Books Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age Picture Books Read-a-Latte Reading Themes

Of Hummingbirds and Rosebushes in “Rudi’s Pond” and “Aunt Mary’s Rose”

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As we are near the tail-end of our current bimonthly theme, I share with you two more picture books which deal with loss and legacy, hummingbirds and rosebushes.

IMG_8105Aunt Mary’s Rose

Story ByDouglas Wood
Illustrated by: LeUyen Pham
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2010
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

This is a gently-told story of an American family that spans several generations. There is much to savor in the book – from Aunt Mary peeling apples in the kitchen counter, to young Douglas’ boisterous exuberance that can hardly be contained by screen doors slamming shut in his wake, to the smell of roses and the painful prick of its thorns.

“Take care of this rose, Douglas,” Aunt Mary had said, “and one day there will be a little bit of you inside of it. And a little bit of the rose inside of you.”

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Young Douglas, bless his soul, understood this in the literal sense and went to search for himself in the rose bushes as he pulls out yellow leaves and crabgrass – but all he found was the same old rosebush. Aunt Mary belatedly explained that it is more of something one feels and not really seen and perceived by one’s eyes, but Douglas is convinced that he’s doing something wrong, that it’s not “working at all.” And that is when Aunt Mary sat him down for one quiet minute to tell him the story of their family – from way back when she was a young girl growing up on the farm.

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From my understanding, this story is actually based on Douglas Wood’s own Aunt Mary and his family. And it is a tribute to how families come together during difficult circumstances, how family rituals are gradually forged through little chores done with love and sacrifice – from whittling sticks into a whistle to churning butter to caring for rosebushes.

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It is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and the roses that blossom in its tender and constant care. The vintage-feel of LeUyen Pham’s artwork add even more to the nostalgic vibe of the entire narrative marked by recollection of treasured family moments and the legacy of a spirit that continues to live on despite its being long-gone.

Rudi’s Pond IMG_8303

Story ByEve Bunting
Illustrated byRonald Himler
PublisherClarion Books, 2004
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

Eve Bunting tells a story so simply and exquisitely that one’s jaded eyes can not help but tear up, especially with such a heartfelt story as Rudi’s Pond. Ronald Himler’s sketchy, watercolour illustrations with just the right interweaving of light and shadows all contribute to the sensation of sorrow being lifted and carried away into the heavens by a ruby-throated hummingbird.

This little girl had a best friend named Rudi. They lived in the same neighborhood and attended the same school. They did practically everything together from painting yellow tulips in the green garden gate, to going on nature hikes, to playing in the pond, or coloring stuff whenever Rudi felt too sick to go outside because after all: “Rudi was a good colorer.”

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But one day, Rudi’s mother called to let them know that Rudi is “sinking” and is very ill and had to stay at the hospital. He was born with a heart ailment and his condition has worsened considerably. Rudi’s classmates created a huge Get Well Banner for him, but only family members were allowed to see him. Soon enough, Rudi died, and this little girl had to deal with the unfairness of it all – not even being able to say goodbye to the young boy who delicately crafted a hummingbird feeder from a bottle and a drinking straw:

“They’ll come for sure,” Rudi said. “It’s such a great-looking feeder. If I was a bird, I’d come. We just have to wait.”

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And so the entire school thoughtfully considered how they could pay a tribute to Rudi’s memory. This young girl recommended poetry, because after all, “poems last.” They also needed to think of an actual memorial that can be made part of the school – what this turned out to be, I shall leave for you to discover.

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This book is a lovely reminder that creatures are all connected somehow by a fragile, tenuous, silvery thread that contains ancient wisdom and quiet memories shared among friends who know each other’s hearts. We are inherently part of the elements as could be seen in a glimmering hummingbird’s fragile pecks on the glass, and flower straws that bring nourishment for the soul.

For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, here is a downloadable PDF link created by Ritell.org that contains resources for ten of Eve Bunting’s picture books including Rudi’s Pond. 

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Read-a-Latte Challenge Update: 176, 177 (150)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

4 comments on “Of Hummingbirds and Rosebushes in “Rudi’s Pond” and “Aunt Mary’s Rose”

  1. Both books look wonderful, Myra, and the link to Eve Bunting’s books is terrific, too. I want to tell you thanks again for all these books you’ve shared. I found Harry and Hopper at my library & have shared it with many teachers at school. It’s so lovely! I’ll check these out too!

    Like

  2. Myra, beautiful grief books. Wood’st book speaks of nostagia, celebrates life and death. And, I love Eve Bunting’s books, and this one is a favorite.

    Like

  3. Pingback: [BHE 183] Singapore Library Warehouse Sale 2015 | Gathering Books

  4. Pingback: [Monday Reading] Celebrating Births and Sunrises in Picturebooks – Gathering Books

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