My Grandma’s Photos (Özge Bahar Sunar)

Hello, friends! Our book today is My Grandma’s Photos, written by Özge Bahar Sunar, illustrated by Senta Urgan, and translated by Amy Marie Spangler, a bittersweet look at aging, loss, and memory.

Ali’s grandmother seems confused sometimes; her eyes and ears aren’t as sharp as they once were, she needs help during meals, and she spends all of her time in her chair or asleep. One day, Ali’s mom hopes to jog Grandma’s memory with old photos, but the elderly woman does not recognize any of the faces in them. Later, when examining the photos again, Ali points out that the little girl in the photo looks like Grandma, a comment that begins a journey through time and memory for grandmother and grandchild – one with an important lesson on the memories we make, alone and together.

Hauntingly lovely. This Turkish import is definitely on the cerebral side, and may be a little dense for younger readers. However, for those young bookworms who have questions about loss, grief, aging, memory loss, or the afterlife (particularly in secular households), this is a gentle tale that incorporates all these themes in a unique and touching way. The dreamlike illustrations, which incorporate real photos and objects, are a little confusing at times, even though they fit the general vibe of the story. The length is fine for an elementary-aged storytime, and though JJ was a little puzzled by the story itself, she enjoyed the photographic and symbolic elements in the art. Overall, this one may be an acquired taste; however, when examining the process of grief and death, sometimes a special narrative like this one can bring comfort and peace. Definitely worth a look, and Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Death of Cupcake: A Child’s Experience With Loss (Susan Nicholas, MD)

Hello, friends. We’re back today with an advantageously-timed review: Death of Cupcake: A Child’s Experience With Loss, written by Susan Nicholas, MD and illustrated by Basia Tran, a transcendental look at what happens to loved ones when they leave this world.

Like the seasons, all things must change, going through a cycle of aging and renewal that is universal to all living things. And since the people and creatures we love are themselves living things, occasionally we must say goodbye as they move to the next stage of existence. Following a group of children as they experience personal losses – a boy’s grandma, a pair of sisters’ grandfather, and a girl’s dog, Cupcake – the narrative weaves through moments of the children processing their losses with thoughts on what happens to our consciousness after this life is done.

Books about grief for children can be tricky, from striking the proper tone for little ones to working within or around wildly divergent religious and cultural beliefs about the afterlife. And while Nicholas’s metaphysical prose and rotating narratives are occasionally confusing for young readers, the overall theme is nicely, and occasionally beautifully, explored. Tran’s energetic and soulful illustrations add immensely to this, creating scenes that are colorful and comforting (one exception being the depiction of the boy and his father grieving over the very recently departed body of his grandmother, which while toned down and fitting the theme, still feels a little intense). The text’s meditation on the transference of conscious energy is heavily influenced by the author’s background in the metaphysical, but the simpler lessons prove to be the most universal, such as comparing passing away to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly (accompanied by a stunning illustration depicting the same). The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed the art. This one is a little convoluted, a little repetitive, a little too wordy, and oddly lacking in Cupcake’s story, but is still filled with enough heart and genuine emotion that these stumbles are easily overlooked. Earnest, sweet, and Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

The End Of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide To A Backyard Funeral (Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The End Of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide To A Backyard Funeral, written by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and illustrated by George Ermos.

Step one of holding a backyard funeral: you need “Something Dead”. A Something Dead is something wonderful that was once alive, but is now gone. Walking readers through steps like choosing what to say, whether or not to play music, what kind of box to choose, and even a “burial at sea” (i.e. toilet) for deceased fish, this guide helps little ones deal with the practical process of loss, and the reminder that just because something is gone doesn’t mean you have to love it any less.

Readers will know that we are, unfortunately, in a relevant position to review this book – we lost our dog Quigley just this year. There are a lot of books out there to help little ones deal with grief and loss, and this one tries to set itself apart with its darkly humorous tone, with varying degrees of success. Some scenes, such as the tongue-in-cheek “burial at sea” spread that encourages kids to pay ode to their lost fishy friends in their native “fish language”, are charming, as are some of the bigger lessons, like that it’s okay to cry, grieve, visit their pet’s grave, and even to move on. Unfortunately, some of the humor is simply too dark to work in a children’s book: a sequence that jokingly advises to make sure one’s pet is dead before burying it is uncomfortable, and the look of sheer horror on a boy’s face when he realizes he’s killed his pet bug by sitting on it is simply grotesque. While there’s nothing wrong with books that seek to demystify the processes of death and grieving, it’s still a deeply emotional time for kids and their families and requires a delicate balance, one that this particular tone doesn’t always achieve. Still, there are several instances of legitimately graceful comfort, and some really lovely illustrations as well. I would say parents should skim this before sharing to see if it’s right for your little reader; this may or may not be the book on loss for you. For us, the ultimate message of healing after mourning was enough, and we’re calling it Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

A Stone For Sascha (Aaron Becker)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Stone For Sascha by Aaron Becker, a picture book that examines loss, time, permanence, and love.

The wordless story opens on a young girl collecting yellow flowers. She is bringing them back to her family, where they are holding a funeral for their recently deceased dog. She lays the flowers down over the large stone used to mark the grave and mourns. A short time later, the family leaves for a lakeside retreat. The girl is sad, watching other children play with their dogs, but at dusk she finds a small oval stone near the water. The art cuts to a large meteorite falling from space. It impacts, and the reader follows along as the stone takes an eons-long journey: first a sharp natural feature, then cut and carved into a rock circle centerpiece. With each new owner and destination, the rock finds new purpose: part of a great statue, a gifted sculpture, a stolen treasure. As history plays out around it, the rock remains, adapting to each new entity until at last, it finds itself at the shore of a lake, picked up by a little girl and brought to her home. She lays it on her dog’s grave in memory – a piece of time and the universe as the symbol of her love.

I mean. Wow. This felt like a book as much for adults as it was for children. The story is so moving and passionate without a single world, the concept is profound and humbling, and the art is incomparable. It’s remarkable in scope, moreso that it never feels like it reaches too far or goes too big – it encourages the reader to think about life and death and the passage of time as something that is enormous and vast and small and personal all at once. It’s breathtaking, awe-inspiring and yet comforting too. We loved it. Baby Bookworm approved.

Choose Your Days (Paula S. Wallace)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Choose Your Days by Paula S. Wallace, a poetic and slightly surreal look at the time we spend from our first day to our last, and what lies beyond it.

The day that Corky is born, Old Bear brings her gifts: all her days, two blank lists (“Dreams” and “Things To Do”), and her key. He leaves her with one gentle instruction: “Choose your days, make them sunny or gray.” Corky does her best to fill each day with all the things she has to – and wants to – do, growing older and bigger, then older and smaller as she does. When she feels she is nearing the end of her days, she asks Old Bear for more, to accomplish all that she hasn’t yet had time for. He simply reminds her that every remaining day is her own, and only she can choose what to do with them.

This one is strange, make no mistake; but it is also strangely satisfying. Both the text and the illustrations are loose, abstract, and very open to interpretation, but in a story about the nature of life and death, that’s a choice and a style that feels right. That being said, it is cerebral enough that it may fly over the heads of some young readers at first. However, for the right bookworm, we can see this story being a source of wonder and/or comfort, especially to little ones who may be dealing with the issue of death for the first time. The length was fine and JJ seemed to enjoy the illustrations, so no complaints there. This is the type of story that might not be for everyone – but for the reader who feels a connection to it, it might be the exactly the thing they needed to read. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)