November 19 – Children’s Grief Awareness Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Created in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families in Pennsylvania, Children’s Grief Awareness Day is now recognized by organizations around the world. The day seeks to raise awareness of the painful impact that the death of a loved one has on a child and the fact that receiving support can make all the difference in their life as they grieve. It also provides an opportunity to make sure that these children receive the support they need.

The statistics are sobering. Before graduating from high school, one child out of every 20 children will experience the death of a parent. That number does not include those who experience the death of a sibling, a grandparent, an aunt, uncle or cousin, or a friend.

To learn more information on the needs of grieving children and find available resources, visit the Children’s Grief Awareness Day website.

Thanks to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy of The Boy and the Gorilla for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Candlewick in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers.

She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

The Boy and the Gorilla Giveaway

 

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Candlewick Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The Boy and the Gorilla, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer| illustrated by Cindy Derby

To enter:

This giveaway is open from November 19 to November 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on November 26. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Candlewick Press

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 24 – World Gorilla Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Instituted in 2017, the same year that the Karisoke Research Center, operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, celebrated its 50th anniversary, World Gorilla Day encourages people around the globe to honor these majestic beasts and take action to help protect them in the wild. An annual fund-raising initiative, “Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call,” works with zoos, aquariums, schools, and other organizations to raise funds by collecting cell phones for recycling. To learn more about World Gorilla Day and ways that you can get involved or even adopt a gorilla, visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International website.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers. She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

August 31 – We Love Memoirs Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-cover

About the Holiday

In 2013, Victoria Twead and Alan Parks, who have written about their life stories themselves, established today’s holiday to foster a warm and welcoming community for readers and writers of memoirs. The idea took off and now We Love Memoirs Day brings the art and heart of this personal form of writing to people across the world. If you like to read memoirs, today’s a terrific day to visit your local bookstore or library and pick one up. If you’ve ever thought of penning the story of your own life and/or family, today’s holiday gives you the perfect opportunity to start!

Memoirs of a Tortoise

Written by Devin Scillian | Illustrated by Tim Bowers

It’s April and Oliver the tortoise is in his garden with his pet, Ike. Ike has brought him “a plate of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.” Oliver loves Ike and he can tell that Ike loves him too by the way he runs his hand over his shell. “This, this is life and it’s beautiful,” Oliver thinks. In May, Ike throws a stick that Oliver will never fetch, and they laugh over this old, favorite joke. Oliver thinks, “Eighty times I’ve watched spring arrive in the garden, and it’s always perfect.” He spies a bit of red on the other side of the garden and ambles off to investigate.

It’s June by the time he reaches the hibiscus grove. Oliver enjoys taking things slow—just like Ike does. July and August pass with special moments of companionship and fun. As September comes, life begins slowing down. “The days are getting shorter” and Ike is “taking lots of naps in the garden.” Oliver enjoys having Ike nearby and decides that “the next time he throws the stick, I’m going to fetch it.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-april

Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2020, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

October arrives, but the regular routine of the garden has been broken. Oliver hasn’t seen Ike or been fed in several days. Oliver makes due with pumpkin from the garden, but he misses Ike. By November, Oliver is “afraid Ike is gone.” The idea makes him sad. After all, he thinks, Ike was still so young. He was 80 years old.” Oliver had thought they would grow old together and wonders where Ike is. In December, Oliver decides to go talk to someone who has more experience than he does—his mother, who is 137 years old.

It takes Oliver until February to cross the ten gardens between Ike’s house and where his mother lives. When Oliver’s mother sees her son, “she smiles wide and her eyes sparkle.” Oliver tells his mother that Ike is gone. She understands his sadness and tells him how much Ike loved him. But Oliver wonders why Ike couldn’t stay with him.

Oliver’s mother explains “we only get to have pets in our lives for a little while.” Then she offers words of comfort: “And when they’re gone, we count all those beautiful days we were lucky enough to have them with us. We’re so lucky.”

Oliver has enjoyed his visit with his mother, but in March he’s on his way back home. When he arrives in his own garden, the door of the house opens. Oliver turns instinctively expecting to see Ike, but it’s Ted, Ike’s son. He brings Oliver “a tray of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.” He rubs Oliver’s shell just like Ike used to do and tells Oliver he’s glad he came home. Ted tosses a stick and the two laugh. “This, for me and Ted, this is life,” Oliver thinks. And he knows his mother was right when she said they were so lucky.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-july

Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2020, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Devin Scillian’s Memoirs of a Tortoise has it all—humor, poignancy, and a life lesson about the precious moments we share with loved ones. Using the longevity of tortoises, Scillian flips the script on the pet and human relationship with tender and emotional effect. When Ike passes away and Oliver is confused and sad, he confidently sets out to find answers and comfort from someone he can trust—his mother. The ten gardens between their homes may not seem far to us, but to Ike and his mom it’s the equivalent of towns, states, or even countries for us.

This seamless blending of the tortoises’ experience and that of readers’ is both the charm and genius of Scillian’s story. Oliver’s straightforward comments and questions about loss echo those of children and will resonate with them. As Oliver’s mother reminds him to enjoy every day and be thankful for the time he spends with his pets and as Ted enters his life, readers will understand that her advice to embrace all the parts of life applies to them as well.

Tim Bowers’ endearing Oliver is a sweet companion on this journey through a formative experience. As Oliver spends time and enjoys inside jokes with kindly Ike, readers will recognize not only the pet and owner bond but the relationship between children and grandparents. Bowers’ lush depictions of Ike’s garden where he and Oliver play or sit quietly side by side portray the beauty of life that Oliver’s mother so wisely recognizes. Ike’s slowing down and passing away are drawn with sensitivity and through images that allow adults and children to discuss facts and feelings about death, mourning, acceptance, and the cycles of life.

Uplifting and full of wisdom, Memoirs of a Tortoise, is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110199

Discover more about Devin Scillian, his books, journalism, music, and more on his website.

To learn more about Tim Bowers, his books, and his art, visit his website.

We Love Memoirs Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-shell-game

Follow the Turtles! Game

You can make this fun game from recycled materials and a little creativity! When you’re finished making the turtle shells, have fun guessing where the marble, bead or bean is hiding!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Green tissue paper in different hues
  • Green construction or craft paper
  • A marble, bead, or bean
  • Glue
  • Scissors

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-game

Directions

  1. Cut the egg carton apart into individual cups. You will need 3 cups for each game made.
  2. Cut the rims of the cups so they sit flat on a table.
  3. If the cups have open sides, fit two cups inside one another to fill the gaps
  4. Cut the tissue paper into small shapes
  5. Brush glue on a cup (I used a paper towel to apply glue)
  6. Cover the egg cup with pieces of tissue paper. Repeat with other cups.
  7. Let dry
  8. Cut a head and feet from the green craft paper
  9. Tape or glue the edges of head and feet to the inside of the cups
  10. Add a face to the head

To play the game:

  1. Line up the cups on a table
  2. Put a bead, bean, or marble under one of the cups
  3. Show the other player which cup the object is under
  4. Quickly move the cups around each other several times
  5. Ask the other player which cup they think the object is under
  6. Take turns playing

Extra Game: Make three more and play turtle tic-tac-toe! 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-cover

You can find Memoirs of a Tortoise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review