Still Mine (Jayne Pillemer)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Still Mine, written by Jayne Pillemer and illustrated by Sheryl Murray, a bittersweet look at love, loss, and remembrance.

The people we love occupy such special places in our lives, especially in the things we do together. Those moments of splashing in rain puddles, playing at the playground, dancing on the bed, or sipping hot cocoa under the stars create memories and bonds that last forever. So what happens to those special moments if the person we love is lost to us? Can we still enjoy them without the one who made them special? Perhaps we can, with the belief and understanding that carrying on traditions and forming new relationships can be a way to keep the ones we’ve lost by our side; they may no longer be present, but they are still ours, alive in our hearts.

Honest and moving. Pillemer’s gentle text and Murray’s soft and evocative illustrations take the always-difficult subject of death and focus on one way in which we can begin to process grief. It’s subtle, but it’s an important message, as those who are grieving so often give up beloved activities that they once shared with those that they’ve lost; this story lets them know that there is nothing wrong with going on to enjoy those activities again, and it can in fact keep those we have lost with us in memory. Perhaps most striking, and appreciated, is that while many picture books about death focus on a pet, older caretaker, or parent, this one actually includes the death of a child playmate, something very unique to the genre yet no less devastating to a child experiencing it. The length is fine for a storytime, and while the story is very sad, it is uplifting, and JJ and I enjoyed it. Overall, a wonderful book to help with the process of loss and grieving, and we wholeheartedly recommend it – 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.)

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.)

The Rough Patch (Brian Lies)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Rough Patch by Brian Lies, a heartbreakingly lovely story about loss and healing.

Evan and his faithful dog did absolutely everything together. They played games, shared treats, went exploring and on long drives, always side-by-side. The thing they loved the most was working in Evan’s beautiful garden, working day in and day out to grow healthy, happy vegetables and plants. That is, until one terrible morning when Evan’s dog is suddenly… gone, and the farmer must lay his friend to rest in a corner of their garden. Heartbroken, Evan shuts himself inside, no longer interested in tending his plants. In desperate grief, he emerges one morning and hacks to garden to pieces, destroying the healthy, fertile plants and letting sharp and stinging weeds take over the soil – since he is bitterly sad, so too will the garden be. That is, until a small pumpkin vine wheedles it’s way in, and begins to change everything.

Powerful. Using the garden as a moving metaphor for emotional and mental state, especially after a traumatic loss, Lies spins a deeply poignant story about overcoming depression, and does it well. Most impressively, the story walks a delicate line that encourages the reader not to let their sadness poison what makes them happy, yet promises that if they do, this is a normal and understandable reaction, and there is still hope. It’s such an important message, and beautifully done: Evan’s vine eventually grows a massive pumpkin, which brings him to the fair, where he reconnects with old friends and activities that made him happy. The compassionate, atmospheric art is pitch perfect, and the attention to detail superb. The length is great for any age, and we loved it – an affecting tale with an important message, and Baby Bookworm approved.

(P.S. – I wish I could introduce Evan to Victoria Turnbull’s Pandora – I think they’d make great friends.)