A Monster Calls – Grief

A Monster Calls9780763680817_p0_v1_s260x420A Monster Calls

Patrick Ness, Author

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Jim Kay, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2011; Reprint Aug. 4, 2015

Motion Picture Release: October 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 -17

Themes: Grief, Loss, Monsters, Mothers and sons, Breast cancer,  Single-parent families, Bullying, School

Book Jacket Synopsis: The Monster Showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

What I like about this story:

Patrick Ness has written a powerful and haunting story about a 13-year-old boy trying to deal with grief and loss. This beautifully crafted story is also filled with dark humor, vivid imagery, fear, rage, and courage.

The characters are realistic and fleshed out. Conor O’Malley is dealing with the nightly visits of a monster at precisely 12:07 a.m., but it’s not the monster that frightens him. It is the recurrent nightmare “that is filled with darkness, screaming and a hand slipping from his grasp.”  The dream begins when his mother starts chemotherapy and is so terrifying that he hasn’t told anyone. His father is remarried and living in America, his grandmother is cold and doesn’t understand him, and the kids bully him at school. Conor is totally alone. Ness brilliantly creates a monster that resembles a nearby ancient Yew tree to act as a catalyst to help Conor face his greatest fear. The monster shares three tales with him and tells Conor that he will tell the fourth story which will be his truth.

The plot is distinctly realistic and the tension is palpable. Readers will ride Conor’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control. In confronting his fear and releasing his rage, Conor destroys his grandmother’s living room — all important steps that will lead him to face the final truth and heal.

Jack Kay liberally uses his pen and ink drawings to illustrate the darkness and intensity of Conor’s fears and rage on each page, heightening the emotion and the scary truth that lies ahead. The total package is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Note: In his introduction,  Patrick Ness says he never met Siobhan Dowd. She had a final story idea, but her premature death from cancer prevented her from writing this story herself. This would have been her fifth book.  According to Ness, “she had an idea, the characters, a premise, and a beginning.” With some hesitation, Ness undertook the project and decided from the start that “he would not write a novel that mimicked her voice.” Visit Patrick Ness at his website.

While You Were Out

While You Were Out9780142406281_p0_v1_s260x420While You Were Out

J. Irvin Kuns, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Loss of a friend, Grief, Family, Hope, Healing, School

Synopsis: Penelope is about to start fifth grade without her best friend, Tim, who died of cancer during the summer. Not only is she dealing with the grief of losing Tim, she is also dealing with the fact that her quirky father will be the new school janitor. And her irritating next door neighbor, Diane, thinks she can replace Tim as her best friend.  Memories of Tim are everywhere, including the empty desk right next to her and their favorite oak tree near the playground. Finding a way to cope with her loneliness, she begins to write notes to Tim on her pink While You Were Out notepad, folds them and puts them inside Tim’s empty desk — “I hugged our tree today. I think it hugged me back.”  After receiving a mysterious note with a poem about grief on her desk one day, she realizes someone else misses Tim as much as she does.  Perhaps she will be able to survive fifth grade without Tim.

Why I like this story: J. Irvin Kuns has written a very sensitive and realistic story about grief, loneliness, hope, healing and the power of words that help a child move forward again.  Written in first person, Penelope is authentic, smart and beautifully expresses her feelings, mixed with some sarcasm and humor. Her overactive father is imperfect and embarrassing when he jumps rope and plays marbles on the playground. He acts more like a student than the janitor. The book does show how Penelope finds a way of moving forward after losing her best friend and schoolmate.  This is a very moving story that would help children deal with loss.

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

Dog Called Homeless9780062122209_p0_v2_s260x420A Dog Called Homeless

Sarah Lean

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Death of Parent, Grief, Dog, Hearing and Visual Impairment, Single-parent family

Awards: The 2013 Schneider Family Middle School Book Award

Book Jacket Synopsis:  When Cally Fisher says she sees her dead mother, no one believers her.  The only other living soul who sees Cally’s mom is a mysterious wolfhound who always seems to be there when her mom appears.  And when Cally stops talking — what’s the point if no one is listening — how will she convince anyone that her mom is still with them or persuade her dad that the huge silver-gray dog is their last link with her.

