Two Timely Books for Kids
A Review of
Hardback: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2020.
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Babbit and Joan, a Rabbit and a Phone
Reviewed by Erin Wasinger
I can’t say enough good things about this children’s book about grief.
For someone whose life has been wrecked by loss, Mom’s Sweater is the equivalent of being seen. For everyone, Mom’s Sweater is a gentle, profound primer on loss, expressing more in 26 beautiful pages than all the empty platitudes we use when we don’t know what to say. The book opens in a hospital, with a young girl hugging her mom. Daffodils, her mom’s favorite flower, line the sidewalk as the girl and her dad walk home (watch those daffodils pop up in poignant places throughout the book). Normalcy’s shattered the next morning with a phone call. The book isn’t about the losing but the loss; not about the death itself but the life the girl and her dad go on living. Perkin’s illustrations juxtapose the girl’s reality and the cheerfulness of the world around her: kids at play, a tree in blossoms, swimming in the moonlight. The words are concrete and her grief tangible, from that “distant and floaty” feeling to the anger she feels about other kids’ moms at pick-up time. Yes, yes. The author, whose graphic novel I’m Not Ready centers on her mom’s passing, knows what she’s talking about.
What makes the book remarkable is, of course, Mom’s sweater. The author wraps the truth about grief in that red sweater, using the object to teach us what it looks like to go on. My breath caught on a two-page spread, a field of sunflowers pouring from the girl’s watering can. It’s sad. It’s wonderful.
Living in Anxious Times –
Two New Kids Books
Also Reviewed by Erin Wasinger
The blurb on the back of Babbit and Joan, a Rabbit and a Phone promises, “Everything changes for Babbit on the day the phones go on strike.” The phones are tired of being overused, overworked. Babbit’s heartstrings are pulled out of compassion for Joan, his phone. She’s swifty settled in for a nap, leaving Babbit alone to explore the great outdoors. Predictably but enjoyably, he finds himself in a forest surrounded by beautiful things he’d never noticed before. He soon befriends a bird with a dead phone battery and a bear with a lost cell. What follows is a fast friendship and sweet, playful illustrations. Is this another fable meant to teach kids about the ways technology ruins lives? (Looking at you, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV.) Thankfully, no. Turu doesn’t set up the too frequent, false dichotomy of technology = bad, outside = good. Instead, Babbit and Joan is much lighter, its focus much more on relationships. Even Joan the Phone, refreshed from a rest, enjoys Babbit more after their time apart. The book subtly affirms the benefits of technology breaks while still affirming its (proper) place in our lives.