Which out of copyright children's books have death scenes?
February 7, 2011 7:16 AM   Subscribe

What are some out of copyright children's books with touching death scenes?

We wanted to use an extract from Charlotte's Web, but the lawyers have said no at the last minute. We're trying for the rights to a passage from Velveteen Rabbit, but we have very little time before the print deadline.

We need a death scene from a children's book that we can quote. (Preferably one without any overt mention of Christianity. Bonus points for an undercurrent of hope/hints of reincarnation/ theme of 'life goes on'.)
posted by the latin mouse to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if it's properly a children's book, but would the death scene from The Old Curiosity Shop work?
posted by jquinby at 7:23 AM on February 7, 2011

Little Women.
posted by anaelith at 7:26 AM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Matthew's death in Anne of Green Gables. It's in the second to last chapter.
posted by something something at 7:35 AM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Anne of green gables has a touching death scene towards the end, but I'm not sure if it qualifies as quotable.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 7:36 AM on February 7, 2011

Beth's death in Little Women? (mentions of God, but I think the appropriate quote is: "But a bird sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a benediction over the placid face upon the pillow--a face so full of painless peace that those who loved it best smiled though their tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last." Some stuff beforehand about her always being there for the family.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:38 AM on February 7, 2011

(Also, it looks like The Velveteen Rabbit is on Project Gutenberg as Public Domain in the USA... and Wikipedia lists it as first published in 1922, which is before 1923, however barely, so certainly the first edition IS out of copyright. Is there something else/special that you need that I'm missing?)
posted by anaelith at 7:39 AM on February 7, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin - the death of Little Eva.

Also, does it need to be a death scene as it is happening, or is it okay to have the characters talking about their dead parents? I looked on Project Gutenberg and they have a category named "Orphans". Just glancing through, there are some lovely passages about the parents in A Little Princess, here's an excerpt:

"There are fields and fields of flowers," she said, forgetting herself, as usual, when she began, and talking rather as if she were in a dream, "fields and fields of lilies—and when the soft wind blows over them it wafts the scent of them into the air—and everybody always breathes it, because the soft wind is always blowing. And little children run about in the lily fields and gather armfuls of them, and laugh and make little wreaths. And the streets are shining. And people are never tired, however far they walk. They can float anywhere they like. And there are walls made of pearl and gold all round the city, but they are low enough for the people to go and lean on them, and look down onto the earth and smile, and send beautiful messages."
posted by CathyG at 7:44 AM on February 7, 2011

Response by poster: We're in Britain, so copyright is seventy years from the author's death. Velveteen Rabbit isn't public domain here until 2014.
posted by the latin mouse at 7:47 AM on February 7, 2011

Response by poster: Should have previewed.

No, the death doesn't need to happen "onscreen".
posted by the latin mouse at 7:49 AM on February 7, 2011


velveteen rabbit is gutenberg, out of copyright i think....

also check here: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/14766/pg14766.html
poem we are seven, about a girls family where 2 of her siblings are dead...

or http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/16751/pg16751.html
dickens story , "death of little nell"

or the fourth reader,
story pasted below about a girl at her mothers grave:

1. It was thirteen years since my mother's death, when, after a long absence from my native village, I stood beside the sacred mound beneath which I had seen her buried. Since that mournful period, a great change had come over me. My childish years had passed away, and with them my youthful character. The world was altered, too; and as I stood at my mother's grave, I could hardly realize that I was the same thoughtless, happy creature, whose checks she so often kissed in an excess of tenderness.

2. But the varied events of thirteen years had not effaced the remembrance of that mother's smile. It seemed as if I had seen her but yesterday—as if the blessed sound of her well-remembered voice was in my ear. The gay dreams of my infancy and childhood were brought back so distinctly to my mind that, had it not been for one bitter recollection, the tears I shed would have been gentle and refreshing.

