Children’s Books for the Summer
Author: Cheryl Kreutter
By and large, the books reviewed here describe how empathy (an emotion) prompts compassion (an action). Each will appeal in different ways to different readers at different times. Characters are identifiable and real, and illustrations appropriately support the story, theme or concept. Most importantly, these are books that invite readers to discuss their own thoughts and feelings about loss as well as consider ways they can honor their loved ones who died. This summer, pick up a book, or several, for your child as you journey to a new place on the map or on the path of grief.
“If Only I Could Fly”
By Rhonda Manyak, Illustrated by Sabrina Tarrab
“If Only I Could Fly”relates in verse a child’s longing to reunite with a loved one by flying “straight up to you” in a plane, on a magic carpet, in a hot air balloon, on a kite tail, on the wings of a bird, on a unicorn, on a butterfly or bumblebee or even a rocket. Alas, the child must settle for knowing “you’re my angel and never very far.” Among the few books available for preschoolers who have lost someone close, this text will engage young children through its simple rhyme, soothing rhythm and colorful illustrations.
“Moonlight Memoirs: Remembering that Family and Friends are Forever”
By Maggie Lei Lewis, Illustrated by Melody Lea Lamb
In simple verse, this story tells of two mice who learn through a wise old mouse and a magic star that loved ones who have died are “not truly gone,” but, rather, continue to “watch those we love.” This religious text relays a promise of eternal life and reunion with loved ones. Lovely illustrations are reminiscent of a silent, snowy Christmas Eve scene.
Ages 6 – 10
“Klinger, A Story of Honor and Hope”
By Betsy Beard, Illustrated by Shelley Johannes
Beautifully illustrated, this award winning, fact-based fictional text tells the story of Klinger, a large and gentle black horse who serves in the Caisson Platoon at Ft. Meyer in Arlington, Virginia. His job is to pull the wagons that carry our nation’s fallen heroes to their final resting place. From birth, Klinger was told he was a special horse, but he did not understand how he was special until he meets the children of a father he honors on his first day as a Caisson horse. In its second printing, this popular TAPS book will bring comfort to both children and adults.
“The Flat Rabbit”
By Bardur Oskarsson, Translated by Marita Thomsen
A dog and a rat have come across a flattened rabbit in the road and agree that “lying there can’t be much fun.” But where do they move her? The dog racks his brain and comes up with a unique idea to give the rabbit a proper send off. They cannot be sure that their unusual plan has helped the rabbit get somewhere better, but they take comfort in knowing they did their best to memorialize their friend. Although simply told with a touch of humor and minimal artwork, the story’s profound message of compassion and respect is deepened every time the reader returns.
“Emily Lost Someone She Loved”
By Kathleen Fucci, Illustrated by Shirley-Ng Benitez
Emily is sad after losing a parent and no longer finds joy in being with her family and friends nor in doing activities she once loved. She weeps, screams and even throws temper tantrums but her loneliness and anger remain. One night, her father helps her understand she can find healing through the Word of God. First, she learns the words by heart but soon they are in her heart, and she knows God is with her. A faith-based, beautifully illustrated, highly relatable book for children, ages 6 - 10.
“Cry, Heart, but Never Break”
By Glenn Ringtved, Illustrated by Charlotte Pardi, Translated by Robert Moulthrop
A Danish author wrote this text to help prepare his own children for the pending death of their beloved grandmother. Grandmother has a visitor. It is Death, sitting at the kitchen table with the children. The children hatch a plot to ply the figure with so much coffee that it will be forced to leave without Grandmother. Their plan fails, and the children ask why Grandmother must die. In response, Death, whose “heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life,” tells the story of the sisters, Joy and Delight, who marry the brothers, Grief and Sorrow. Both couples die on the same day because, Death explains, how does one live without the other? Illustrations are a soothing mixture of pencil, watercolor and acrylics. Of particular note is the depiction of Death as an empathetic character with a sad, but not scary, countenance. This book won the 2016 Batchelder Award for outstanding literature written in another language and outside the USA.
“Frog and the Birdsong”
By Max Velthuijs
Young Frog, Young Pig and Young Duck find a blackbird lying in a clearing. At first they surmise that he is sleeping or sick until Hare, the oldest, comes along and determines that the blackbird is dead. Frog asks, “Dead…What’s that?” to which Hare reports, “Everything dies.” Hare directs the others to help bury the blackbird in the meadow, which they do with utmost care and respect. It is very quiet, “not even one note of birdsong.” Afterwards, they leave silently. Suddenly, the youngest, Frog entices his friends into a game of tag. They play and laugh. As they set off for home, they hear a blackbird sing, “as always.” The message: Life continues, and children can be happy again. Parents and caregivers will recognize in the characters how the concept of death evolves as children mature.
Ages 8 – 12
“Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss”
By Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, Illustrated by Taylor Bills
Grandy is cooking up a pot of tear soup; she has lost someone dear. She mixes in memories along with her tears and lets it simmer as she puts even more things into it. The whole process is exhausting. Her young grandson wonders about the tear soup and asks her what she learned as she made it. She replies: “I’ve learned that there is something down deep within all of us ready to help us survive the things we think we can’t survive.” Readers will relate to the numerous emotions illustrated throughout the text. Worth noting are “Grandy’s Cooking Tips” that provide the reader information about grief as well as self-care tips. This text is well worth reading and rereading for children and adults alike.
“Michael Rosen’s Sad Book”
By Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Michael Rosen, a former British Children’s Laureate, is best known for his children’s picture books such as “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury) and “Bananas in my Ears”(illustrated by Quentin Blake). However, “Michael Rosen’s Sad Book” is not like the others: It is a picture book for older children and adults who can empathize with the author’s profound sadness over the loss of his son and his struggle to find his way out of “a place that is deep and dark.” Quentin Blake’s illustrations support the mood of the Rosen’s text throughout. At the beginning they are somber gray. Then, as the author reflects on happy memories and ponders things he loves such as birthdays and candles, the images are warmer and brighter. While the ending is not upbeat, the story does offer reassurance that feeling sad is part of life and that there is hope for brighter days.
Reviewed by Cheryl A. Kreutter, Ph.D.