The Hare-Shaped Hole - Book recommendation - Elsa Support

The Hare-Shaped Hole – Book recommendation

The Hare-Shaped Hole was sent to me by the publisher to review. I do often get sent books and I will only recommend on the website if I truly like them and feel they are a benefit to our ELSA community. This book is a delight and perfect for working with children on bereavement, grief and loss. 

This one will definitely be added to our BOOKLIST

The Hare shaped hole

The story is written by John Dougherty and Illustrated by Thomas Docherty.

The plot

The story is about Bertle and Hertle who were friends. One is a turtle and the other a hare. They were never a part and were true best friends even though they were very different. The story is all in rhyme so flows beautifully and is a delight to listen to and read. One day Hertle disappears,  and all that is left is a hare shaped hole in the air. Bertle looks everywhere for Hertle but all he can see is a hare shaped hole. His friend has gone. Bertle gets angry then starts bargaining to try and get Hertle back, he then feels weak with despair. His emotions come flooding out with tears.

Then another character appears called Gerda the kindly bear and she waits until he is ready and she cuddles him and lets him feel all his feelings. She then encourages Bertle to fill the hare shaped hole with all the wonderful memories of Hertle. Bertle gradually starts to feel better.

The hare shaped hole          The hare shaped hole

This book is incredible and I strongly recommend it for bereavement work. It isn’t that often I am excited by a book.

You can find the link on Amazon here.

Click the picture to take you through to Amazon.

These colouring pages are free to download from the publisher

Questions you could use for the book:

Please use the questions you feel appropriate for the child. I have purposely not used ‘your lost person or pet’ because it’s important children don’t feel the loss is their fault. I have use ‘disappeared or gone’. 

  • What does it mean when it says ‘Bertle and Hertle were always a pair’? What is a pair?
  • Were Bertle and Hertle the same or different? In what ways are they different?
  • Do you know someone who is different to you but you are friends with?
  • Do you have a best friend? Why do you like them?
  • How were you and the person or pet that has gone, different or the same?
  • What personal characteristics did Hertle have?
  • What personal characteristics did Bertle have?
  • What personal characteristics do you have?
  • What personal characteristics does the person or pet that has gone have?
  • Where do you think Hertle has gone?
  • Where do you think your person or pet has gone?
  • Bertle looks for Hertle but can’t find her. Have you ever looked for the person or pet that has gone?
  • Why is Bertle angry at the Hare shaped hole? What sort of things did he say to the hole?
  • Did you feel angry when your person or pet disappeared? What did you say? What did you do?
  • The hole was a reminder for Bertle that his friend wasn’t there any more. Did anything remind you of the person or pet that had gone? What was it?
  • Have you ever felt like there is an empty hole? You might even feel it right inside of you?
  • Bertle starts to try and bargain with the hole. This means he is finding it hard to accept his friend isn’t there anymore and he wants to change it. What did Bertle offer in order to get his friend back? Have you tried to bargain about your person or pet that has gone? What sort of things did you offer to do? How did it make you feel? Do you think it will make a difference? Can you change what has happened?
  • Bertle then starts to feel despair. What do you think despair means. Look at the picture to give you clues.
  • Did you feel despair when your person or pet disappeared?  What did you do? Is it good to cry? Do you think letting out your feelings is good? Do you feel better after a good cry?
  • What do you think it means when it says ‘He felt sorrow seize him, and sadness surround him’?
  • Have you felt sorrow seize you? Did sadness surround you too? Can you talk about that?
  • When Bertle was feeling despair Gerda appears. Why did Gerda wait until Bertle was ready? What do you think she was waiting for?
  • When did you feel ready for someone to help you?
  • Who was your person that helped you? I bet there are lots of people who could help you. Can you think of 3 people who could help you if you are feeling despair?
  • How do you think Bertle felt having a big hug from Gerda?
  • How do you feel having a big hug? Does it help you to feel better? What else makes you feel better?
  • Bertle eventually starts to talk to Gerda about Hertle. Is it a good thing to talk about the person or pet that has gone?
  • Did you talk about your person or pet that has gone? How did it make you feel to talk about it?
  • Gerda tells Bertle that life isn’t always happy. What did she say that makes things not happy? What can happen to a person or pet that we love?
  • Why can’t Bertle get rid of the hole in the air?
  • What does Gerda say Bertle can do instead?
  • What do you think Gerda means when she says to fill the hole and put something inside it?
  • Yes she means memories. Fill the hole with memories. What sort of memories do you have of the person or pet that has gone? How can you fill the hole? How do memories make you feel?
  • Why did Bertle find it hard to begin with to fill the hole with memories? Did he get better at it? Does it make him feel better to fill the hole with memories?
  • Do you think those memories will help Bertle when he feels sad and alone?
  • Do you think your memories of the person or pet that has gone will help you?
  • At the end of the book Bertle went home with his memories hand in hand. What do you think that means?
  • Did Bertle still need Gerda?

The book works through the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Any questions around this may help the child understand their grief and where they are right now.

Denial – when Bertle is looking for Hertle and he can’t believe it is true that his friend has gone.

Anger – when Bertle realises Hertle has definitely gone and he can’t find him.

