Posted tagged ‘Death’

PB Review: THE BOY and the GORILLA

December 3, 2020

The Boy and the Gorilla written by Jackie Azúa Kramer and illustrated by Cindy Derby, Candlewick, 2020.

The Boy and the Gorilla took me by surprise. This touching story written by Jackie Azúa Kramer with illustrations by Cindy Derby brought tears to my eyes. After the death of his mother, a young boy is consumed with grief. Not knowing who to turn to, he finds comfort in a gorilla that happens to appear. The gorilla stays with the boy and patiently answers questions about the loss of his mother. The gorilla offers friendship and empathy as the boy goes through the stages of mourning. When the boy sees his dad is sad, too, he finds the courage to reach out to his dad and tell him how he feels. The two come together to share their grief, and the gorilla fades into the distance. Cindy Derby’s use of soft muted colors with sprinkles of brighter colors perfectly capture the essence of the story. Derby’s art and the simplicity of Jackie Azúa Kramer’s heartrending story are perfect for a child who has loved and lost someone special in their life. This is a beautiful book to have when the need comes.

A Great Middle-Grade Summer Read

July 6, 2017

warden 2

The year is 1959. It’s a time when American Bandstand, 45 RPM records, saddle shoes, and transistor radios are popular. The Warden’s Daughter written by the talented Jerry Spinelli takes place during this era. The story is about Cammie O’Reilly nicknamed Cannonball because of her unpredictable personality. She lives in an apartment above the county jail with her father, the warden. Her mother died in a tragic accident after saving Cammie when she was a baby — an accident that is well-known by everyone in town. The summer Cammie turns thirteen she aches more than ever to have a mother like everyone else. Cammie decides that Eloda Pupko, an inmate at the prison who takes care of her and keeps the apartment clean and running smoothly, should be that mother, but things are not as easy as Cammie thinks. Consumed with unhappiness and anger, Cammie lashes out when an unexpected event occurs, and her life begins to spiral out of control. It’s Eloda who steps in and provides the elusive motherly love and support that Cammie needs to face her inner turmoil. Jerry Spinelli weaves a story of an unhappy young girl that tugs at your emotions and keeps you turning the pages to a satisfying ending. If you have someone looking for a good book to read this summer, I recommend The Warden’s Daughter.


When a Home Becomes a House

January 25, 2011

“It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.”  ─ Author Unknown

In the past nine months, both my mom and dad passed away. My brother, sisters, and I will miss the laughter and love that made their house a home.

Now we are left with the daunting task of dismantling the house and getting it ready to sell. This is not an easy thing to do. What do you do with all the belongings? How do you share the work when brother and sisters are spread across the country and there’s only so much time when everyone is together as a family? When is it the right time to choose special items that carry sentimental value for each of the siblings and grandchildren? Sometimes when you think you’re doing the right thing, life throws you curve balls that smack you in the noggin. And let me tell you, there are lots of things in my parents’ house to smack you in the noggin!

There are treasures stored in every conceivable place throughout the house – drawers, closets, cabinets, trunks, dressers, attic, and garage. For once I was happy that my parents chose to retire in Florida. They had no basement to squirrel away more things.

My mom and dad saved everything from the time each of us was born. We found baby cards, birthday cards, graduation cards, Christmas cards, and report cards. There were suits, jackets, dresses, Easter hats, baby shoes, and family linens. There were drawings from grade school, papers we did in high school and college, newspaper articles about our achievements, and a ton of unorganized family photos. There were numerous ceramic Christmas trees made by my mom, old ornaments, and boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations. And still there was more. Along with all of this came a few mouse droppings and a dead cockroach or two!    

As I made my way from one box to another, one word came to mind as I thought of my own house, PURGE! I can remember a conversation I had with my dad as we sat in his office, cleaning out some old papers last year. His exact words were, “Someday, you’re going to have to get rid of all this.” I wish someday didn’t have to come so soon for many reasons.

Before leaving, I looked around. I still have memories of my parents in that house, and there are still things that have sentimental value that need to be taken care of, but it feels empty without my parents there. It’s no longer a home. It’s just a house with things in it. A home is a place where you feel love wrapping its arms around you as soon as you walk through the front door. It’s the hugs, kisses, and smiles that are shared by the special people who live there. Those people don’t live there anymore. It’s time to let someone else make my parents’ house a home.

