A small child describes all the aspects of life that are now changed due to the loss of beloved dog Lily.
The unnamed child narrates the story, beginning with a motion-filled spread detailing all the fun, active ways that the small, brown dog liked to play. The narrative shifts, and now Lily is gone, though readers don’t learn the details of Lily’s demise. The child continues the story with spare sentences describing Lily’s different actions, using the repeated structure of what Lily isn’t doing. Lily isn’t there on her braided rug or waiting for food to fall from the breakfast table or sitting by the door when the narrator returns from school. Every description of what Lily isn’t there to do communicates the child’s sadness and longing for Lily while also conveying a quiet acceptance and respect for memories of her pet. An understated but powerful conclusion shows the narrator drawing pictures of Lily, with a sweet, unforgettable ending emphasizing that the dog will always be in the child’s heart. Restrained illustrations stand out with a large trim size and plenty of white space that conveys a subtle sense of emptiness and loss. Both narrator and mother present white; humans in the background include people of color.
“There was a cat // who lived alone. / Until the day // a new cat came.” The big white cat meets the little black cat and shows it how to be a cat: when to drink and when to eat, where to potty, and when to nap. The black cat grows up, and the two do everything together: climbing, hunting, exploring, and (sometimes) going wild—but just for a short time. Years go by, and the white cat gets older. One day the black cat is alone…and that is hard “for everyone.” (Here there’s a black silhouette of a family of humans). Then…one day, a little white cat appears, and the black cat shows it how to be a cat. “Big cat, little cat.” Cooper’s gentle tale of the loss of a feline friend is perfect bibliotherapy for those who have lost a loved pet. His deceptively simple, fluid black-and-white line drawings bring all aspects of cat life to the page. And the subtle background colors of selected spreads—yellow for happy times, gray for sad—effectively convey the emotions.
A hard book to read for anyone who has lost a feline family member but a heart-healing message all the same.
(Picture book. 3-8)
Rosie’s world turns gray when her dog passes away, but friendship and color bloom again when she helps reunite another child with a lost cat.
Crayon the dog fills Rosie’s world with delight. Everything seems brighter, bolder, deeper with her best pal. Together the little dog and brown-complexioned girl (both have tightly curled hair, the dog’s white and the girl’s black) traverse the seasons and their accompanying hues—jumping in leaves, sledding, and camping under a starry sky—until Crayon dies. Spreads become overcast, mirroring Rosie’s emotions, as she closes up her heart. A lost-cat search wakens the puff-pigtailed girl, and upon finding the feline, the child lets herself remember her dog. As colors pour forth, Rosie realizes her “heart didn’t break (like she thought it would). Rather… / …it felt wider—taller—deeper than it had ever felt before.” Digital artwork done in a primary palette explores pattern and texture. And the artist’s simple linework is skillful, offering an appealing character across a range of perspectives, actions, and framings; however, the illustrations often feel like a smartly-filled coloring book. The decision not to use crayon or ink textures matching the pets’ names (Crayon and Inky) seems a missed opportunity. Marcero’s text is the real star, as she delves into a difficult topic with lush descriptions and empathy. Thoughtful endpapers round out the story, as readers are comforted by Rosie’s healing process.
A good addition to the loss-of-a-pet bookshelf.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A father’s thoughtful explanation provides a helpful perspective for a child’s loss.
Sonya is bereft when a fox takes one of the three chickens she’s cared for like a mother, but her papa comforts her with the idea that the fox is also trying to feed his family. Her family acknowledges Sonya’s grief with a small ceremony, and the child and her chickens move on. There’s an old-fashioned feel to this simple story and its timeless illustrations, created with watercolor, collage, and colored pencil and reminiscent of Goodnight Moon in mood, design, and palette. Inside, Sonya’s house is cozy and dark. In contrast, the world outside shines white, as background to text, with vignettes or a frame or portion of the opposite image spilling across the gutter. A warm scene of Sonya’s mixed-race family having dinner together is mirrored later on by one with the fox curled up with its kits, each family shown opposite a page with an egg-shaped text frame. Both words and illustrations emphasize comfort and the security a family can provide. But this is also a realistic description of chicken care, including preparing, cleaning, and repairing the coop, feeding the chickens, and making sure they have water and fresh straw—even finding eggs.