3. The circumstance may seem a trifling one, but the thought of it now pains my heart; and I relate it, that those children who have parents to love them may learn to value them as they ought. My mother had been ill a long time, and I had become so accustomed to her pale face and weak voice, that I was not frightened at them, as children usually are. At first, it is true, I sobbed violently; but when, day after day, I returned from school, and found her the same, I began to believe she would always be spared to me; but they told me she would die.

4. One day when I had lost my place in the class, I came home discouraged and fretful. I went to my mother's chamber. She was paler than usual, but she met me with the same affectionate smile that always welcomed my return. Alas! when I look back through the lapse of thirteen years, I think my heart must have been stone not to have been melted by it. She requested me to go downstairs and bring her a glass of water. I pettishly asked her why she did not call a domestic to do it. With a look of mild reproach, which I shall never forget if I live to be a hundred years old, she said, "Will not my daughter bring a glass of water for her poor, sick mother?"

5. I went and brought her the water, but I did not do it kindly. Instead of smiling, and kissing her as I had been wont to do, I set the glass down very quickly, and left the room. After playing a short time, I went to bed without bidding my mother good night; but when alone in my room, in darkness and silence, I remembered how pale she looked, and how her voice trembled when she said, "Will not my daughter bring a glass of water for her poor, sick mother?" I could not sleep. I stole into her chamber to ask forgiveness. She had sunk into an easy slumber, and they told me I must not waken her.

6. I did not tell anyone what troubled me, but stole back to my bed, resolved to rise early in the morning and tell her how sorry I was for my conduct. The sun was shining brightly when I awoke, and, hurrying on my clothes, I hastened to my mother's chamber. She was dead! She never spoke more—never smiled upon me again; and when I touched the hand that used to rest upon my head in blessing, it was so cold that it made me start.

7. I bowed down by her side, and sobbed in the bitterness of my heart. I then wished that I might die, and be buried with her; and, old as I now am, I would give worlds, were they mine to give, could my mother but have lived to tell me she forgave my childish ingratitude. But I can not call her back; and when I stand by her grave, and whenever I think of her manifold kindness, the memory of that reproachful look she gave me will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder.
posted by fozzie33 at 7:55 AM on February 7, 2011

Fair enough.

I refuse to reread to check, but I remember Black Beauty having a lot of death in it. (There's also a Young Folk's Edition.) Anna Sewell died in 1878.
posted by anaelith at 7:58 AM on February 7, 2011

There's also a death scene in The Second Jungle Book - Mowgli staying with the dying Akela.
posted by jquinby at 8:04 AM on February 7, 2011

If you don't mind victorian sentiment, there's George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind and similarly, though the death is a little more veiled (the fact that the boy had drowned went right past me as a kid), Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:52 AM on February 7, 2011

Judy's death from Seven Little Australians still chokes me up, after all these years.
A curlew's note broke the silence, wild, mournful, unearthly. Meg shivered, and sat up straight. Judy's brow, grew damp, her eyes dilated, her lips trembled.

"Meg!" she said, in a whisper that cut the air. "Oh, Meg, I'm frightened! MEG, I'm so frightened!"

"God!" said Meg's heart.

"Meg, say something. Meg, help me! Look at the dark, Meg. MEG, I can't die! Oh, why don't they be quick?"

Nellie flew to the fence again; then to say, "Make her better, God—oh, please, God!"

"Meg, I can't think of anything to say. Can't you say something, Meg? Aren't there any prayers about the dying in the Prayer Book?—I forget. Say something, Meg!"

Meg's lips moved, but her tongue uttered no word.

"Meg, I'm so frightened! I can't think of anything but `For what we are about to receive,' and that's grace, isn't it? And there's nothing in Our Father that would do either. Meg, I wish we'd gone to Sunday-school and learnt things. Look at the dark, Meg! Oh, Meg, hold my hands!"

"Heaven won't—be—dark," Meg's lips said. Even when speech came, it was only a halting, stereotyped phrase that fell from them.

"If it's all gold and diamonds, I don't want to go!" The child was crying now. "Oh, Meg, I want to be alive! How'd you like to die, Meg, when you're only thirteen? Think how lonely I'll be without you all. Oh, Meg! Oh, Pip, Pip! Oh, Baby! Nell!"

