Title: What Is Goodbye?
Author: Nikki Grimes
Illustrator: Raul Colon
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Publication Date: April 1, 2004
Two children, Jerilyn and Jesse, express their feelings about the death of their older brother Jaron in this short text. Each child expresses his or her feelings a different way and in a different manner. The book's poems track the children throughout a year of loss, beginning with the initial news and ending with a new family portrait.
This is an excellent text for a child who is experiencing a loss. Because the text is written from two voices or viewpoints, it offers a child different visions of grief and loss. I especially think that the opening poem, "What is goodbye/Where is the good in it?/One leaves/and many hearts/are broken./There must be/a better arithmetic/somewhere." is an excellent example of the hole that is left when a beloved person or pet is lost. According to Morin and Welsh (1996) by the time an individual has reached adolescence, it is likely that he or she has been exposed to death. Some adolescents encounter it through a personal loss, such as the death of grandparents, parent, or even a peer. However, even those who have not experienced a direct loss, have some experiences and perceptions of death. It is virtually a universal experience to be exposed to the sensationalized treatment of death through the media such as television, movies, lyrics, and even video games such as Mortal Kombat.
Further, I think that the poem "Mad" which expresses Jerilyn's frustration about her dead sibling and how she wishes he had never been born could be used for bibliotherapy for a student who has experienced a recent loss and needs to release his or her anger.
Morin, S. M. and Welsh, L.A. (1996). Adolescents' perceptions and experiences of death and grieving. Adolescence, (31) 123.
From School Library Journal
Grade 3-8–Grimes's novella in verse is a prime example of how poetry and story can be combined to extend one another. When their brother dies, Jerilyn and Jesse cope with the anger, confusion, and the silence that grief brings to their family. Jesse's rhyming verse faces his older sister's free-verse comments on her experiences. When Jesse hits a home run in a league game soon after his brother's death, he glows, "I took off around the field,/legs pumping like lightning!/I slid into home plate clean./Man, I'm so cool,/I'm frightening!/...What am I supposed to do,/spend each minute crying?/I wish I could please you, Mom,/but I'm sick of trying." Jerilyn muses, "It's his right to smile,/isn't it?/To be delirious?/So what if I don't understand?/This ghost town,/draped in shadow,/is desperate for/a few more watts of light." Grimes handles these two voices fluently and lucidly, shaping her characters through her form. Colón's paintings in muted colors combine imagism with realism to create an emotional dreamscape on nearly every page. The clean design combined with the book's short, easy pace and small size give readers a comfortable place from which to listen to the characters as they make their way from "Getting the News" to "Anniversary," and finally to "Ordinary Days." The book closes with a poem in two voices, and Jesse and Jerilyn come together for a new family photograph. "Smile!"–and readers will. Fans of Vera B. Williams's Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart (Greenwillow, 2001) will appreciate this powerful title.–Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 4-8. At the funeral for her older brother, Jaron, Jerilyn is furious that "no one tells the truth": "Dead is dead. / Not 'gone away.' / Not 'lost.' / Not 'on a journey.' / Not 'passed.'" Her younger brother, Jesse, is angry, too, but he's mad at Jaron: "You left me . . . I hate you for that!" In poems that alternate between voices, Jerilyn and Jesse describe their complicated, private thoughts as they grieve for their beloved brother. Grimes often chooses rhymed couplets for Jesse's voice, and the singsong sounds and tight rhythm create a young tone that's indicative of Jesse's age but, nonetheless, feels distractingly at odds with the somber subject and raw emotions--feelings that Grimes gets just right. Moving and wise, these are poems that beautifully capture a family's heartache as well as the bewildering questions that death brings, and they reinforce the message in Grimes' warm author's note: "There's no right or wrong way to feel when someone close to you dies." Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Use as a starting point of bibliotherapy for a child experiencing a loss.