Book Reviews: Sky Memories and Rudi's Pond

Sky Memories
Author: Pat Brisson
Paintings by Wendell Minor
Interest Level: Ages 9-12 (not a picture book)

From the Book Jacket: "The year before my mother died, we gathered sky memories." So begins this poignant tale of a daughter who is forced to say goodbye to her mother too soon. Emily is ten years old when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. By the time Emily has turned eleven, her mother will have died. But through the painful last months of their life together, Emily and mom find a way to celebrate and commemorate their relationship. Together they take mental pictures of the sky in all its variety and wonder - the sky that seems to reflect the phases of Mom's illness and the vitality of her soul. Sensitive and insightful, Sky Memories gracefully conveys the heartbreak of loss and, ultimately, the comfort of memory.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: It's extremely difficult to find WELL WRITTEN HEALING grief bibliotherapy for this age group. Thank goodness for authors like Pat Brisson. She's done something incredible with Sky Memories for kids who are coping with a great loss. All of the difficult emotions and hard questions are tackled in this story. Emily goes through anger, sadness, denial, and acceptance.

Emily asks some very honest questions to her mother like, 'Are you going to die? Are you afraid of dying? Why doesn't God answer my prayers.' Pat Brisson doesn't try to make the hard parts "pretty" for your reading pleasure. I thank her for that. And I'll admit, even as a counselor it's hard to read this story because I know kids go through this.

What really blessed me about this story is when Emily gets angry after her mother's death, "There were bottles of pills on the nightstand. I carefully lined them up in a perfectly straight row along the edge of the table. I flicked the first one off the edge. It fell to the floor with a familiar rattle and thud. I flicked the next one harder and it fell harder from the table. The next one I batted with my hand and it flew halfway across the room. The last three I gathered up and threw with all my might at the far wall. The plastic containers shattered and pills flew all over the room. I burst into tears." Wow. The message: Kids, you get to be angry about your loss! Everyone's anger is going to look different. Throwing the pills across the room didn't seem like an unhealthy way to cope. I sort of went...YES, throw those awful pills, Emily!

Don't try and look for or force closure when you read this book. Grief doesn't work that way. There is a beautiful acceptance and understanding that seems to rise from every page to the very last word. Highly recommend this one.

Rudi's Pond
Author: Eve Bunting
illustrated by Ronald Himler
Interest Level: Ages 5-9

From the Book Jacket: Rudi is my best friend. He and I made a feeder for hummingbirds out of a bottle and a straw. "They'll come for sure," Rudi says. "If I was a bird, I'd come." But Rudi is sick, and Mom says he is sinking. Sinking is hard to understand. It is terrible when Rudi dies. Everyone in school wants to create something wonderful so we can remember him. We decide to build a pond next to the big knobby oak in the schoolyard. The feeder Rudi and I made hangs from the oak, and one day a special hummingbird arrives...

Inspired by a true story. Eve Bunting has written a touching account of the hope a young girl finds after a devastating loss. Ronald Himler's soft watercolor palette beautifully captures the story's deep emotion.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: When we lost a student to an illness, I read this book to the class. Yep, we all cried. What we learned from Rudi's Pond was how we can continue to celebrate the memory of our beloved friend and student. Let me tell you, the loving and caring spirits of children are a magical thing. I've witnessed a lot of healing in children just from creating special memory boxes, cards, or even the planting of a tree in honor and gratitude.

Creating cards for Rudi when he is in the hospital.....
In this story, Rudi's classmates help to build a pond by a tree in his honor. Rudi's best friend also hangs a hummingbird feeder that reminds her of their friendship. She starts to see a hummingbird each day and it feels like a very special sign to her. Even though he is gone, the sign reminds her of his presence in her heart. Oh wow - now that is healing for kids to hear! 

This is a touching and beautiful story. Sometimes it's hard to talk about the, "Where do we go from here?" question. This has been more than helpful since the kids are looking to me for answers and hope. Peace. That's what we feel after reading Rudi's Pond.

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