The tears streamed down her cheeks; her chest rose and fell.

"Oh, say something, Meg!—hymns!—anything!"

Half the book of "Hymns Ancient and Modern" danced across Meg's brain. Which one could she think of that would bring quiet into those feverish eyes that were fastened on her face with such a frightening, imploring look?

Then she opened her lips:

"Come unto Me, ye weary,
And I will give you rest,
Oh, bl—

"I'm not weary, I don't WANT to rest," Judy said, in a fretful tone.

Again Meg tried:

"My God, my Father, while I stray
Far from my home on life's rough way,
Oh, teach me from my heart to say
———————— Thy will be done!"

"That's for old people," said the little tired voice. "He won't expect ME to say it."

Then Meg remembered the most beautiful hymn in the world, and said the first and last verses without a break in her voice:

"Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

"Oh! and Judy, dear, we are forgetting; there's Mother, Judy, dear—you won't be lonely! Can't you remember Mother's eyes, little Judy?"

Judy grew quiet, and still more quiet. She shut her eyes so she could not see the gathering shadows. Meg's arms were round her, Meg's cheek was on her brow, Nell was holding her hands, Baby her feet, Bunty's lips were on her hair. Like that they went with her right to the Great Valley, where there are no lights even for stumbling, childish feet.

The shadows were cold, and smote upon their hearts; they could feel the wind from the strange waters on their brows; but only she who was about to cross heard the low lapping of the waves.

Just as her feet touched the water there was a figure in the doorway.

"Judy!" said a wild voice; and Pip brushed them aside and fell down beside her.

"Judy, Judy, JUDY!"

The light flickered back in her eyes. She kissed him with pale lips once, twice; she gave him both her hands, and her last smile.

Then the wind blew over them all, and, with a little shudder, she slipped away.
posted by rdc at 10:15 AM on February 7, 2011

(Sorry, missed the no-overt-Christianity bit. Could you cut around it?)
posted by rdc at 10:17 AM on February 7, 2011

If you're looking at L. M. Montgomery, there are veritable festoons of death in her books.

The end of the tubercular Ruby Gillis, in Anne of the Island:

"She had died in her sleep, painlessly and calmly, and on her face was a smile--as if, after all, death had come as a kindly friend to lead her over the threshold, instead of the grisly phantom she had dreaded."

Anne's House of Dreams has at least two deaths, Anne's baby, and the lighthouse keeper.

"At sunset the little soul that had come with the dawning went away, leaving heartbreak behind it. Miss Cornelia took the wee, white lady from the kindly but stranger hands of the nurse, and dressed the tiny waxen form in the beautiful dress Leslie had made for it."

"They could not know precisely at what hour he had died, but Anne always believed that he had had his wish, and went out when the morning came across the gulf. Out on that shining tide his spirit drifted, over the sunrise sea of pearl and silver, to the haven where lost Margaret waited, beyond the storms and calms."

I am fond of the final words of the Irish-born family servant who dies laughing at a man yanking turnips in the garden at the end of Mistress Pat.

"Judy reached out and clutched Pat's hand.

"'Did ye iver see the devil
Wid his liddle wooden shovel
Digging pittaties in the garden
Wid his tail cocked up?'"

she quoted, laughing, and fell back on her pillows. Her kind loving eyes closed. Judy, who had laughed so bravely, gaily, gallantly all her life, had died laughing."
posted by Sallyfur at 11:02 AM on February 7, 2011

What about the little match girl? It's kind of THE cliched children's story about death. In the fairytale genre, there's also the Steadfast Tin Soldier (Hans Christian Anderson).
posted by lollusc at 4:16 PM on February 7, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all your suggestions!

We've gone to print with the extract tchemgrrl suggested from Little Women.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:49 AM on February 15, 2011

Response by poster: The race-for-an-alternate-death-scene from this AskMe has now been written up in The Guardian.

No shoutout to MeFi unfortunately, but I'm extremely grateful for all your help.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:04 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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