A reassuring story about death in the natural world, thoughtfully designed and illustrated.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Salerno’s retro caricatures exemplify comforting memorial behaviors. Black crayon is used to form the characters on the sunny yellow pages; a controlled digital palette includes accents of darker yellow, white, and black. Channeling a Bemelmans’ heroine, Margot wears a skirt and an oversized bow in her pageboy. The minimalist garden setting features a chair, four white tulips, and a yellow lump. Thoughtful friends contribute blue balloons and a box. Otto dons his “best hat,” while Melinda plays a “cheerful melody” on her French horn. Buddy the dog is actively present. The lump turns out to be Tim, who, when covered with the flowers and arranged in the box, ascends into the now-blue sky “to a place where he basked in the warm sun and swam in cool waters, forever a happy turtle.” As in Remy Charlip’s and, later, Christian Robinson’s versions of Margaret Wise Brown’s The Dead Bird (1958, 2016), Salerno shows readers how to help a friend mourn a dead animal. Most important, of course, is showing up. Similar to the kites in the aforementioned editions, the balloons add an important buoyancy to the telling, providing a possible entree to matters of the spirit, if readers desire it. The characters are all the yellow of the paper save friend Vincent, who is a darker yellow and has crinkly dark hair.
A succinct text and an uncluttered design provide space to discover and process a loss.
(Picture book. 3-6)
In this British import, a dog writes letters from heaven to a child back on Earth, easing the grieving process.
Alfie McPoonst, a dog of indeterminate breed, has recently moved on to being a “Sky Dog” in Dog Heaven, residing on the “nicest cloud” in the sky. He writes to Izzy, his owner, a diminutive, round-headed moppet. Izzy is bereft, carrying Alfie’s blanket and bone toy everywhere. In subsequent letters, Alfie describes how much fun he has in Dog Heaven, playing with other dogs, chasing “postmen,” and scaring wolves. He is allowed to engage in formerly forbidden activities such as eating cow pies and rolling in flower beds. He writes, “I watch you through a star peephole every day” and that he left a ball of dog fluff behind the sofa. That revelation inspires a touching letter from Izzy to Alfie, telling him, “I keep [my fluff] in a special heart locket, so I’ll never forget you, even when I’m 100.” Impressionistic illustrations in a limited, mostly rusty-brown palette show Alfie enjoying his new environment and Izzy’s parents cuddling and comforting their child. Illustrations on the endpapers show the family, who present white, visiting Alfie’s grave in the garden behind their house. While Izzy is obviously just a tiny tot, both the understated story and imaginative illustrations allow readers to accept the child’s ability to understand Alfie’s letters and to write back.
A memorable effort that will comfort anyone who has lost a beloved dog.
(Picture book. 3-8)
A young child describes the behavior of a spectral cat.
Straightforward first-person narration combines with simply composed illustrations to explain why the child believes that a ghost cat shares the house with them. Although they admit that “It’s always gone before I can really see it,” they’re convinced that the cat is moving around, engaged in typical feline behaviors like scratching, rubbing, cuddling, and meowing. Illustrations that show upended books and bowls and a traumatized fish provide additional, gently humorous evidence to support their hypothesis. When they finally catch a glimpse of the ghost cat (readers have seen it all along—gray-blue surrounded by a haze of white with staring yellowish eyes), it’s on its way out, or rather “through,” the front door. The child opens the door to find an apparently corporeal white kitten waiting there. Atteberry’s digitally created artwork features a limited but appealing palette of primarily warm golds and browns and cool blues, punctuated with greens and yellows. Lightly sketched backgrounds are spare in detail, though a few carefully placed photos suggest that the child and cat once shared their home in a more conventional fashion. The minimal detail extends to the child’s face, which is very expressive despite the absence of a mouth (the child has beige skin and a shock of straight, brown hair).
Losing a pet is always difficult; finding a new one isn’t the solution for everyone, but in this case, it’s a decidedly happy development.
(Picture book. 5-8)
This picture book, a Canadian import originally published in Norway, tells the story of Paws, a dog, and Edward, a child, who have shared a good life together.
Paws is old and prefers to spend his days sleeping and dreaming, mostly about rabbits, while Edward, his beloved human, cuddles close and reads books. When Edward invites Paws for a walk, Paws goes because, he thinks, “Edward could use some fresh air.” The two are inseparable until the inevitable occurs and Paws falls into a sleep “without dreams.” Edward is so, so sad, but when he finally falls asleep (in the park, on the bench Paws used to lie on) he dreams—of Paws, tail wagging, happy—and readers will be uplifted, understanding that Edward’s love for Paws cannot be erased by death. Johnsen’s warmly hued illustrations give Paws such a large presence that he often spills out over the boundaries of the page—a visual manifestation of the story’s theme of love unconstrained by the boundary of death. Each illustration is a full-bleed double-page spread, a choice that emphasizes expansiveness. Edward’s skin is shown as a different shade on each page, a device that allows Edward to approach universality while visually highlighting, once again, the theme of limitlessness.
A truly brilliant contribution to the genre and a must for any child who has lost a beloved pet.
(Picture book. 4-8)