Tag Archives: loss

Clayton, Cool Papa, and Wah-Wah Nita

I cclayton-birdan relate to Clayton Bird.  I may be a middle-aged white woman living in Iowa, but I understand his pain.  I might not have grown up with a blues-playing grandpa–mine was known to ride a banana seat bike now and then, but wouldn’t have known what to do with a guitar—but I know how important people other than parents can be when you’re growing up.  I remember being angry about injustice when I was a kid, or at least what I saw as injustice in my own life.  And I know grief, really crushing grief that hides out in unexpected places and hits you at all the wrong times.

Clayton is the kind of character everyone can relate to on some level, although he might not look like many of the kids I knew growing up.  That’s what’s so wonderful about Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Her characters are simultaneously universal and completely unique.  The small details make you think of your Uncle Rich or that kid you went to school with who had a goofy nickname or your best friend’s mom or whoever.   His story, like many of Williams-Garcia’s, celebrates an ordinary life with extraordinary moments—moments which reveal quite a bit about our society as a whole and how kids navigate it. Her characters’ experiences reach out to you, whoever you are, wherever you live.  It’s a gift we are so, so lucky to be able to witness and enjoy.

And if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Williams-Garcia mentions Kathi Appelt in her note at the end of the book.  We all know (or maybe we don’t) just how crazy I am about Kathi Appelt.  I’ve practically thrown her books at the 5th graders I visit if I find out they have somehow managed to miss them.  And  I don’t stop at once a year – she comes up repeatedly.  Actually, I’ve kind of done the same with Rita Williams-Garcia’s books (One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama) because they are a different and wonderful brand of fabulous.   Clearly, I’m just going to get worse.  Prepare.  Beware.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

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Lost and found


Lucy is a dog, lost and trying to survive after an adventure took her too far from home.  Eleanor is lost, too, with a distracted father to complicate things.  (Where do the dishes and snow globes go?)  Sam is the juggler, her dad, trying to literally and figuratively keep all the balls in the air in a soul-sucking job, dreaming of success.

It’s a little hard to categorize Lucy.  At first glance, it’s a picture book, maybe just a really long one.  But as you read, you notice it’s split into acts.  Is it a play or a movie?  A graphic novel?  Does it matter?

The illustrations carry you along.  (Although it’s completely different, I had some Harry the Dirty Dog flashbacks, which made me like it even more.) The story repeats itself just enough to having you looking for subtle changes in each new day.  Will they find each other?  They will.  Will they find what they’re looking for?  Yes, perhaps.  Will you love it?  You will.

Lucy by Randy Cecil

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Maybe a fox, maybe a path to peace


We don’t always acknowledge it, but many of us spend part of our lives walking through the world with a veil of sadness clinging to us.  Some people are able to push it back and stride through the world looking one way but retreat back into it on their own.  Others walk with the veil surrounding them, sometimes protecting them from the harsh world outside, sometimes creating a wall too thick to penetrate.  Sadness, grief, loss – feeling them intensely can both drag us down and help us heal.

Jules, Sylvie, Elk, Sam and Dad all carry it with them at different times and in different ways, and even the animals in the forest nearby feel it; Senna the fox and the catamount are kennens, animals with special spirits somehow connected to humans.

Maybe a Fox is an emotional book – filled with grief, beauty, peace, loss – and it’s powerful, but that really comes as no surprise, having been written by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee.  It might not be a book for kids who want a lot of action and laughs, although there is a little of both in the book.  It might connect with those kids in a unexpected way, however.  It’s deeper, so deep that it’s beyond what you might usually touch in your daily life.  It’s also a beautiful piece about human connection to nature, connection to each other, even the connection to loss.  It might be a fox or it might be a path to something else.

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

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Stress, loss and change – newer books


All stories involve stress, loss and change for at least a few characters. If they don’t, what’s the point? Lately, however, I’ve gotten the feeling that my to-be-read stack is conspiring to throw certain kinds of books in front of me, mostly books about kids facing bigger stresses, losses, and changes –those who’ve lost their parents, live with someone who’s really struggling, or have to move to a new town or new culture. Sometimes all three.

It started with Augusta Scattergood’s The Way to Stay in Destiny. After his parents have died and his grandparents can no longer take care of him, Theo is forced to move with his somewhat angry uncle to Destiny, Florida. Theo’s transition is not an easy one, although making a friend, meeting some of the town’s characters and finding a way to play music –which his uncle has forbidden – makes a big difference. Theo’s world is full of the small happenings of everyday life that eventually blend together into something bigger. The action advances without being in a hurry, so Theo’s realizations about himself fit perfectly into the mood and movement of the book.WaitingforUnicorns - jacket copy

I was taken in by the cover of Waiting for Unicorns by Beth Hautala. (Mason jar… narwhal… hmmm, what’s that all about?) The inside flap made it seem like a possible tearjerker, which I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for, but the idea of flying up to the Arctic for the summer intrigued me, and the story of the unicorn of the sea interested me, so I read on. It’s a quiet book–full of Talia’s wishes for things to work out or be different, slow-moving because her grief over losing her mom is so present, and a little heavy with the worry about things that might go wrong. Still, I liked the characters. I wanted to find out what happened to them. It never seemed like it was trying too hard, and Talia’s jar of wishes, with its rules and complications, is something I could see a real person creating.

Immediately after finishing Waiting for Unicorns, I started Kate Messner’s new book, All the Answers, not expecting what I got there, either. The cover and description seemed to suggest a lighter, wackier book. A magic pencil creates all kinds of silly and crazy situations, but they didn’t really seem as funny to me as maybe they were supposed to. (The fact that my family describes me as “worst-case-scenario Mom” might give you some idea of why.) Ava is a little on the anxious side and overly self-aware, and the pencil just brings out a whole lot of stress in her. She worries – oh, how she worries about things! Will her parents divorce because they don’t agree on things? Will her mother make up with her grandfather? Will her best friend forgive her for something she didn’t do? Everything does work out, as life often does, but it’s kind of a hard-bouncy ride getting there. I liked the book, although I wasn’t sure I was going to at many points. Messner writes with such skill about Ava and her anxieties that it was only when I finished it that I could let go of the anxious feeling myself!

Looking for other books about loss and change? Try one of these:

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms – Katherine Rundell… Will’s perfect life with her father on a farm in Zimbabwe ends after her father dies, and her guardians send her to England to school.

I Lived on Butterfly Hill – Marjorie Agosin… Set in Chile during a time when people are “disappeared,” Celeste’s parents are sent into hiding and she goes to America to be safe. She tries to adjust to the culture but is haunted by what’s happened at home, eventually returning to try to find her parents and regain her life.

The Language Inside – Holly Thompson… Emma was raised in Japan, but returns to the U.S. after her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. This moving teen novel in verse shows Emma’s struggle to find her own place in her changing world.

 And don’t forget these classics, tearjerkers one and all:

Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls – Billy and his two redbone hounds learn about hunting, teamwork and life.

Sounder – William Armstrong – A poor African-American boy and his family suffer after the father is caught stealing. Their loyal dog, Sounder, is injured but manages to return. A powerful story of resilience.

Old Yeller – Fred Gipson – A moving story of a boy and his dog in Texas hill country.

The Yearling – Marjorie Rawlings – The Pulitzer Prize-winning story of Jody, Pa, Ma and the deer Jody adopts.

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