Hazel Edwards on Grief and Loss

Article | Nov 2023

HAZEL EDWARDS is an Australian educator-author of over 200 books for children, teachers and adults, including There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake (1980).
Her latest books include two practical educational resources featuring play scripts: Grief and Loss in Schools: A Resource for Teachers and Issues: A Resource of Play Scripts and Activities for Teachers.
MARK PARRY reports.

 

Death and loss are a part of life. Grief and its associated sadness and distress are natural responses to this loss and can be nuanced, confronting and complicated. Hazel Edwards recently considered the question, ‘How can teachers provide support for your students after a death has occurred?’

Hazel was also interested in encouraging discussion and activities within classrooms. Her aim was to open up students to understand and process a wide range of complex, topical and sensitive issues in their world from various perspectives. Grief and other issues in a school context come with added layers and complexity between students, teachers and the broader school community.

The books offer an opening to talk about complex issues, with the additional benefits of fiction (in the form of play scripts) being one stage away from the student’s own situation. This approach makes particular topics much easier to talk about it. Despite the technological limitations of our online Zoom chat, Hazel’s warmth, compassion, and humour resonate clearly.

Hazel explains that she is regularly approached by medical, educational and other organisations and societies seeking advice on communicating various complex topics with young people. They often request written material that is educationally sound and age appropriate, with issues ranging from the trauma of natural disasters, illness, accidents, eating disorders, fire safety, and death and loss. One such initiative was for a funeral service, with staff concerned that no suitable resources were available, particularly for younger children and their teachers. Other initiatives include those for a children’s hospital and a fire brigade.

‘My suggestion was scripts’, Hazels reveals.

Hazel has written many scripts for television and screen and enjoys the challenge of working out the most feasible way of scripting something. She offers regular insights into the simple yet profound value of abstractions. For example, having children play the character of ‘rooster’, ‘fire’ or ‘question mark’. When developing play scripts, Hazel often writes using abstractions because they cover many cultures and contexts. Hazel believes that having situations, scripts, and characters with underlying humour and an understanding of the associated feelings is important within this challenging and complex territory.

‘My love is children’s theatre, and I like things that work with a bit of humour. It’s not all gloom and doom. Characters who are abstractions are one of the solutions.’

Hazel interviewed a wide range of people, including grief councillors, psychologists and other subject matter experts, to interpret this often confronting and complex content to make it more suitable for younger audiences. Although an unfortunate reality, Hazel believes the area of grief has grown.

‘The students and teachers can add their own ideas, and they feel they own it. If students feel they’ve had some input into a project, they’re more likely to want to do it again.’

‘There seems to be many more areas in which students and teachers need some help. I think a number of schools have dealt with bushfires and floods and have also been exposed to war and refugee circumstances’, she shares. ‘Teachers are feeling it’s very difficult to know how to handle it.’

A significant yet often overlooked aspect of the scripts is their simple approach and meaningful subtext.
‘The script format is probably the most important aspect. Underneath [the scripts] is a literacy structure, written as simply as possible and with a subtext of much more you can discuss. It gives a framework for teachers who are very busy.’

With a background as a lecturer at teachers’ college – specialising in reading, writing and literature – Hazel was always interested in writing scripts. Hazel collected timeless dramatic scripts, discussion prompts and activities from her back catalogue of more than 50 years for both books.

‘Scripts, not just for literacy, but for the additional value they bring to the classroom.’

‘I’ve done quite a lot of writing, and I was very conscious of a subject as sensitive and broad as grief and loss. It’s got to cover all sorts of cultures and religions. I had written a lot of characters who were not human, who were abstract and as such in the grief and loss category.’

Using scripts in schools enables topical issues to be discussed in a reassuring and accessible way. One of Hazel’s key aims is to have her scripts interpreted and adapted by teachers so they work within their own local school contexts. Even better if parents get involved in some way, and they are performed for other students. When compiling the scripts for publication, Hazel found there wasn’t much updating required. Hazel trials and rehearses her scripts in local schools to ensure they suit teachers and students. She explains the wide range of age possibilities with the subject matter; many of the scripts can be explored lightly, making it easier for younger students to perform.

