Books It's Monday What Are You Reading Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age Picture Books Read-a-Latte Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] What is Heaven in a Child’s Eyes? A ‘Heavenly’ 4-in-1 Special in GatheringBooks

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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.

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[Photo Journal/ A-Z Photo Story Challenge] F is for Fridays Resort Boracay

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[Photo Journal] Happy 48th Birthday Singapore!

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[Poetry Friday] I’ll Leave You. This is the End.

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Getting Kids to Read in this Busy World – IFLA Public Talks in Singapore

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[BHE 65] Book Hunting in Budapest, Part 2

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As we continue with our current bimonthly theme on Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age, I discovered four picture books that deal with the same ‘heavenly’ subtheme and so I put them together for my Monday reading post this week.

IMG_8221Heaven’s Butterfly

Story By: Cathy & Pia B. Guballa
Illustrated by: Frances Alcaraz
Publisher: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2009
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

The story begins with this young girl’s recollection of her younger brother, four year old Migi who died eight years ago. Migi was born with a hole in his heart. The little girl vividly remembers how Migi was brought to the hospital by her parents so that the doctors could “fix his broken heart.”

It is also a special tribute to the boy that Migi had been: the book-loving, dinosaur enthusiast who had to remember a secret code to get inside his elder sister’s bedroom so that they could “play all sorts of games.”

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The book also talks about the anxiety of waiting, the agony of being kept unaware about the brother’s actual condition while in the hospital. Written from the perspective of the surviving sibling, it depicts how family life is affected with a brother who is ill, the mother constantly in the hospital, and the toll it takes on the entire family to carry each other through these difficult moments.

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Then one day, both this young girl’s parents came home to let her know that Migi has passed away. Through this family’s pain, the reader gets to know how grief may be handled differently across family members and how it is perfectly acceptable to cry in recollection. Through family conversations, death took on the metaphor of a butterfly, and how its wings flying heavenward could provide hope to a weeping heart.

What’s Heaven?IMG_8227

Story ByMaria Shriver
Illustrated bySandra Speidel
PublisherSt. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

For a very young child, the notion of death – with all its rituals that are seemingly-shrouded in secrecy and cloaked in grown-up pain – may seem perplexing. In this picture book written by Maria Shriver, she shared some of the questions asked by her own children, nieces and nephews when her grandmother Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy passed away. This story was inspired by the many conversations Shriver had with her own daughter, Kate.

As Maria gingerly shared the painful news of great-grandmother’s death with her own bright-eyed young daughter Kate, she is confronted by sparkling questions about heaven alongside Kate’s own ruminations about how she believes animal heaven may be different from people heaven among other ideas.

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I especially liked how real and innocent the questions sounded: “If Heaven’s in the sky, how come I can’t see it?” or “I wonder if they wear clothes in Heaven?” and two of the ancient questions that even philosophers struggle to answer: “So everyone gets to go to Heaven?” and “Mommy, how do you get to Heaven?” How, indeed? I, myself, would like to know the answer to that one.

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While the narrative of the book is relatively longer than most picture books with its standard 300-word only format, I was especially taken by the illustrations and the gentle, sensitive, and light-hearted way that the concepts of death and funerals and soul were introduced. While grief is still ever-present and keenly-sensed, it was not the key feature of the book. The fact that death is perceived from a child’s eye with all the curious questionings and the infinite possibilities that emerged from those wondering thoughts provided an uplifting twist to what could have been such a burdensome theme.

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Similar to Heaven’s Butterflies, this story also leaned a little bit on the maudlin side. However, parents and teachers who need a very concrete way through which death may be gently explained to children would find these books helpful in their detailed way of teasing out the elements of death, dying, and letting go.

IMG_8236Dog Heaven

Story and Illustrations ByCynthia Rylant
PublisherThe Blue Sky Press, an Imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 1995
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I am aware that Cynthia Rylant has won many awards for her YA novels, but I didn’t know that she also wrote picture books and did her own illustrations. Some people just have it all, don’t they? Apparently Dog Heaven is her debut as a picture-book painter as could be seen in the jacket flap of the book.

