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.  For more books with resources please visit Just Right Books!

Every Friday I will share my Perfect Picture Book, as will other writers on their blogs.  We will post our selections on author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website under Just Right Books.  We hope to develop a list of favorite picture books for parents, teachers, librarians,  writers, homeschoolers and gift-givers.

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

The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich Swap, is written by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, with Kelly DiPucchio, and illustrated by Tricia Tusa in lively pastel colors.  The true story is based on an experience by the author in school.  She uses her experience to encourage kids not to fight over the small things and to be open-minded when they encounter something new or strange.

Lily and Salma are best friends at school.  They played together and ate their lunches together.  Lily eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Salma eats hummus and pita sandwiches for lunch.  They both are revolted by the other’s lunch.  One day there is a breaking point, and the two little girls let food get in the way of their friendship.  They make judgements about the sandwiches being yucky and gross.  They story escalates and divides the school.  Will they repair their friendship?

This is a wonderful book for home and the classroom.  It provides teachers an opportunity to have discussions with kids about differences, openness, tolerance, acceptance, sharing and friendship.  Queen Rania is one of the world’s prominent advocates for children.  Her book promotes cross-cultural understanding.

Helping Kids Cope with the Death of a Pet

Good-bye, Sheepie, is written by Robert Burleigh, and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto.  It is a touching story written for children 4 to 8 years of age.  The illustrations are soft and beautiful and add to the somber mood.

Owen and his dog, Sheepie, are best friends. They are constant companions as they play fetch, go for long walks and sleep together at night.  Sheepie is aging, he’s not as playful and he’s starting to sleep more.   Sheepie begins to limp as he walks and Owen has to help his best friend climb the stairs.  One day, Owen finds Sheepie lying under a tree.  His best friend won’t wake up.   Owen’s father is very supportive and helps him understand that Sheepie is dead.  He honors Owen’s grief and they do a special tribute to Sheepie as they bury him in a favorite place.  His father helps his son find closure as they talk about all of Owen’s happy memories of his best friend, and how Sheepie will remain a part of him.

As a child, I remember the neighbor’s cat killing my baby rabbit.  I sobbed and insisted on putting my bunny in a box, digging a grave, burying the box, and holding a service with my younger brother.   It was an early experience of death for me, and I wanted to  honor the short life of  my pet.   So, I thank  Burleigh for writing such a memorable story on a heartbreaking subject of the death of a pet.   The loss of a favorite friend and companion is even more devastating for a child.   Burleigh  handled the subject gently, and his book is a beautiful lesson of loving and letting go; something a child will continue to learn throughout life.

Two other books written for children who have experienced the loss of a pet, are Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven.  Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant, the books are colorful, uplifting and at times humorous.   The Book Jacket says:  If  you have ever been lucky enough to have a special dog or cat in your life, then you know there is a place called Dog and Cat Heaven.  The vision of both books mirror what many people believe about heaven.    There is a religious element to the books.   Regardless of what you believe, they are good books to help you talk with your child about their grief and what happens to their pet.

Rylant, the author of more than 60 books for children, debuted her first attempts at painting in Dog Heaven.  She is a self-taught artist, who is strongly influenced by the folk artwork of Grandma Moses.  She also illustrated Cat Heaven.   Children will delight in the bold and beautiful  pictures.

Books Help Military Children Cope with Grief

The Hero in My Pocket, is written by Marlene Lee, who has her MA in bereavement studies.  The book  is published by Early Light Press, and is excellent for children 6-12 years of age.   The artwork in the book was done by children for children, which makes this book very special.

For Greg, 10, and Grace, 7, their father is their special hero who serves in the military.   They are proud of him.   When their dad is killed in combat, they become acutely aware that every comment about their dad has changed from the first tense to the past tense.  They ask their mom to tell them what happened to “just make sure it was true.”   In working through their grief, they find a special way to honor and remember their “Special Hero.”   This book is more than about reading.  It also is about drawing, writing, sharing and remembering on special “Hero Pages.”   A very important tool for parents and professionals helping children cope with grief.  Although written for military children, this book is a good grief book for any child suffering the loss of a loved one.

 A Kids Journey of Grief, TAPS Edition, is available to TAPS children and youth who have lost a loved one in the armed forces.  Parents may request a copy by contacting the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors,  (TAPS), and tell them the branch of service where their loved one served.  TAPS also sponsors annual Good Grief Camps for children on Memorial Day Weekend in Washington D.C., May 27-30.  And, they hold regional Good Grief Camps across the country during the year.

