Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Death of a Pet

The Best Cat in the World
Author: Lesléa Newman
Illustrator: Ronald Himler
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

A child’s first experience with death is often the death of a family pet. In an attempt to comfort a child in pain, adults will often tell children they will get them another pet. Initially the idea of replacing the pet they loved, whether it was a dog, cat, rodent, or reptile is generally not very comforting. It ignores the unique bond the child has with their pet. Lesléa Newman’s, The Best Cat in the World, addresses the special relationship a child has with his pet and the feelings of loss after the pet dies. After Victor’s cat died, Victor’s mom suggests that, “Maybe it’s time for a new cat?” Victor says, “I don’t want a new cat. I want Charlie.” When a new kitten, named Shelley, needs a home, Victor decides that maybe it’s time for a new cat. As Shelley becomes a part of Victor’s life, he notices the differences between his cat Charlie and the new cat Shelley. Charlie slept in Victor’s bed, but Shelley sleeps in the windowsill. Shelley likes to snuggle into Victor’s neck, but Charlie would rather be draped over Victor’s back. Slowly Victor discovers the many differences between Charlie and Shelley. This discovery helps him love his new cat Shelley, while keeping a special place in his heart and in his yard under the rosebush for his old cat Charlie. Newman’s The Best Cat in the World is a wonderful story for children about love, loss and healing

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Exploring Difficult Issues

Emma's Question
Author: Catherine Urdahl
Illustrator: Janine Dawson
Publisher: Charlesbridge

With the recent worries about H1N1, hospitals have adopted strict visitation policies, especially regarding children. When parents or grandparents are hospitalized, faced with the unknown, children often imagine the worst. Emma’s Question by Catherine Urdahl tenderly explores this difficult life crisis.

With her grandmother in the hospital, everything in Emma’s life seems off kilter. Now, Grandma can’t to be the guest reader in her kindergarten class or take her for bagels on Wednesday. What’s worse is there’s a question “that scritches and scratches at the back of Emma’s throat”. Something she’s afraid to ask and her mother is upset to hear.

This book gives voice to the worries young children have when someone they love is ill. It gently addresses the small changes in the child’s world, as well as the child’s worst fear. “Are you going to die?” Emma asks her grandmother. “Not today, I have a Chutes and Ladders game to play.” Grandma answers. Urdahl does an excellent job straddling the delicate balance between reassuring the child that Grandma is okay without giving false promises. The humorous watercolor illustrations evoke a sense of peace and hope and help convey the closeness in Emma’s relationship with her grandmother.

Sometimes it seems safer to ignore big issues like death and illness with young children. Unfortunately, this approach usually increases children’s stress. Emma’s Question provides a framework for an honest approach to a difficult subject.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Gift of Remembering

As lovers of children’s books know…children’s books are not just for children. So when a friend of mine died recently, I dug through my books on death and pulled out one of my favorites—Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley, published by HarperCollins. The book begins with Badger preparing to die, “Badger was so old he knew he must die soon.” His animal friends are sad when they discover he has died and Mole is so despondent he drenches his blanket with tears. As winter begins to thaw, the animals come together and talk about Badger. Mole remembers how Badger taught him to cut out paper moles and Mrs. Rabbit remembers her cooking lesson from Badger and the “fragrance of gingerbread fresh from the oven”. One by one, the woodland animals share a memory of their friend and realize the gifts they received from Badger. Eventually even Mole is able to move forward with hope.

As I re-read this story, I thought about my friend, Scott Swanson, and the gift he was in my life. He was someone, who encouraged me to open the door to my passion. His belief in my ability helped me take action. His believing eyes are gift that will stay with me always. Thanks Scott.