Once upon a medieval time, there was a fisherman, his wife, and their new-born baby boy, a family so impoverished that the couple had nothing to give their son as a christening gift. Concluding that actually the greatest gift they could confer would be the patronage of ‘an honest man to be his godfather’, the fisherman sets off to find one. Beginning the journey as a naive and unworldly soul, he is set to meet three of history’s greatest characters. Godfather Death by Sally Nicholls is a morality tale with a brilliant sucker punch.
After walking for some time, the fisherman encounters an elderly bearded gentleman, who appears touched to hear his tale. ‘I am Father God,’ he says, a truly honest man who will happily undertake the role of godfather.
Now you might think that the fisherman would be thrilled to have God on his team, but his son is cold and hungry, and God must take some responsibility for that.
‘Are you serious? Some people live in great big palaces and eat off gold plates with silver forks. Others live in horrible cold wet houses where the rain falls down onto their bed.’
Having berated God for the unfairness of it all, the fisherman marches off.
In the course of his travels, the fisherman is set to meet two more famous characters, one with flashing green eyes and a goatee, the other hooded, and wielding a long silver scythe. Preoccupied with the concept of honesty, he hasn’t paused to consider whether it’s an attribute he possesses himself.
Godfather Death is one of the Brothers Grimm’s lesser known tales, originally published in 1812. In this tremendous makeover, Nicholls injects some giggles into the proceedings while preserving the macabre, and Júlia Sardà’s illustrations recall medieval woodcuts with a wonderful palette of reds, greens and yellows.
Perfectly pitched at middle-grade readers, it’s blessed with a shock ending that’s bound to spark a lively debate on moral dilemmas.
Godfather Death by Sally Nicholls is illustrated by Júlia Sardà and published by Andersen Press, 48 pages.