Tag Archives: death

Perfect Pairing for the Autumn of the Year

the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year

So sang Frank Sinatra in It Was a Very Good Year, one of my favorite Sinatra songs, especially as my son sang it solo in concert on my birthday several years ago (proud Mama moment!).

While for many, fall signals sugary holidays and the promise of family get-togethers, for others, the falling leaves and withered blooms signal mortality. That Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day and Día de los Meurtos all loom may be no coincidence. For our family, both of my parents entered life in September, and my father left us in September 1997 and my mother this past October. My mother-in-law’s passing was 30 Novembers ago. If I read, and review, a few more serious books these next few weeks, perhaps you’ll understand why. And thankfully, there are several heart-filled picture books that tackle the difficult subjects of aging, memory loss and death, and grief.

9780763690052_p0_v1_s192x300

Grandad’s Island

Author & Illustrator: Benji Davies

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2016

Ages: 4-8

Themes: loss; death; intergenerational; grandparent

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With subtlety and grace, Benji Davies paints a poignant and ultimately uplifting picture of loss.

At the bottom of Syd’s garden, through the gate and past the tree, is Grandad’s house. Syd can let himself in any time he likes. But one day when Syd comes to call, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic, where he ushers Syd through a door, and the two of them journey to a wild, beautiful island awash in color where Grandad decides he will remain. So Syd hugs Grandad one last time and sets sail for home. Visiting Grandad’s house at the bottom of the garden again, he finds it just the same as it’s always been — except that Grandad isn’t there anymore. Sure to provide comfort to young children struggling to understand loss, Benji Davies’s tale is a sensitive and beautiful reminder that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they’re gone.

Read my review here.

 

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The Remember Balloons

Author:  Jessie Oliveros

Illustrator:  Dana Wulfekotte

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/September 2018

Ages:  5-9

Themes: aging; memory loss; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What’s Happening to Grandpa meets Up in this tender, sensitive picture book that gently explains the memory loss associated with aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

Read an interview with Jessie Oliveros on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Tuesday Debut.

I paired these books because both are intergenerational, showcasing the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. In Grandad’s Island, Davies utilizes a sea journey and a beautiful tropical island as metaphors for death and the afterlife. In The Remember Balloons, Oliveros utilizes balloons as metaphors for memories that pass from the elderly to younger family members. Both deal sensitively with topics that are difficult for children (and adults). It’s clear that both authors had a special relationship with their grandparents – these picture books are filled with heart.

Looking for similar reads?

See Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green, reviewed at Children’s Books Heal; Glenn Ringtved/Charlotte Pardi’s Cry Heart But Never Break, reviewed at Brain Pickings;  Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle, also reviewed at Brain Pickings; and Maria Shriver/Sandra Speidel’s What’s Happening to Grandpa, reviewed by Richard R Blake.

PPBF – The Little Black Fish

Susanna Hill asked on Facebook the other day what everyone was reading on a snowy winter’s day. I thought about what’s been on my nightstand, and what would be a good, longer story for parents and children to share. Today’s Perfect Picture Book came to mind, especially as we acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the current administration in the US, and think about what we tell kids about questioning authority, respecting others, and being receptive to those who are different from us.

9781910328194Title: The Little Black Fish

Written By: Samad Behrangi

Illustrated By: Farshid Mesghali

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2016 (first published in Persian, Kanoun Parvaresh Fekri, Iran/1968)

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up

Themes/Topics: daring to be different; curiosity; exploration; death; #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

As the nights grew longer and the year turned towards winter once more, an old fish settled herself to tell a story. She was telling the story to her twelve thousand grandchildren fishes. It was an exciting story full of danger and some sadness, but it was a story that also carried wisdom. The old fish wanted her grandchildren to learn from Little Black Fish’s story without them having to go into the dangers and sadnesses of life themselves.

Brief Synopsis:

The Little Black Fish dreams of a world beyond the stream. He ventures forth to learn what lies downstream, and in so doing, he encounters many wonderful things, and overcomes, many, but not all, dangers.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover more about Iran, where the author lived and the illustrator still lives;
  • Learn about rivers and streams;
  • Explore a new place or see what’s beyond the next hill or up the next street. Draw a picture of something new that you discover.

Why I Like this Book:

Although the word count is high in this story within a story, the many layers of The Little Black Fish make it well worth reading. I think even very young kids will relate to the Little Black Fish and his desire to see the world and meet other, different creatures. Behrangi captured the boredom, questioning and curiosity of young children in this spunky fish, and perceptive children will view it as a mirror into their own behavior.

I also like that this fish states clearly what many dreamers, social activists, and others have only thought: “I don’t want to spend my life swimming up and down and around, and then grumbling that there isn’t anything more to life. Perhaps there is more to life, and perhaps the world is more than our stream!”

