The Copper Tree

Story background

Aim of the book

It can be difficult to explain the death of a loved one to a child. A book can provide the  ideal opportunity for addressing and exploring issues which are associated with bereavement and an accessible picture book like The Copper Tree is much needed.

According to leading childhood bereavement charity, Winston’s Wish, a child is bereaved of a parent every 22 minutes in this country – 24,000 children a year – and many more are affected by the loss of someone close, a sibling, grandparent, other relation, friend or significant person, like a teacher, in their life.

Background to the story

Hilary’s sister-in-law, Caroline, a talented teacher and to whom the book is dedicated, lost a long battle against breast cancer at only 39 years old. The children at her school were aware of her illness and The Copper Tree is based on the relationship she had with them whilst she lived with the disease.

The story explores how the children are encouraged to think of everything that reminds them of their teacher and what she imparted to help them understand that, while sadness is an inevitable part of grief, death is not necessarily the end – for what is left behind can be everlasting.

Hilary’s daughters remember receiving Easter cards from their Aunt with “shaky writing” that Caroline had made herself when her fine motor skills were declining.

Hilary says, “They remember her determination to celebrate every occasion – a trick and treat visit at Hallowe’en was fun for parents as well as children! As a result of those bonds it became apparent to me that her legacy would live on in considerable ways beyond her death.”

When a friend of Hilary’s also recently died and their family were critical of the lack of books for young children that featured real people or that simply detailed whimsical notions of heaven, Hilary decided to re-visit the story.

The Tree of Life at St Gemma’s in Leeds

The title The Copper Tree was inspired by a hospice near to where Hilary lives in Yorkshire, which has established a Tree of Life for bereaved family and friends to attach a copper leaf inscribed with the name of a loved one as a lasting legacy.