and a slide for the entrance - I know, it sounds very cool! Well, it was to 'little us' anyway. It felt like the safest place in the world! With our plate of chocolate biscuits, a bundle of story books (and one hand hovering near the umbrella handles in case the wind caught them), we had the best day ever constructing and sitting inside that den. Many years later, it is a memory that we both still hold dear. A memory that will not be forgotten and to this day, is one feat of architecture that neither of us have trumped since! I asked author Clare Helen Welsh about her childhood memories of den building. She very kindly sent me her thoughts, which you can read here:
 
MY PERFECT SHELTER
 
Thank you, Maxine, for inviting me to talk a little bit about my memories of den building as a child. I must say my recollections are quite dusty (!) I’ve had to really think hard (and ask my parents) about specific details of the treehouse I wanted to tell you about: 

Our back garden at the time was grassy and sloping. High at the back and dropping down towards the back door. It was a great garden for sledging in when it snowed! At the very back of the garden, at the top of the hill, were a line of trees, possibly conifers. There was just enough space to scramble under, over, through… what an adventure that felt at the time! It was on the far left side that my parents build the treehouse! I don’t remember exactly what I used to do in it – top secret den things, like eating snacks I expect! But it was great for hiding in and my Dad says it was always popular with singing birds. Apparently, the ‘treehouse’ wasn’t far off the ground and was more of a closed off area, boarded with wood, but I remember it being much more exciting. And therein lies the power of our imagination!
Whilst I can’t recall all the details of how the treehouse looked, at least not as many as I would like, I do remember the excitement and adventure I felt for it. It’s the happy memories of ‘doing things' and being together that last and stay with us for years to come.  
 Now, as a parent, I get to relive this joy all over again, experiencing the things I loved most as a child with children of my own. After all, you’re never too old to build a den!

I'd like to say a huge 'Thank you!' to Clare for sharing her childhood memories and recent family moments with us! It looks like you had such a wonderful time together building your very impressive den and what a fantastic feeling it must be to relive that joy you experienced as a child in your very own treehouse with your family.
The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland will be released next week on 25th June 2020. It'll be a book that we treasure for the memories that it sparks in us, but also for the conversations that it could initiate with my pupils that might like to talk about their experiences with cancer, but are not sure how to start the conversation. This perfectly considered book is one of the most powerful reading experiences that we've had for some time. Thank you for creating this story Clare!

With all my best wishes. Happy reading to you all,
Maxine x

(Disclaimer: A copy of this book was sent by the publisher - Little Tiger Books - for review upon request. All views are my own.)

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