Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Picture Book That Deals With Death

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola is a picture book for preschoolers that deals with death in a gentle and age appropriate way. Recommended for young children who are dealing with the death of a grandparent or other family member, it's also a good book to have on hand when children start asking questions about death.

Little Tomie goes to his grandparent's house every Sunday. There he visits his grandmother who is usually downstairs in the kitchen (Nana Downstairs), as well as his great-grandmother who is upstairs in bed (Nana Upstairs). The time he spends with Nana Upstairs is precious. They share mints and she tells him stories about the "Little People" (She's Irish).

One day, Tomie is told that Nana Upstairs has died. He asks "what's died?" His mother explains that "Died means that Nana Upstairs won't be here anymore...Except in your memory." Tomie is naturally very upset, especially when he sees the empty bed. Later on he sees a falling star in the sky, and believes it's Nana Upstairs sending him a kiss.

The pictures depict a wonderful family life for little Tomie and his two Nanas. Small details such as combing out Nana Upstairs' beautiful white hair, and Nana Downstairs twisting her own into a bun are heartwarming and lovingly drawn. Even when he hears the news of Nana Upstairs, you know that Tomie is surrounded by a loving family who will help him deal with his grief.

This was a much read book in our house when my children were young. In the course of two years, they lost both a grandmother and a grandfather, and Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs gave them much comfort. I highly recommend it.


Kim said...

My little one played at my feet while my mom lay in a bed dying this past September. What a sweet little book!

Ed said...

I'll check it out, Robin. It sounds like a very thoughtful and sensitive book.

I saw the title and thought of this one: Dance, Nana, dance = Baila, Nana, baila : Cuban folktales in English and Spanish
Hayes, Joe.

Joe Hayes is a great storyteller, and this is his latest publication. It's in the KRL collection.

Also the book about sneezing: it started out at a one level of comprehension, and then the last part of it was far more complex. that might frustrate younger readers.


Anonymous said...

I teach a severe and profound special education class. Children's literature is huge, and we do a new book every week, but choosing relatable books is difficult.
On the topic of hard things to talk to kids about is the whole stranger danger/good touch bad touch/abuse conversation, which is especially important to tackle in special ed but must be done delicately... my favorite book for that talk is called After School Monster, you should totally check it out. The little girl (Louisa) comes home to find a big ugly monster in her house who threatens her and says things like 'because I'm bigger than you!' and at first she is scared and then she finds her strength, stands up to the monster, tells him no, and he shrinks and shrinks. I talk with my kiddos about how even grown ups have rules and that if a grown up breaks the rules, like hurting a kid, then that kid should do just like Louisa and say NO... anyways, great book...

Robin Gaphni said...

Thanks so much for the book recommendation. Who wrote After School Monster? It's not in our library system, and I'd like to take a look at it.