Mesghali’s graphic illustrations date to 1968, but seem fresh and contemporary. Young children will enjoy picking out the distinctive Little Black Fish as he is depicted on his journey.

In “About the Book”, the editors reveal that the Shah’s government in Iran banned The Little Black Fish in 1968 when it first was published as it “was written and read as an allegory for a nation in which it was dangerous to dare to be politically different.” Even today, the story of a fish who dares to be different, to mingle with creatures of different species (or we could substitute race/religion/nationality/class), question his elders and leave the protective stream (or we could substitute home/neighborhood/school/country) to see the world will resonate with children, and adults, of all ages, I think.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that The Little Black Fish is a story within a story. This works well, as it allows for a happy ending, even though, spoiler alert, the black fish dies at the end of his story. Interestingly, one of the 12,000 grandchildren listening to the story kept thinking about the Little Black Fish, the stream and the wonderful creatures described. That little red fish was female – a good reminder that curiosity is not gender-restricted.

Death figures prominently in this story. Not only does the Little Black Fish die, but he accuses his mother of killing his friend, a snail, the Fish encounters a doe wounded by a hunter, a crab munches on a frog, and pelicans devour small fish. Although death and the circle of life are depicted in American picture books, I found Behrangi’s depictions to be less sugar-coated than that of most contemporary writers for young children. As author Matt de la Peña asked in a recent article in Time, however, is the role of the writer to expose children to difficult topics, “to tell the truth or preserve innocence?” I think by reading books like The Little Black Fish, we can learn how authors from different cultures and/or times handle this question and learn from these approaches.

Azita Rassi translated The Little Black Fish into English for this edition, which is very helpful for those of us who don’t read Persian. Translations such as this are essential for those hoping to #ReadYourWorld and learn about important works and traditions from other cultures.

Discover more books published by Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd, “an independent publishing company committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there” and publishing a number of books by Iranian authors and illustrators.

According to his website, Meshghali continues to create art today in his Tehran studio. He has been awarded the first Graphic Prize, Sixth International Children Books’ Fair in Bologna, for The Little Black Fish
 in 1968, an Honorary Diploma, Bratislava Biannual, Czechoslovakia, for The Little Black Fish in 1971, and the “Hans Christian Anderson Award” for his contribution to children’s books illustration in 1974.

While not currently available in US book shops, The Little Black Fish is available through the Book Depository which ships for free to the US.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: Grandad’s Island

The colourful cover of this perfect picture book drew me in, the title intrigued me, and the story mesmerized me. I discovered Grandad’s Island on the NEW shelf at my local library, but it is a book that I will purchase for my home library very soon.

9780763690052_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Grandad’s Island

Written & Illustrated By: Benji Davies

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Loss, death, grandparent, travel, tropical islands

Opening: “At the bottom of Syd’s backyard, through the gate and past the tree, was Grandad’s house. There was a key under a flowerpot, and Syd could let himself in anytime he liked.”

Brief Synopsis: A boy and his grandfather journey by ship to a tropical island, which we explore together and which Grandad comes to call “home.”

Links to Resources:

  • If possible, go for a boat ride – what do you see? How does it feel to float on the river, lake or ocean?
  • Prepare for a real or pretend journey: look at a map – where will you go? What will you bring to wear, eat or use while you are there?
  • Write a letter or draw a picture to let a loved one know you are ok and that you love her or him.

Why I Like this Book: Benji Davies lives in London, one of my old haunts, and this book was published there first (Simon & Schuster, 2015). When I opened the book to find a child in red jumper (ie, pullover) and gray shorts scampering through a walled garden surrounded by row houses, I felt like I’d journeyed back to my old north London neighbourhood. Given that England is home to a nanny who floats from the sky with an umbrella, a boy who never grows old, and a boy who passes through a brick wall with his school mates to a train (among many other endearing characters), a ship on the roof seems only natural as does the journey in that ship to a tropical island.

Primarily an illustrator, including of Tara Lazar’s I Thought This was a Bear Book (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2015), Mr. Davies creates an island paradise that anyone would want to visit and live in. He provides many visual clues showing that Grandad, whose choice it is to visit the island with his grandson, is happier and healthier once they arrive. Spoiler alert: grandson and Grandad part ways, but the knowledge that Grandad is in a better place and the ties they continue to share provide hope.

This is a wonderful and comforting book for anyone separated from a loved one, due to moving or death, or concerned about the happiness of an elderly relative or friend. For me it was made more poignant by the knowledge that Grandad is based on Mr. Davies’ own grandfather, with whom he corresponded via letters.

 

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!