• Picture Book Snob

Creating a safe space for our emotions

A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield

What's it about?

Inspired by the writings of Etty Hillesum, a victim of the Holocaust, this is about embracing sadness and making room for it. Hillesum believed that if you nurture your sorrow, it fills space that might otherwise be occupied by hatred or revenge. Sadness is a character in this story. Instead of being rejected, Sadness is welcomed by a boy who builds them a home. There, Sadness can be safe, do whatever they need to feel content, and be visited at any time. Whenever Sadness wishes to emerge from its refuge, the boy will take their hand so that they can explore the world together.


What can we learn?

This story shows how sadness is an essential part of life which helps us to appreciate the world around us. We see that it's possible to live comfortably with sorrow and it's not something that needs to be feared. Making Sadness a character, and giving examples of what they can enjoy from their shelter, also reveals ways the reader might find relief when they are unhappy.

What makes this story stand out? A Shelter for Sadness is an extraordinary book which takes an unusual and interesting approach to what is traditionally perceived as a negative emotion. Sadness is cherished and allowed to flourish, rather than concealed or ignored. Even though this story tackles a difficult subject, and one which is typically associated with darkness, the images are saturated with colour and full of light.


About those illustrations...

Every single spread is a spectacular work of art, the endpapers are gorgeous, and the cover is dotted with silver foil that glimmers when it catches the light. David Litchfield celebrates the splendour of the natural world and makes fantastic use of elements like rainfall, sunshine and moonbeams, and the blaze of a fire.


There are stunning sunrises, starlit dusks and magnificent meadows filled with wildflowers. Sadness is beautiful too; represented by a radiant scribble which suggests the complex feelings of which they are composed. Their warmth and affection glows from within and their gentle heart is almost always visible.

"In summer, roses will bloom, and their scent will steal in under the door. And my Sadness can open the windows and breathe in and smell them. If it wants to."

Why we love it...

Although it's written in prose rather than verse, the text is as profound and lyrical as a poem. I've already mentioned the breath-taking illustrations which are among the best I've ever seen. The combination of powerful words and remarkable images makes reading this book a moving and memorable experience.


Why you need it...

A Shelter for Sadness encourages young people to recognise and respect their feelings from an early age, and helps them to develop an emotional vocabulary. This story shows children there's no such thing as a "bad" feeling and that how we respond to our emotions is what matters the most.

About the author:

Anne Booth is an acclaimed and prolific author of children's books for a variety of age groups. She has written lots of wonderful picture books that I'm dying to get hold of - top of the list are Bloom and Little Cloud. See more books by Anne Booth here.


About the illustrator:

David Litchfield is an award-winning author and illustrator. He has worked with many famous writers and written lots of brilliant and bestselling books himself. We have the equally fabulous Rain Before Rainbows and the Bear and the Piano trilogy and love them too (reviews coming soon!). You can see more work by David Litchfield on his website.

A Shelter for Sadness was published by Templar books on 21st January 2021.


See the book on the publisher's website


See more books exploring emotions reviewed by Picture Book Snob

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