When dogs go to Heaven,

they don’t need wings

because God knows that

dogs love running best.

He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields.

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It is apparent that Cynthia knows the spirit of dogs. While other stories focus on the human being’s pain and loneliness at having their companions taken from them – this book is a celebration of dogs’ intrinsic nature, their boundless energy, their gleeful barks as they tease ducks in the pond and most importantly, their unending love for children.

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God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world, so He fills Dog Heaven with plenty of them. There are children on bikes and children on sleds. There are children throwing red rubber balls and children pulling kites through the clouds. The dogs are there, and the children love them dearly.

The story also goes on to share how heavenly dog biscuits come in all shapes and sizes and how clouds can be fitted quite snugly to a sleeping dog. It also shows what happens to dogs who are missing their families on earth, and what happens to those who didn’t belong to anyone while they were still alive. Rylant has indeed painted a portrait of Dog Heaven that even humans would want to be a part of.

Cat HeavenIMG_8244

Story and Illustrations ByCynthia Rylant
PublisherThe Blue Sky Press, an Imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 1997
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

Similar to Dog Heaven, this picture book demonstrates how closely attuned Rylant is to animals’ sensibilities. She is able to recognize that which makes them purr in soft contentment; the baubles and trinkets that will light up their eyes; and the tuna and salmon and sardines that would make them feel spoiled, loved, and gloriously lazy.

There are angels,

of course,

with soft angel laps

where kitties can purr

loud and strong.

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The angels will rub

kitties’ noses and ears

and sing them

a Cat Heaven song.

I love how Cynthia Rylant’s picture books pay homage to dogs’ and cats’ playful mischief, their love for cream and catnip, belly rubs and trees, rubber balls and daisies. The big bold seemingly-unfinished colours in broad strokes also complement this sentiment.

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Too often, humans are wrapped around their own pain that they fail to acknowledge the “buttons and baubles and small cotton mice” that make the kitties and doggies happy. These are beautiful books that honor these little things that define our family companions, our faithful friends.

Currently Reading…

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Admittedly, I haven’t made much progress with TS Spivet. With the start of the university term and the gazillion of things I know I must attend to (and everything is due yesterday), I hardly have time to breathe, much less read a novel. I hope I can catch my breath in the next few days and lose myself in Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet’s life journeys.

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Read-a-Latte Challenge Update: 162/ 163/ 164/ 165 (150)

14 comments on “[Monday Reading] What is Heaven in a Child’s Eyes? A ‘Heavenly’ 4-in-1 Special in GatheringBooks

  1. I found Harry Hopper at our library, Myra, but still haven’t read it. And here are more books about that toughest of conversations with children. Thank you for the lovely reviews. Of all the Rylant books I know, I didn’t know about these, which sound wonderful, as do the others. Best wishes for school starting, getting busier…

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  2. Thanks so much for these titles, Myra–definitely ones to have on hand. I’ll send this list to our school guidance counselor, as well–I know she often has parents who come to her asking for ways to help their children get through tough times, and this list will be a good resource.

    Thanks again!

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  3. You chose a very important theme. It is nice to know these books are available for kids.

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  4. I like the idea of the Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven books! My fish just died two days ago. 😦 I had him for 6 years!

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  5. Thanks for sharing these important titles. I’ve heard of Shriver’s book, but haven’t read it myself and I’m a huge Cynthia Rylant book, so I’ll be checking those out. Happy Birthday Singapore! 🙂

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  6. Thanks for exploring this topic and sharing.

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  7. Myra You always have the best ideas. This is such a great theme! Must admit Harry and Hopper is a big favourite of mine. Love Blackwood’s illustrations Thanks for sharing this!

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  8. The Cynthia Rylant books have been very popular for parents who have to unfortunately deal with this subject.

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