For many children, the first encounter with death occurs with the loss of a pet; for such an occasion Mrs. Viorst offers honest consolation that emphasizes the cyclical continuity of life and applies as well to human death.
A little boy's cat dies and the child is "very sad." His mother suggests that he think of ten good things about the pet to tell at the funeral when father buries him next day, but the boy can only think of nine. After the funeral, the boy and his sister argue about whether Barney is in heaven or in the ground. Father says, "We don't know too much about heaven. We can't be absolutely sure that it's there." Then father plants some seeds and talks about how "things change in the ground," and at bedtime the boy announces to his mother the tenth good thing:"Barney is in the ground and he's helping to make flowers."
The theme is handled with judgment and sensitivity at just the right level, and the subdued black-and-white drawings, affectionate but unsentimental, are perfectly attuned. (Picture book. 3-8)