Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney

(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.


Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

To me this sounds like a beautiful book.

What is wrong with giving children the facts as they can handle them?
What is wrong in a child having to learn that death is sad but it is also part of life. And whether you believe in heaven or not Barney is in the ground physcially. That is also a good time to tell them your belief if yours is to believe they are buried in body and their soul is in heaven or whatever such thing one believes. Why does everyone feel the need today to hide everything from children?

I remember a long time ago a movie called My Girl with macaulay culkin.
I thought the movie was beautiful. I mentioned this to my cousin who had children of that age at the time of the movie. Her response was that she would never allow them to see it since he died. I asked if they just had seen kindergarden cop with guns and violence. She said yes but that was different.Violence was okay. Shooting people and watching them die was okay but this movie was sad. OMG!

Senseless violence appears to be fine for most folks but reality like a death should be avoided and not discussed. I don't fully understand that on any level.

It's not always about what happens to you as much as how you handle what happens to you in life that matters.Not perparing children for the real world (like giving medals when they lose and they never learn how to be a gracious loser) isn't the best thing we can do today. Life is tough. And while we want to protect them so much we really also have to prepare them as well. Isn't that parenting? Preparing your children the best we know how to fly and be strong and independent caring people?
Keeping them away from sad, painful or hurtful things will never allow for growth or the ability to handle it when it happens later in life.

Parenting is hard!

Timothy Reed said...

Thanks for your review. Our cat of 15 years died a few days ago, and we're still grieving this loss. My uncle - a retired school teacher - recommended that I check out The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. It did indeed brighten me a little bit and gave me the idea to use his cremated remains to fertilize a planting in our back yard.