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.)

Death Is Stupid (Anastasia Higginbotham)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Death Is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham, a sensitive and honest book that helps children deal with the realities of, and their feelings about, death and grief.

Told through the eyes of a little boy who has lost his grandmother, the book begins with some straightforward talk about death. When you’re a kid, losing a loved one can be scary, confusing, and very sad. Grownups, even the ones that mean well, don’t always say the right thing; “she’s in a better place,” or “he’s at rest” or “she’s watching over you now,” don’t magically make the pain go away, and can sometimes make the fear or confusion worse. The fact is, losing someone you love is awful, and death is stupid. But it’s okay to feel bad, it’s okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to grieve. Losing someone doesn’t mean they are lost to you: there are plenty of ways to honor their memory and keep them with you.

This was a very interesting and quite candid book about loss and grief, and a pleasant surprise. The text pulls no punches: grief is hard, it sucks, but it’s a normal part of life. But the story also provides a lot of wonderful suggestions for children to get past grief and remember those that are gone, even becoming a sort of workbook at the end that lets its reader express their own specific loss. I especially loved that it tells kids there’s nothing wrong with questioning platitudes, forming their own opinions about the afterlife, and not accepting lies (“she’s just sleeping”). It encourages children to have agency over their own grief, and was very moving. The mixed-media art fits the tone of the book well, and the length is just right. JJ and I appreciated this refreshingly honest look at loss, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Big Cat, Little Cat (Elisha Cooper)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper, a bittersweet yet moving tale of the friendship between two cats.

In a home in the city lives Big Cat. He is by himself for a while, doing things like eating, staring at the birds out the window, and napping in the sun. One day, Little Cat arrives. Big Cat knows what he must do, and he takes it upon himself to show Little Cat the way: when to eat and drink, when to sleep and play, and how to be. The days go by, and Little Cat grows and grows – until he is even bigger than Big Cat. The two cats spend all their days together as the years pass. Then comes the day that Big Cat is very old, and becomes tired and ill. He leaves and doesn’t come back, and this is hard for Little Cat and his family. He misses his friend. But soon, there is a new Little Cat, and so the older Little Cat knows what to do – it’s time for him to become Big Cat, and pass along all the wisdom his old friend had once shared with him.

This was a sweet, sad, but quite lovely story. First, the minimal black-and-white illustrations are gorgeous, and capture the personality, action and emotion perfectly, taking a small story of two cats and giving it a great deal of weight. I loved the simple, concise language – it seemed perfect for the no-nonsense air that cats seem to carry, giving dry humor to the funny parts and candid honesty to the sad moments. And the story is sad, but leaves the reader with a sense of hope and warmth, which – factoring in the text, art, and overall tone as well – make it a great book to introduce the delicate subject of death to young ones. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed the art and quiet story, and this one was a gentle, sad, yet beautiful story. Baby Bookworm approved.

Ida, Always (Caron Levis)

Hello, friends! Today, we read a moving book about loss, grieving, and remembrance: Ida, Always, written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso.

Gus the polar bear lives in the middle of a great park in the middle of a vast city. It’s a humdrum life, every day the same, but at least he has someone to share it with: his best friend Ida. They spend their days playing, swimming, and basking in the sun, listening to the sounds of the city. One day, Ida becomes sick. The zookeeper tells Gus that she won’t get better, and eventually, she’ll pass away. Gus and Ida are devastated, but they stick by each other. Gus helps Ida when she is weak and Ida helps Gus to be strong. Sometimes they are angry, sometimes they are sad, and sometimes they need to be alone for a bit, but no matter what, they support each other. And even after Ida passes and Gus is heartsick with grief, he comes to realize that, in the sounds of their city, in his memories, and in his heart, Ida will be there. Always.

This book is deeply emotional (I shed a tear simply writing this review). Gus and Ida’s journey through mourning, even while Ida is still alive, will strike a chord with anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. However, it also dispels some mysteries and provides comfort about the grieving process, explaining that it’s okay to laugh, or to be mad, or want to be alone, and it’s okay to grieve. The beautiful, gentle art supports the story perfectly, and the length is fine for little ones. Let me be clear: this is a very sad book, and might be tough on children old enough to understand the subject matter (JJ did not, obviously, and was happy to just point at the bears). However, for a child who is dealing with or learning about illness and loss, this is a book that might provide some understanding and comfort. Overall, it’s a moving, wonderful book, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved.

Always Remember (Cece Meng)

Hello friends! Today, we read Always Remember, written by Cece Meng and illustrated by Jago, a heartbreakingly beautiful story about losing a loved one.

On his last day, Old Turtle goes for one last swim and takes one last breath, then the sea takes him back. His friends are sad and miss him, but they remember stories from his life: moments when he was brave, kind, funny and smart. They remember these stories and pass them on and, in doing so, Old Turtle is never forgotten.

I can’t begin to say how much this book touched me. To begin, it’s a beautiful book: the undersea art is breathtaking. The text is easy to read aloud, and the length is fine for baby bookworms. But most of all, this is a meaningful way to teach children about death; not what happens to the person who died (which can vary wildly based on what your beliefs are), but what happens to those left behind, and how they cope with loss. The message that those who leave us live on in our memories is a powerful and comforting one.

On a personal note, JJ’s great-grandfather (my grandfather) passed on a few months ago, not long after we lost my grandmother and my father. For JJ, all she will know of these remarkable people are the stories of them that we share with her. As a parent, and the current keeper of these stories, the notion is comforting, and hopeful. This is a beautiful book, and Baby Bookworm approved.