(I know I don't usually write about children's books, but this one was timely for me and I thought it was worth mentioning.)
A young boy is sad when his cat, Barney, dies. After his family and his friend Annie have a funeral and bury Barney, the boy and Annie have a discussion over where Barney is exactly. Annie, in a very well meaning way, insists that Barney is in heaven eating tuna and drinking cream. The boy says that Barney is in the ground.
They ask the boy's father to settle the argument.
Dad says, "We don't know too much about heaven. We can't be absolutely sure that it's there." He then leaves to go work in the garden because clearly he does NOT want to be having this discussion.
The boy follows Dad out to the garden where they plant seeds and talk about how things change underground, seeds turn into flowers and Barney will change too now that he's part of the garden.
The boy makes a list of things he loved about Barney, the tenth one being that Barney is helping the flowers grow.
I bought this book a few months back because I thought it might be good to have on hand for Lucy when the time came. For whatever reason, Lucy doesn't need a book. She's doing just fine on her own.
I still really like this book though and am glad that I bought it. When looking for children's books that deal with grief surrounding the death of a pet, I came across a lot of books mentioning that the pet would be in heaven. While that is wonderful if you believe that sort of thing, for those of us who don't, that notion provides little comfort.
In reading reviews for this book I found that most who didn't like it felt that way because it questioned the idea of heaven. The reasoning in this book is in line with my beliefs but I can understand that if you have been teaching your kids that heaven exists, this book probably isn't for you. While I see nothing wrong with occasionally stopping to question why we believe what we do, I totally get that the best time to do that might not be when a child is processing their feelings of grief.
People also didn't like the mental imagery of Barney being in the ground. They said it was too intense for small children. As one reviewer put it, "This book was great until you get to the tenth good thing about Barney, which is that he's fertilizer."
Personally, the fact that this book is so matter-of-fact is one of the things that I loved about it. Nothing is sugar coated and no false hope is given. It's just a family trying to help their son deal with his grief.
The sweetness and simplicity of this passage really speaks to me:
I told him [the Dad] I didn't like it that Barney was dead.
He said, why should I like it? It's sad, he said.
He told me that it might not feel so sad tomorrow.
One more plus: Barney was written by the amazing Judith Viorst, who also penned Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a childhood favorite of mine.
I know that The Tenth Good Thing About Barney isn't for everyone, but it's a good addition to my kids' bookshelf in case I ever need it.