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[Monday Reading] Brave Girls Dealing with Loss and Death with Grace and Selflessness in PictureBooks


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

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 (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). 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

The female portrait is a pencil drawing done by Iphigene on paper. The whole poster was completed using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Thank you, once again, Iphigene for this lovely poster.

These two picturebooks portray two young girls who are able to deal with overwhelming loss with courage, wisdom, and strength of spirit. There is also grace in these pages as these brave girls struggle to find meaning amidst sorrow and life’s end.

IMG_9209The Stranded Whale

Written by: Jane Yolen Illustrated by: Melanie Cataldo
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. Junior Library Guild Selection.

A young girl named Sally is walking along the beach on her way home with her two brothers Martin and Josh. It is September 1971 and the siblings wanted to go home in time for supper, when Sally spotted something huge washed away in the sand.


In the Author’s afterword, Yolen noted that she deliberately set the story in the 70s to avoid the complication of modern Coast Guard techniques or even the availability of cell phones that would allow help to come in sooner, or even the eventual presence of TV reporters who would have made the efforts public.


Yolen explained:

It’s important for the story that despite their best efforts, the children have to watch the whale die. Because the truth is that the majority of such strandings do end in death, and while it seems like an awful tragedy to anyone witnessing it, about 2,000 whales are found on beaches every year. 


This young girl with a heart as wide as the sea dropped everything to attend to this huge creature who smelled of deep water, left behind on the shore by the ocean. While her brothers ran off to call for help, she did what she could to keep the whale soaked with their sweaters dipped in water.


Despite the futility of the efforts, Sally did all that she possibly could to let the whale know that she isn’t alone as she waits for the ocean to bring her back home. An act like this takes heroic courage and utter selflessness, for which Sally and her two brothers received a medal; a recognition that while she appreciated, she would return in a heartbeat if it means having the whale breathe again.

Anna’s HeavenIMG_9202

Written and illustrated by: Stian Hole
Published by: Eerdmans Books For Young Readers, 2014
Borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me. Spirituality & Practice 10 Best Spiritual Children’s Books of 2014.

This picturebook is unlike any I have read over the past several months – and that is saying a lot because I read over 300 picturebooks in 2015. It all made sense when I learned that Stian Hole is a Norwegian author and illustrator who has won several awards such as the Bologna Ragazzi and Batchelder Awards.


There is the unusual blend of hyper-realism and the otherworldly in the pages as the reader gets introduced to Anna with the free spirit, and a restless father with the mournful gaze. As the father tries to get Anna to hurry up, Anna becomes even more whimsical as she notices elephants, coffee pots, and birds “writing cursive letters in the sky.”


As one reads on, it becomes clear that much of the father’s despair has to do with Anna’s mother passing away. While physically not around, her presence is too keenly felt by father and child (see image below), especially as Anna asks questions about God, the afterlife, and what heaven must be like for her mother:


What is unique about this story is how Anna eases her father’s pain – instead of the other way around – with her meandering musings, her energy that can not be contained, her capacity for wonder as she listens to the sea with many voices:


Anna is a luminous soul – it is her gentle questioning, her random ruminations that ultimately brought her and her father to a quiet place of healing.

Currently Reading…


I am nearly finished reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and hope to begin reading Truthwitch by Susan Dennard this week.


Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. 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 served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. 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, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

12 comments on “[Monday Reading] Brave Girls Dealing with Loss and Death with Grace and Selflessness in PictureBooks

  1. Such gorgeous picture books. I want to read a little more of Mary Oliver too.


  2. I hope you’ll enjoy Truthwitch. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews. The picture books are simply gorgeous, especially The Stranded Whale.

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.


  3. What beautiful illustrations!


  4. We love the way you described Anna’s Heaven – “This picture book is unlike any I have read over the past several months – and that is saying a lot because I read over 300 picture books in 2015.” We don’t know Stian Hole’s books but are excited to read them.


  5. I’ve read The Stranded Whale. It sometimes feels as if I should just collect all of Jane Yolen’s books. They are so beautiful. I will see if I can find the second one, looks like an important one to know. Thanks, Myra.


  6. The Stranded Whale looks like a beautiful book. It is heartbreaking to watch a magnificent creature die, but I respect Yolen’s portrayal of life as it is, not always with a sweet, happy ending. Sometimes it is enough just to be present and to care.


  7. The picture books are beautiful.

    I like the look of Beautiful Mornings.

    ENJOY your reading week.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My It’s Monday, What Are You Reading


  8. Oh my! I want The Stranded Whale – it looks like such a great title. Just beautiful.


  9. crbrunelle

    Anna’s Heaven looks pretty amazing and I think the whale story would break my heart.


  10. I picked up Stranded Whale a few weeks ago, and also enjoyed the pictures and story of the doomed attempt at rescue. I respect picture books that don’t make everything turn out well. I’ll keep an eye out for Anna’s Heaven — it also looks impressive.


  11. Pingback: [Monday Reading] First Person Narrative Picturebooks Portraying Kindness, Compassion, and Empathy – Gathering Books

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