A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Pet, Death, Grief, Journey, Healing, Wordless picture book


This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. After laying her dog to rest in the family’s backyard and showering the grave with flowers, the family goes on a camping trip. A wistful walk along the beach to gather cool polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief.  A major shift occurs in the story. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, the girl uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth.

Why I love this book:

Aaron Becker’s breathtaking wordless picture book takes readers on an epic journey across the cosmos. This is a quiet and contemplative picture book. Readers will want to pour over all of the details in the dreamy illustrations of the girl’s extraordinary journey of healing that reaches beyond time and civilizations — because of one polished stone. A meteor strikes the earth, leaving a path of debris that is mined by ancient human workers. The golden stone is carved into a statue. During times of war the stone topples. It is carried away to serve other purposes and eventually ends up in the ocean where it is polished into a smooth stone by the churning waves and discovered by the girl. This is a book Becker hopes readers “will find comfort in stories that are older than our own and  inspire the reader to discover their own path.” Verdict: This book is a treasure.

Aaron Becker is the author of the award-winning Journey, Quest, and Return wordless picture book trilogy. A Stone for Sascha is a stand-alone book. Becker took care of a hermit crab for his pet merit badge in the Boy Scouts. When it died, he wasn’t too sad about it. But when lost Lily, his first cat, it was a different story altogether. Learning that love includes loss is a profound lesson that he’s learned from his animal companions over the years.

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 website.

Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb

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Rebecca Cobb, Author and Illustrator

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, April 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Theme:  Death, Grief, Mother, Family Support

Opening“Some time ago we said good-bye to Mommy. I am not sure where she has gone. I have tried looking for her.”

Synopsis:  A young boy’s mother dies. He doesn’t understand what has happened or where she has gone. He searches for her and finds some of her clothing hanging in the closet. He feels scared and angry because he doesn’t think she is coming back. He worries that she left because he was naughty.  Daddy finds a way to help the boy and his sister keep their mother’s memory alive.

Why I like this book:  I really like that this story because  it is told from the boy’s viewpoint with a lot of simplicity and honesty. It is a touching and loving debut picture book written and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. I am always searching for good grief books for children.  Missing Mommy deals with the pain, fear, and anger of the losing a parent, but is balanced with the loving support from family.  The artwork is childlike, as Cobb uses watercolors and crayons to create childlike simplicity for her young readers.

Resources: Missing Mommy will help spark a discussion about death and grief between children and parents.  It’s never too early to talk about death with children because they may first experience the death of a pet or grandparent. For further information visit Rebecca Cobb at her website.

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.

Honoring Military Families: The Real Heroes

I want to spend some time this week before Memorial Day Weekend, focusing on military families who have lost a loved one to war.  Yes, they are the parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who have been left to face a future filled with grief, despair, disbelief, anger and in some cases feelings of shame.  These families are the real heroes.  Each post will be a little different, because I want to include resources and information about a number of support organizations that are available to help families begin to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. 

I especially wanted to begin  my posts sharing  a very compelling book, Heart of a Hawk, about one family’s sacrifice and journey toward healing,  by Deborah H. Tainsh.   Deborah and David Tainsh’s son, U.S. Army Sergeant Patrick Tanish, died while serving the military in Iraq on Feb. 11, 2004.   Sgt. Tainsh was at the end of his year-long tour making plans to return home to his family and girlfriend, when he was on patrol near the airport in Baghdad that fateful night.  A roadside bomb exploded near the convoy of Humvees.  He remained behind and defended his unit so they could reach safety, while he had taken a fatal bullet.  He received a Silver Star for his heroic efforts.

Early in her book, Deborah comments that many stories are written about the lives of soldiers and the personal battles they fight.  But, not a lot is written about the families at home.  Deborah’s words are so beautifully written, that I want to do them justice by directly quoting her:

 “Little is written about the heroes left at home, those who must smile bravely when they hug or kiss for the last time a loved one deployed to a war thousands of miles away.  These  heroes wake up every morning with a prayer on their lips, say several more during the day, and fall to sleep at night saying another.  They either watch too much news, look for a certain e-mail every morning, wait for the mail carrier, and hope the next ring of the phone is that call they’ve waited on for weeks.  They write letters every day and mail a package once a week.  They stand stoic and smile gratefully when someone asks how things are going.  Then, for some, the day comes when a military chaplain and a casualty officer knock nervously on their door and deliver the worst conceivable message.  These heroes are left with only a folded flag, a cabinet of awards and medals, a last letter, and a bittersweet pride that only military families understand.”  

It is because these stories go untold that Deborah began to chronicle her family’s life beginning with their rebellious, drug-addicted teenager who had overcome his addictions and found his calling in the military.   That transformation in Patrick and his passion for his work, only added to their grief, sacrifice, and journey towards healing.   Dave, a retired Sergeant Major in the U.S. Marines, had the hardest time accepting his son’s death, and wouldn’t talk or share his feelings with Deborah.  The book is candid and raw, portraying the depth of grief, anger and suffering, and the toll it can take on a marriage and family.   I was surprised that Deborah chose to write the book in third person and would love to know why.  Although a  moving story, I felt  it would have been even more powerful if she had told her story in the first person.   On the day of Patrick’s memorial service,  a red-tailed hawk appeared on an oak tree.  It  filled her with the memory of the spirit hawk legend and its great healing powers.  For Deborah, the hawk symbolized that Patrick had embraced his spirit hawk with all of his soul.  Thus, the title of the book.    

A year after Patrick’s death, Deborah and Dave became aware of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a nonprofit organization that provides  support for grieving military  families.  A portion of the proceeds of her book, go to TAPS.  She also has written another book, Surviving the Folded Flag, where parents of war share stories of coping, courage and faith.   Both she and Dave are active with TAPS and mentor many military families.   In an upcoming blog, I will focus on TAPS and other support organizations.