The approaches outlined in the scripts are valuable for teachers since they offer content and ideas relevant to a student group at a particular time.

Other scripts incorporate more sophisticated, serious issues, including inclusion, anorexia nervosa, nature conservation, death of a classmate, peer group pressure, disease, haemophilia, and prejudice. Teachers can readily adapt and interpret the scripts to meet their local needs and address issues within their schools. Each script is presented as Cast (typically featuring one or two lead roles, with plenty of more minor roles for every student), Props (motorbike sound effects, clock, microphone …) and Setting (farmyard, footy ground, small country town …) to help teachers get organised with the various practicalities before creatively interpreting the ideas. A regular feature of the scripts is the use of a chorus.

‘There’s generally a flexible – often non-speaking – chorus, a leftover from the Greek chorus.’

Hazel explains this approach gives confidence to students who are nervous about getting up on stage or need more confidence in their reading ability. These students can still be involved in the group and prepare for the performance, such as playing ‘bricks-on-the-wall’ by dressing up as bricks or using actions, dance and movement.

‘The students and teachers can add their own ideas, and they feel they own it. If students feel they’ve had some input into a project, they’re more likely to want to do it again.’

Hazel reveals that some students won’t want to talk about their own personal situation, but they can take part in a play or performance, and it gives them some ideas of some of the ways they can process their own grief and loss. She outlines the value of associated activities such as building a remembrance garden, planting a tree or collating photographs to remember someone. The approaches outlined in the scripts are valuable for teachers since they offer content and ideas relevant to a student group at a particular time. Hazel explains the practicalities and value of putting on a play without too much fuss with easy-to-read, short, flexible and reusable plays offering more options.

Even better, these can be linked to the curriculum to solve a local problem. Hazel suggests additional non-performance roles, such as assigning students to work with cameras, lights or props. These allow students to be involved and indirectly discuss the issue of the play or performance.

The books offer practical ‘Discussion Starters’ and ‘Activities’ with relevant questions and other prompts to further explore each issue and its complexity with students. They also feature an appendix of valuable contacts and sources of further information and support.

Grief and Loss in Schools A Resource for Teachers and Issues A Resource of Play Scripts and Activities for Teachers are engaging, practical and useful, and address an immediate need for teachers. A range of confronting issues are explored compassionately with creativity and intelligence. The scripts offer teachers an opening to introduce complex problems into their classroom and make sensitive topics much easier to talk about with students.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hazel Edwards author An avid reader (who read under the bedclothes as a young girl), Hazel Edwards wrote her first novel in grade six, a mystery about adventurous children stuck in a mine. After working in a secondary school and lecturing at Teachers’ College, Hazel published her first novel aged twenty-seven, ‘General Store’.

It is Hazel’s third published work that is her best known, the children’s picture book classic, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake. This special imaginary friend has been cherished by children and parents alike and led to the dubious honour of Hazel being referred to as ‘the Hippo Lady’.

Since its publication in 1980, the age-less Hippopotamus on the roof has been reprinted annually, evolved into a series of seven picture books, inspired a junior chapter book, classroom play scripts, a musical stage production and a short movie.

While Hazel loves creating quirky, feisty characters for newly independent readers in her easy-to-read junior chapter books (such as Sleuth Astrid the mind-reading chook), she writes for all ages and has published over 220 books across a range of subjects and genres.

Hazel has collaborated with experts to publish adult non-fiction titles such as such as ‘Difficult Personalities’ (now translated into seven languages), helps people craft memoirs and family histories by ‘Writing a Non-Boring Family History” and co-wrote ‘ f2m:the boy within’.

Awarded the Australian Antarctic Division Arts Fellowship in 2001, Hazel travelled to Casey Station on the Polar Bird. This visit inspired a range of creative projects including the young adult eco-mystery ‘Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen’, picture book ‘ Antarctic Dad’ and the memoir ‘Antarctic Writer on Ice’.

Hazel writes a new story for her four grandsons each birthday.

Visit Hazel Edwards’ website

Visit the publisher’s website

 

 

Author: Hazel Edwards

Category: Non-Fiction

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Amba Press

ISBN: 9781922607447

RRP: $34.95

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