Some of my favorite books about houses:

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1978), The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster (Michael Di Capua Books, 2005), The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2008)


May 28, 2010

“Humor is the oxygen of children’s literature.” — Sid Fleischman

In the May/June issue of the “SCBWI Bulletin,” there is a very touching piece remembering author, Sid Fleischman, who passed away in March. I was never lucky enough to meet Sid Fleischman, but I’ve read his books and have used them in my classroom and library. The humor in his books is infectious. The Newbery Award novel, The Whipping Boy, plus Jim Ugly, and the McBroom series are books that keep my students coming back for more.  

It was said Sid Fleischman was dedicated to his work. He placed great value on his writing time, but he also made time to help and advise aspiring writers. I’ve heard other authors speak of him with words of praise. He was a great role model – talented and generous with his time.   

For some reason I see my favorite authors as timeless – just like their books. When one of them passes away, I am not only sad, but sometimes surprised by their age. It’s a reality check on the passage of time.

I’ve been lucky to be a part of a talented community of writers who willingly share their time and expertise. It is my hope that all writers remember the qualities that make superior authors and mentors as exemplified by Sid Fleischman.

One last thought:

Like Sid Fleischman I write humor. I am wondering if my picture book, which sold in 2006, will ever make it into bookstores. If not, I can foresee my eulogy:  She’s still waiting – in another place – to have her picture book published.

What Were They Thinking?

May 4, 2010

Sometime ago there was unfortunate tragedy in a nursing home where a resident was murdered. Law enforcement officials began their investigation by questioning workers and residents. The questioning of residents struck me as, well, questionable.

I have visited elderly family members in nursing homes and know that many of the residents are mentally residing someplace else. I can just imagine how an investigative interview would go.

Police Officer:  Ma’am, did you see or hear anything suspicious last night?

Ma’am:  Speak up, sonny, I can’t hear you.

Police Officer:  Did you see anything unusual last night?

Ma’am:  A bunch of old coots were playing choo-choo train with their wheelchairs. The train man was pushing them to the dining car.

Police Officer:  Anything else?

Ma’am:  I saw blood dripping from people’s mouths. Vampires!

Police Officer:  You saw blood?

Mr. Elderly:  That wasn’t blood. That was the red velvet cake people were eating.

Ma’am:  Go away! I was talking to… Who are you?

Police Officer to Mr. Elderly:  Did you hear anything strange last night?

Mr. Elderly:  Just crazy Adele. She was screaming as usual. There she goes again.


Police Officer:  Is there anyone around here who might know something?

Mr.Elderly:  There’s Ralph. He sees and hears everything, but he doesn’t talk.   

Police Officer to self:  Take me home, Mama!

For the sake of the family, I hope the case is solved, but I wouldn’t count too much on the eyewitness accounts from the residents.

The Next Place

April 30, 2010

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
─ Yogi Berra

My mother is residing in our guest bedroom for the time being. She isn’t there physically. Her ashes are there. I spritz a little of her favorite perfume in there every once in awhile. The smell reminds me of how special she was to me.

I never quite know how to say someone died. Do you say they passed? Passed what? Past their expiration date? Do you say they are departed like departing from a train station? I could say my mom kicked the bucket, but that seems too irreverent. My mother is dead – gone from this world as we knew her.

The truth is my mother has been gone for quite some time now. For the last few years she was a shell of her former self, and she was aware of that. She wanted to die. The quality of life was missing for her. It’s that darn modern medical technology that keeps people alive longer than some wish. When she died it wasn’t unexpected, but it was still sad. It makes you face your own mortality.

My father was her caregiver through her illness. He loved her and had endless patience – most of the time. My sister and her husband, who live nearby, were there every day to help. Now those are amazing people!

While I was growing up, my mother was my best friend. I could tell her anything. As we both got older, it was harder to maintain that closeness, but I always felt that special bond.

I was reminded of how fashionable she was as family members sorted through pictures for her memorial. Other things like her unique sense of humor, her love of dark chocolate, and her intense pride of her Irish heritage came up in family conversations. Little things we found as we went through her belongings made us laugh and made us cry. We had button necklace day, hat day, belt day, and adorned ourselves with her stash of funky jewelry. It was our quirky way of dealing with our loss.  

Button Necklace

With the death of my mother, my family did what she would have wanted us to do. We celebrated her life with a proper Irish funeral.

We did her proud!

Soon my mother’s ashes will depart from my guest bedroom, but I know right now she’s in a better place – the next place.

There is a book called The Next Place by Warren Hanson. It’s a beautiful book that celebrates life. 

My mother’s life is one worth celebrating. To my mother! To life!

Now, what do I do with all her dentures I keep finding around my parent’s house?


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