The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh & Åsa Gilland

I first saw the cover of The Perfect Shelter at Frankfurt Book Fair last autumn and immediately fell in love with Åsa Gilland’s cover illustration. At that time it was only a book cover on a display stand so I had no idea what the story would be about.

When we first read The Perfect Shelter I was speechless by the end. Clare has written such a moving and uplifting story to help children explore the powerful emotions that they can feel when someone they love is diagnosed with a serious illness – the poignancy of the story left me with a lump in my throat.

The Story: On a perfect day two sisters build a shelter in the woods. But then one of the sisters becomes sick. Their perfect shelter becomes damaged by wind and rain but the sick sister can’t help to fix it as she is being treated for her illness. As time goes by the shelter is completely destroyed by the weather but when the sick sister is feeling a little better she has a wonderful idea for a new shelter…

Clare uses powerful imagery and different kinds of weather is used to help children understand the range of emotions they may feel when someone they care about is sick. The shelter represents safety and happiness until it becomes damaged while one sister is sick. The story comes full circle when her health starts to improve and they are able to create a different kind of perfect shelter. 

Clare has written the story in the first person and the simple text uses images that young children will understand. No specific illness is mentioned so the book can be used to discuss the complicated emotions that children in a similar situation may feel – worry, anger, sadness. The closeness of the relationships in this mixed race family is at the heart of the story and their support for each other through insecure and worrying times is heartwarming. 

Åsa Gilland uses pastel colours for her beautiful illustrations which capture the excitement of shelter building, the stress of illness and the hope of recovery. Our favourite illustration is on the final page which shows the perfect shelter that the two girls create once the sick sister starts to recover but we also love the positivity and excitement of this first spread.

The Perfect Shelter is a fabulous book to stimulate conversations about emotions and diversity and the use of weather imagery is particularly effective in demonstrating the main character’s emotional journey as she tries to understand her sister’s illness. Rain, wind, lightening and snow are all used to demonstrate the maelstrom of emotions that the main character and her family are feeling. But it’s also a book of hope

I hope that you and your families and friends are well and healthy but if you are in a situation where you need to support a young child who is dealing with the serious illness of a loved one, this is the perfect story. It’s a story of hope within challenging times.

Author: Clare Helen Welsh / Illustrator: Åsa Gilland

Thank you to Little Tiger Press for sending a copy of The Perfect Shelter, such a moving and powerful story.

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