Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Books that heal

Sadly, there is sometimes a need for "bibliotherapy." The death of a pet is one such occasion. Here are three books that address a child's feelings of loss. Tear-jerker alert!

In the comments: What book do you recommend after the loss of a pet?

A Dog Like Jack, by Dyanne Disalvo-Ryan
Jack is a dog adopted from a shelter. He comes to his new owners when he is eight years old. There is still lots of time for him to run and play with the young boy he lives with, but gradually he slows down. When he reaches 91 in dog years, his family notices that he doesn't have energy and is not feeling well. He lives a good long life, but dies at the end of the story. 

The boy's questions about his death and the family's ability to heal and think to the future give readers a sense of the arc of grief we experience from the loss of a pet.

Soft realistic full-page watercolors expand the scenes, with bright colors for the happy times and muted shades for the sad.

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, by Judith Viorst
Pet cat Barney has just died when this book opens, and our narrator doesn't do any of the things he'd usually enjoy. He doesn't watch TV or eat his supper, "not even the chocolate pudding." When his mother suggests holding a funeral, she asks her son to think of ten good things to say about Barney. He quickly thinks of nine, but the tenth doesn't come easily. They hold a backyard funeral with honored guests, flowers, and special snacks. They talk about heaven and what it might be like for Barney there. But still, the tenth thing eludes him. 

A few days later, with the household still heavy with grief, the father plants seeds in the yard where Barney is buried. He talks with the boy about Barney's new job - to help make flowers grow. Turns out this is the answer to the tenth thing: Barney is helping to create new life.

Brown ink drawings in cross-hatch style create a somber mood throughout this small square book.

Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant
This is an abstract look at the death of dogs in general and answers the question: What is heaven like for a dog?

Evidently, it's bright and cheery like Rylant's acrylic paintings, and filled with all the things dogs love best: children who adore them, fun-shaped biscuits, honking geese, and fields and fields of grass to run through.

Childlike but complex, Rylant's version of dog heaven is something we'd all hope our dogs experience after they are gone.


  1. Good choices! I love Judith Viorst, especially (and she's coming to my library in two weeks!)

    Another good one I discovered recently is Harry and Hopper by Margaret Wild. It's got a creepy element to it, so it's not for everyone, but it gives closure to the unexpected death of a dog who gets hit by a car.

  2. Katie, thanks for the comment and recommendation. I will check it out!