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Children’s Book Review – Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile

 

GRACE BRINGS BACK BUBBE’S SMILE

Written by Jane Sutton

Illustrated by Debby Rahmalia

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

GracieB rings Back Bubbes Smile cover girl with grandma

 

Author Jane Sutton and illustrator Debby Rahmalia’s picture book, Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile, was easy to enjoy. It brought me back to my childhood as I recalled all the Yiddish words my parents and other relatives used when I was growing up. I knew conversations were about money when I heard them use the word gelt. When kinder was mentioned, they were talking about me, my brother or my cousins. Yet this book is so much more than a book to introduce Yiddish to young readers. It’s a sweet, thoughtful story about how Gracie comes up with a way to help her grieving Bubbe (grandma) following her Zayde’s (grandfather) death.

Rather than come right out and tell Bubbe what she’s doing, Gracie uses her genuine curiosity to take her grandmother’s mind off her husband’s death by having her focus on something else. What a mature approach!

Gracie Brings Back Bubbe's Smile int1 gracie and grandma jogging
Interior spread from Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile written by Jane Sutton and illustrated by Debby Rahmalia, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2022.

 

Gracie may not have been grieving to the extent that her Bubbe was, but she still felt the loss. Her late Zayde had taught her many things and she missed spending time with him. And she could not help but notice how sad Bubbe was. So when Bubbe told her she didn’t feel like drawing a picture together and called her Bubala, recalling how  “Zayde and I loved using Yiddish words together,” Gracie grew interested in finding out more.

 

Gracie Brings Back Bubbe's Smile int2 gracie and grandma laughing together
Interior spread from Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile written by Jane Sutton and illustrated by Debby Rahmalia, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2022.

 

By asking Bubbe to teach her Yiddish words, Gracie is able to help her grieving grandmother engage and at the same time continue doing something meaningful. They can spend time together as Bubbe shares more Yiddish words and their meanings while keeping the memory of Zayde alive. In the end, not only does Gracie bring back Bubbe’s smile, but she also bonds with her in joyful new ways that heal them both. Sutton’s tenderly written multigenerational story of bereavement and healing is treated with care in Rahmalia’s cheerful illustrations that depict Bubbe’s loving relationship with her granddaughter. With its unique Yiddish angle, this picture book is a thoughtful, educational, and accessible read for children processing a loss.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

THE GOODBYE BOOK
Written and Illustrated by Todd Parr
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; $17.00, Ages 3-6)

The-Goodbye-Book-cvr
The Goodbye Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ©2015.

Todd Parr, with his signature bold and bright style, gently approaches one of the toughest experiences of life with hope and the assurance of healing in The Goodbye Book.

Saying goodbye is never easy and sorting out the myriad emotions that arise from such an experience can seem impossible. At first glance, I felt Parr’s touching book was simply making the  “7 stages of grief” more accessible to children, but, in fact, the book deals with the issue of loss in a more in-depth and complex manner.

GoodbyeBookInt5
Interior artwork from The Goodbye Book written and illustrated by Todd Parr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ©2015.

Parr establishes a safe distance for children to relate to such scary feelings through his main character, the goldfish. As readers, we immediately sense the feeling of sadness after the goldfish is separated from his friend. Supporting characters, a girl and black & white dog, are also grieving. Through the simplicity of their expressions, you can feel a multitude of emotions; they don’t merely look sad but confused and even emotionally numb. At the same time, it’s important to note- herein lies the beginning of healing because the sadness is shared among friends.

But the pain of the loss is very fresh in the fish’s heart, so the range of emotions is wide: “You might be very sad. You might be very mad.  You might not feel like talking to anyone.” Your daily activities, like eating and sleeping, may be interrupted. You may also withdraw from activities you once enjoyed, like going to a birthday party. When you’re grieving doesn’t it seem everybody else is happy and living a perfect life? The celebration makes your sadness even more painful, and you think you’ll never be able to experience that kind of joy again. So when the goldfish drops the party hat and swims away from the party, we know exactly what he’s feeling.

The most touching page for me is when the fish sets a table for two “pretend[ing] it didn’t happen.” The expression on his face is heart wrenching, but through his sadness we readers realize–the fish is beginning to accept what has happened.  Through the passage of time and the memories of good times shared he “eventually …start[s] to feel better.”  We see positive changes in our fish’s behavior.  We see him reaching out to someone, talking to his friend, the dog, and expressing his feelings through drawing.  Most importantly, our hero’s actions show us there are things we can do to help with the coping process.  We need not feel ashamed of our feelings and can open up whenever we’re ready.  

The Goodbye Book can be used by parents and educators alike to talk about the spectrum of loss: from leaving behind a friend or relative who lives far away to the final farewell we experience when a loved one dies. As Parr shows us, healing is not a linear path from grief to happiness; acceptance takes time. In the end, the assurance of love is all we need to cope and recover. We find comfort in knowing that someone we love will be there to listen to us and hold us.

A gentle and loving approach to the tough subject of loss, Todd Parr’s The Goodbye Book is ideal for healing hearts.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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