Why I like this book:  Sarah Lean has written a very sensitive and moving story about a girl dealing with the death of her mother.  She writes with a very clear, natural and empathetic voice.  Her story is about hope, friendship, determination and courage.  Her plot is strong with an unexpected twist at the end.  Lean does an outstanding job of developing the heart and soul of her characters.  When Cally stops talking for 31 days, this determined girl has her reasons.  She wants to remember and talk about her mother, who died in a car accident.  But her father wants to forget and move on.  Cally makes herself heard through her silence in a very unusual way.  Dog lovers will cheer for the wolfhound Homeless, who is very loveable.  This is a beautiful story for any child who has lost a loved one.   You may visit Sarah Lean at her website.

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugspdf_coverLRSun Kisses, Moon Hugs

Susan Bernardo, Author

Courtenay Fletcher, Illustrator

Inner Flower Child Books, Fiction, Nov. 15, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Themes:  Separation, Anxiety, Grief, Divorce, Inspirational, Reassurance

Opening/Synopsis:  “No matter how far apart we are, I’ll always find ways to tell you I love you./ How?/ From wherever we stand, you see the moon and I see the moon.  That is how we can send each other hugs./ Moon hugs?/  Yes, moon hugs.”  This story is told through the seasons and delivers a very powerful message to children — love is eternal.   

Why I like this bookSun Kisses, Moon Hugs is pure poetry and a visual feast for the eyes.   Written and illustrated by two friends,  Susan and Courtenay have taken a sad subject about separation and created a beautiful consoling book for children.  It is written in dialogue, but is very lyrical and inspirational.  It is the perfect book to use with children when they are dealing with separation from a parent because of deployment or job, loss, illness, divorce,  and tragedy.   The dialogue in the book gives kids the vocabulary to feel connected and to feel the presence of a loved one — and it’s all done through signs of nature. The illustrations are big, vibrant and breathtaking, and include children from all cultures.  The book is simply beautiful!

Sun KissesIllust_2lr

Favorite rhymes:

“But the moon doesn’t have any arms!/It’s true the moon cannot reach down to hold your hand, but she is strong enough to pull waves onto sand./Her invisible arms rock the tides by night and day, like my love holds you safely when I am away.”

“But when I wake up, the moon will be gone!/ Ahh, but then we can send each other kisses by dawn.  When you open your eyes and see the sun rise, just do this…blow a kiss.”

“From the heavens above to earth below, there are infinite ways to say hello.  Love is in each star twinkling in space and every frosty snowflake tickling your face.”

Resources:  The book alone is a beautiful resource.   Children will be wide-eyed with questions as you snuggle with them to read Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs.   You may visit the author’s website for more information.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work. 

The Next Place – Grief

The Next Place

Warren Hanson, Author and Illustrator

Waldman House Press, Fiction, 1997

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and Up

Theme:  Grief and Bereavement, Celebration of Life

Opening and Synopsis:  “The next place I go will be as peaceful and familiar as a sleepy summer Sunday and a sweet, untroubled mind.  And yet…it won’t be anything like any place I’ve ever been…or seen… or even dreamed of in the place I leave behindI won’t know where I’m going, and I won’t know where I’ve been as I tumble through the always and look back toward the when.”   This is a beautiful picture book for children and adults about letting go to a place where  light and love will shine forever.  After 9/11,  a grassroots effort formed called “The Next Place Network, and this book was given to surviving families.

Says Warren Hanson about his book:  ““The Next Place is a peaceful, comforting, quiet and hopeful book for times when we face the loss of someone we love. Or for when we face the reality of our own certain death. It is very deliberately not a traditionally religious look at death and the hereafter. We live in a world of many beliefs and backgrounds. I did not want the book to leave anyone out of its message of comfort. So I created the words and the illustrations in such a way that I hoped the reader would bring his or her own faith to it. Since the book came out, it has been embraced by people of many different religions and beliefs.”