Bargaining –  when Bertle is offering to do things to bring his friend back.

Depression – when he realises his friend isn’t coming back he feels despair.

Acceptance  – when Gerda helps him with his memories of Hertle and those memories help him fill the hole and he can take those memories with him.

Activities you could use after reading the book

  • Draw  or paint themselves and the person or pet that has gone as a PAIR. What did they do as a PAIR?
  • Draw two columns, and label one as ‘Same’ and the other as ‘Different’ – can they think about their person or pet and write what is same about them and what is different. They could talk and you scribe if they are young.
  • Draw their person or pet and talk about their characteristics. What were they like? Were they kind? helpful? loving? caring? etc. Use these cards to help. There are positive and more negative cards in this pack. Pick out the positive ones.
  • Draw a picture of where they think their person or pet has gone. What is it like there?
  • Use a playdough mat to make facial expressions. How did they feel when they realised their person or pet had gone? I have this set of playdough from Amazon with lots of lovely colours. You could of course make some playdough with the child and add colourings to make their own colours.

  • Sometimes they can be ok and feeling happy playing and then something reminds them of the person or pet that has gone. This can make them feel sad again. Can they make a list of things that remind them of the person or pet that has gone? How does it make them feel when these things remind them? They can use the Playdough mat with playdough or whiteboard pen to draw their facial expression. How could they make themselves feel better when this happens?
  • Make their hole out of playdough. How big is it? Bertle’s was ‘Hare shaped’ what shape is theirs? Can they make the shape?
  • Print out the picture of Gerda and ask the child to fill Gerda with colours that represent kindness, caring, support and safety’. They can use playdough, paints or coloured pens. Remind the child that Gerda helped Bertle to feel safe and supported.
  • Draw or paint their special person, the person that helped them when their person or pet had gone. Just like Gerda did  for Bertle. What sort of characteristics did that person have? How did that person make them feel? Can they make the facial expression or give a name to the feeling? Prompts could be ‘safe, cared for, relieved, comfortable, supported etc’
  • Tree of support – help children to draw a tree and make some leaf shapes. They could look at the trees in the book for inspiration. Explain how they have lots of support around them and it is good to remember all those people who can help them if their feelings are getting too big to cope with. Go through the leaves and help them write or draw people on the leaves and add them to the tree. They can keep their tree and ask for help from one of those people if they need it. This tree template and hearts from Amazon would work well too. The colours could represent people who support them.

  • What would help them feel better? Use drawing or painting to explore activities that make them feel better and can help them forget for a while. It might be things like ‘reading a book, watching a movie, playing with friends’ etc. Help the pupil make a ‘First aid kit’ for big feelings. They can put all the ideas inside to help them feel better.
  • Older children might like to start a journal of feelings. Can they write down each day how they are feeling and why. Can they write what might help them to feel better. What they can plan for the day?
  • Write a thank you letter to the person or pet that has gone. What are they thankful for? How did that person or pet make them feel. Are they thankful for the outings they had, the walks in the woods, the special birthday cake, the hugs and kisses and so on. What might Bertle have written if he had written a letter?
  • What is despair? Use a heart playdough mat to fill with colour to represent despair. Look at the picture in the book at Bertle when he is feeling despair to give ideas.
  • What body signs do they get when they feel despair? Use the fans to choose phrases and draw a body shape for pupils to add words or phrases to how they feel inside. They could also use colours or playdough for this and just talk about those sensations. They could even make those sensations with playdough. Rough, smooth, spikey, hard, soft, knotty, wobbly etc  This sensations mat will also be helpful.  

sensory word mat

  • Use coloured Playdough to fill the Hare shaped hole with colour. Each colour representing something about the person or pet that has gone. Encourage the child to say why they chose that colour and what it represents.
  • Draw some cloud shapes to represent memories and ask the child to draw their memories of the person or pet that has gone.
  • Make a bracelet with coloured beads. Each bead representing a memory of the person or pet that has gone. They can wear their bracelet and take their memories around with them just like Bertle did at the end of the book where he went home with his memories hand in hand.
  • The illustrator has used stars to fill the hole with memories. Make stars with the child and talk about different memories they have. You could just make some out of card or lolly sticks. You could also use something like these from Amazon  and the child could hang the stars on their Christmas tree at Christmas.

  • Make a memory box together and use art and crafts to make it special. Ask children to add all the things they want to remember about their person or pet. The box could represent the hole and they are filling that hole.
  • Paint a small pebble together to represent their memories. They can carry this in their pocket as a reminder of the good memories. Pebbles can be painted on with permanent markers or acrylic paints. These pens from Amazon are also useful and give a magical shiny effect.

  • Print out two hare shaped holes. Cut them out. Paint one that is empty and cold. The child could use black paint or dark blue like in the book. Ask them to paint the other one filled full of memories. They could fill it with shapes and colour just like in the book. If you don’t want to use paint you could use coloured tissue. They can tear up the tissue paper into small pieces, roll them into little balls and fill the shapes that way. Which picture do they think is best? Which picture would be best for them?


This is an ongoing list but these are my initial thoughts. If you have any ideas please comment below or email me and I may include them in this list.

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