 

Help Me Say Goodbye, by Janis L. Silverman, published by Fairview Press, for kids 4 to 8 years of age who have experienced grief.  It is a well-crafted summary of the grief process, exploring all aspects of grief, and ways to cope.    The author  has created this book as an art therapy book to help a child express what they may not be able to communicate, but can do through drawing.  There are few sentences on each page, but each one supports a very strong feeling or message that the child is to respond to.  For example,  death is not something you can control, it is not your fault that your special person died –  draw about some of the things you can’t control.   When a loved one dies, birthdays and holidays can be hard –you may want to plant a tree or do something in memory of your loved one.   Do you have a good box to keep your memories like pictures and objects in? — write about what you want to put in your box.    Keep something that belonged to your loved one so you can touch and look at it — think about why these things are important to you.  This book is filled with great ideas and is certainly a wonderful keepsake for any child working through loss.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — Honoring Military Families

Our 20-year-old grandson became a casualty of war, on Thanksgiving Day 2009, when he took his own life.   He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the horror of war had left its mark.  He had returned safely in October from his year-long deployment in Baghdad with the U.S. Army, and our family was overjoyed.   He took pride in his work, was a leader, and the unit clown who lifted the spirits of his unit when times were tough.  During President Obama’s visit to Baghdad in the summer of 2009, he was part of the detail.  He was buried with full military honors and his parents and brothers were treated with compassion.

How do military families deal with such an enormous tragedy, especially when it is suicide?   There is grief, anger and shock, but also an added concern about what people will think.  I serendipitously  saw a CNN  interview with a father who had lost his son to suicide in Baghdad five months before our loss.  I  e-mailed the father, who replied immediately.  He made some calls, and that evening someone contacted us  from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors  (TAPS).  The director of the Suicide and Education and Outreach Programs talked with me and gave me her phone number over that holiday weekend.  I was impressed at how quickly TAPS responds to families.  At the time, my goal was to collect as much information as possible for our son and his family.

TAPS is a non-profit organization that provides grief support to families of fallen military personnel.   They work with families who have experienced loss in various ways– from combat, suicide, terrorism, homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness.  Their site is filled with important information.  TAPS mails a Survivor Care Package to each family.  They operate a telephone crisis intervention number 24/7,  have online connections with survivors, peer support, counseling, resources, publications, and videos.  Most important they offer Good Grief Camps for young survivors.    TAPS has a book,  A Kids Journey of Grief, TAPS Edition, which is made available to children dealing with grief.   We have received the informative  quarterly TAPS Magazine for over a year now and are impressed with the quality of the expert information, that include articles on surviving the holidays, helping children cope, keeping family rituals alive, adjusting to a new normal, forgiveness, and resilience through humor.

This Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30, TAPS will sponsor its 17th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Washington, D.C.   Parents and children attend their own programs.  There will be leading professionals in the grief and trauma field together with survivors nationwide to share a weekend of understanding, hope, courage, and love.   Attendees meet other survivors and share the journey, and loved ones are honored on Memorial Day.   Workshops will include understanding complicated grief; coping with new family dynamics; special issues facing children, parents, siblings and significant others; and recognizing post traumatic stress in the family.  There is a nice return each year of people who have benefited in the past and come to support new attendees.  TAPS also sponsors regional  Good Grief Camps for children and Survival  Seminars  across the country.  It will be a weekend that will touch and strengthen  many hearts and spirits.   Attending means becoming a member of a larger family who can help you  move forward.

There are other organizations I want to mention that were of great help to us.  Military Families United  is another wonderful organization that quickly reached out to us.  Merrilee Carlson, Gold Star Mother and President, wrote me e-mails for weeks.  Known to everyone as “Shrek’s Mom,” we shared similar experiences, and her support was priceless.   They also sponsor Camp Desert Kids, a camp designed to help children understand military deployments. They deploy the children on the home front.  It is a fun camp with a unique concept that is well attended.

The U.S. Army has launched a campaign to reach soldiers at risk.   If you click on the link, you will see a moving video,  “I Will Never Quit on Life,” designed to promote health, risk reduction, and suicide prevention.   There also is a book available to soldiers, The Home Front, available through the Army Suicide Prevention Office.

In a future post, I will review books that will help children deal with grief and military deployments.