Friday, September 6, 2019

The Immortal Jellyfish by Sang Miao

One day, all of us will die. The knowledge of our own mortality is perhaps one of the cruelest twists of human cognition, and yet, it's also the strongest motivator for us to go out and fully live our lives and make meaningful connections with others, despite knowing that one day, our lives will end and so will those of our loved ones. I remember when I first realized that my life would not be infinite, and my parents read me a truly lovely book based on Buddhist beliefs, called THE MOUNTAINS OF TIBET. It's a book about life, and death, and how living to one's natural end just makes you a part of the ever-growing tapestry of the continual life cycle.

THE IMMORTAL JELLYFISH is a book that takes a similar concept in introducing mortality to children in a way that isn't scary or intimidating. The premise begins with a species of jellyfish colloquially known as "The Immortal Jellyfish," or cnidarians, which can revert back to an earlier phase in their life cycle and re-mature indefinitely and are essentially immortal in a biological sense (although they can still be killed).

Our hero is a little boy listening in fascination as his grandfather tells him about these wonderful jellyfish. He wants to know if he can be immortal too, and his grandfather tells him no, not in that sense, although there are other ways, he adds-- mysteriously. Before the boy can get any closure, his grandfather disappears, and then his parents tell him that the reason his grandfather hasn't come to visit him is because he is dead. The boy is devastated until he goes to sleep one night and sees his grandfather again in a dream. His grandfather takes him to a magical place called the Life Transfer Station where beings can retire to take on another physical form to revisit loved ones in dreams.

I thought this story was absolutely beautiful for multiple reason. First, the art is beautiful and worth buying the book for by that measure alone. Second, it borrows the same tenets of reincarnation and interconnectedness from Buddhism that made THE MOUNTAINS OF TIBET one of my favorite reads as a child. Third, it introduces the concept of mortality to children in a very gentle way. Fourth, it shows how our love for those who are dead can not only go on to live on through the life cycle (although in this case it is more metaphorical), but also they live on through us in our memories, and also live on in us through our actions. That's such a great, and bittersweet, idea. I almost cried.

Lastly, it teaches children about a very interesting animal that actually does live forever. Cnidarians (pronounced "nye-deer-ians") are really cool and I love the idea of a kid reading this book and then using it as a jumping off point to gain more knowledge about these fascinating creatures. Definitely a great book for children, especially as a teaching tool or for giving comfort in a period of grief. I'd also recommend this to adults who like children's books, especially children's books with great art.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

5 out of 5 stars

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