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.)

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.