Why I like this book:  Warren Hanson’s book is a celebration of life and portrays an afterlife in a non-religious, beautiful and soft  way.  It is an inspirational and poetic journey about death.    The illustrations are gorgeous.   This is a book I would give to a family that is dealing with the loss of a loved one.  It is an uplifting  book to read and discuss with children when they have lost a member of a family through war, an illness, an accident.  It would also be helpful to share if you have a family will soon making a transition.  This book brings hope and puts a smile on your face.  Kids will be so much more open to talking and asking questions.

Activities:  Have children plant a special tree in memory of a loved one.  Have them draw or  write about special memories so they won’t forget.   Make a memory box where you can put something special that belonged to a loved one inside.  You may want to add photos, cards/letters written to the child by the loved one.   That way kids can touch, read, and look at the items, and keep their memories alive.

Books to Help Your Child with Grief

When a child faces the death of a loved one, especially a parent or family member, the support system is disrupted.  It is essential that families find new ways to communicate, express their feelings of grief and honestly answer questions a child may have.  Some children are verbal, others hold their feelings in.  One way to help address a child’s loss is through story books.  The key is in helping a child realize that he/she is not alone.  I will share a few favorites with you.

I Miss You:  A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas, and published by Barron’s Educational Series, 2001.  This book helps children (and adults, too) deal with the loss of loved ones.   The author gently explains the life cycles. “Death is a natural part of life. All living things grow, change and eventually die.”  The child will view a dying tree, and a fallen bird. When the book reaches human loss, there’s a question at the bottom of the page where the author gives the child the opportunity to discuss his/her own loss by asking, “What about you? Has anyone you know died? How did they die?” Likening one’s soul to a raindrop that joins other raindrops in the ocean is beautiful.   At the end of the book is a section on how to use the book, a short glossary and  resources for grief support.

Saying Goodbye to Daddy, by Judith Vigna, and published by Albert Whitman & Co., 1991.    This is a good book to use when there has been a sudden death.  When Clara is picked up early from school by her grandfather, she doesn’t understand that something terrible has happened to her father.  Clara learns about her father’s death and what happens afterwards.  Grief, loneliness, anger and confusion follow.  Her family helps her work through her feelings and fears.  Due to family support, Clara reaches a place of peace by the end of the book.

Rain Came Down,  by David Shannon, and published by Blue Sky Press, 2000.   Many times things unexpected happen that we don’t like, and it can impact everything and everybody.  In the story, one Saturday the rain comes down and it sets off a chain reaction that causes the entire block to honk, yell, bicker, and bark.   This book can help explain how our moods can get messy when something unexpected happens.  Then the rain stops and the sun shines once again.  I like this book because you can use it to ask a grieving child about the unexpected events in their lives that upset them and impact their mood?   What feels messy and out of control in their life?  What would make it better.

Perfect Picture Books – The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye

Jane Yolen, author and Jim LaMarche, illustrator

Random House,  2011, Fiction

Suitable for: Preschool and Elementary (ages 4 and up)

Theme: Pet Loss, Grief

Synopsis: “The day Tiger Rose said goodbye was a soft spring day, the sun only half risen.  Little brilliant butterflies, like bits of colored paper, floated among the flowers.” Tiger Rose is a gray striped tabby cat who is growing old and knows the end of her life is nearing.  She heads off to say goodbye to the family she loves, Rolf the dog she fights with, and her nature friends.  She finds her favorite napping place near a rose-bush and quietly makes her transition.

Why I like this book:  Jane Yolen’s story is a celebration of Tiger Rose’s life and provides a beautiful, sensitive and reassuring way to explain death to children.   It will bring comfort to children and adults who have experienced the death of a pet or have an aging pet.  Activity:  This is an opportunity for children to share their feelings  and favorite stories about a beloved pet, draw pictures, and make a collage or remembrance book.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved