Wednesday, May 30, 2018

It’s Okay to Cry: 10 Kids’ Books to Make You Weep

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I'll be the first to admit that I’m a cryer.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very happy person!  It’s just that a lot of crazy, random things can make my eyes well up: Annalee singing along to Moana (no explanation except it’s just so cute!), thinking about the sunset on a drive through the California wine country last summer as I listened to Castle on a Hill, remembering the first time Matt came over to talk to me and of course my kids’ births, seeing other people cry, and so much more. I can cry and then thirty seconds later be laughing again.  It’s a little scary to people who aren’t used to me, but hey, it’s just who I am.

But the other day, my pre-ordered copy of the last Penderwicks book arrived, and as I opened, it… yep, the waterworks started up.  

Okay, bear with me because I think this is justified.  All these thoughts were going through my head, like how I started reading the series when Lilly was just a baby (and how could that have been a decade ago?), and remembering the times I read as we were driving across the country or waiting in airports, and then remembering how Jayna and Skyler aren’t around at my read-aloud times any more, and then thinking about Jayna being thousands of miles away and “all grown up”.  And then there’s the underlying thread throughout the series of life and growing up and grief and joy and love and how they’re all woven together, which is enough to make me cry anyway.  

I firmly believe it’s okay to read “kids” or “young adult” books even if you’re a not-so-young adult and you don't have kids.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you should read them!  They’re just packed with so much beauty and truth and written in a way anyone can understand.  Which is the real reason I recommend reading these books especially, whether you’re a cryer or not. 

So here I offer you ten suggestions of children’s books that you should read if you need a good cry.  Because sometimes you just do.

1.   The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.  If you haven’t read these books, WHY NOT?!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  Okay, sorry, I’ll stop with the judgyness now.  But seriously, if you haven’t, you are missing out on one gem of a series.  It’s just about kids growing up really, having good, clean fun as they figure out life and its mysteries and heartaches.  Each book has made me cry at least a couple times.  I’m reading The Penderwicks At Last to myself right now because I’m in the middle of another series I’m reading aloud to the kids, and then I’ll pass it around to my older girls because we’ve been talking about this book for a few years.

2.  The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.  The last chapter is brutal!  No one dies, but geez Louise, I can’t read it without almost sobbing.  The last time I read it, my (cruel) older girls came in for the final chapter and found it hilarious to say things like, “Sorry, Mom, I didn’t get that.  Can you repeat it?” because I was crying so much.  The last page of a copy somewhere in the Hawaii State Library system is smudged with my mascara fingerprints.  I mean, really: 

“So they went off together.  But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in the enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”
Yes, I totally just cried typing that.  Whatever.

3.  Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis.  Okay, this one doesn’t always make me bawl, but it’s so heart-meltingly sweet, I definitely tear up.  Especially when I’m reading it with Wyatt and he talks about the babies in it and how he wants more siblings.  It’s one of my favorites to give as a gift. 
“Love is the biggest big word of all, four little letters that help you walk tall.  
                 Love is your family, your siblings, your friends.  
                 Love is your ocean without any end.”  

Laura Cornell’s illustrations are both hilarious and wonderful, especially the last pages — which you just have to see for yourself.

4.  Also by the Curtis/ Cornell team, Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery.  This isn’t really just a book about balloons, but about loss — handled in a very lighthearted and imaginative way.  It offers whimsical musing instead of answers and ends with the words:

“Then does it get quiet, do the stars give a shove?
And send it on high to that place up above?
Does it float there forever remembering me, 
And know that I’m happy that it’s floating free?
Where do balloons go?  It’s a mystery, I know.
So just hold on tight, till you have to… let go.”

Yup. Tears.

5.  Knuffe Bunny Free by Mo Willems.  This is the last installment of his Knuffle Bunny series, and I’m not kidding, the only way for me to get through the last pages is to take a deep breath and speed-read them.  On the surface, it’s just another saga of Trixie and her oft-misplaced Knuffle Bunny, but it packs a one-two punch with themes of growing up and letting go.  Willems’ illustrated P.S. note at the end messes me up every single time.

6.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo.  This is another of those books that makes me question the sanity of anyone who says they haven’t read it.  Then again, I put it off for several years because when Jayna, in second grade at the time, told me about it, I was in tears.  It’s the story of learning to love and is put so beautifully and simply that it will break your heart time and again.  Di Camillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie is another favorite of mine, but this one made me cry to the point of actually having to put the book down and take a minute — more than once.

7.  The Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman.  This is a book I was introduced to before I had kids, before I was even married, when I took a child development class in college, and I’ve loved it ever since.  It begins, “Grandpa was a song and dance man who once danced on the vaudeville stage.”  He puts on a show for his grandkids when they visit and “the show is better than any show on TV.”  It is so sweet and reminds me of my granddad and Matt’s so much, both who left us too soon.

“…we tell him we wish we could have seen him dance in the good old days, the song and dance days.  He smiles and whispers that he wouldn’t trade a million good old days for the days he spends with us.”

Tell me you’re not crying.

8.  The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.  The title tells it all; it really is just the story of relatives coming to visit, but it’s told so sweetly with funny illustrations.  I think that for those of us who don’t live, say, next door to best friends or beloved cousins, the poignancy of these treasured times together is beautifully captured here and leaves an ache in our chest and a lump in our throats.  

“But they thought about us, too. Missing them.  And they missed us.  And when they were finally home in Virginia, they crawled into their silent soft beds and dreamed about the next summer.”

9.  My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray.  This lyrical book gets to me for many reasons.  It’s gorgeously illustrated by Raúl Colón and is a magical celebration of the seasons.  At the end, the girl has grown up and is dancing on stage: 

“letting the spring rain summer waves autumn leaves winter snow carry me along until the music slows and I feather-float down… 
And afterward, I imagine that I hear my mama saying: ‘Bless the world it feels like a tip-tapping song-singing finger-snapping kind of day.  Let’s celebrate.’”

I made the mistake of taking this as the book to read to my littles in the waiting room once when I was pregnant with Annalee, and I was crying so much (hormones, beautiful book, kids growing up, etc.), the nurse was pretty concerned when she came to get me.

10.  Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco.  This is another book that was introduced to me in that college class, and it is SO GOOD, it might even be my favorite children’s book.  It’s the story of creative problem-solving and deep, sweet family ties that surpass any blood relation, about redemption and facing fear and breaking biases.  The message that struck my heart all those years ago is ever more relevant now.  It begins: 
“Stewart and Winston were my neighbors. They were my brothers by a solemn ceremony we had performed in their backyard one summer… Their gramma, Eula Mae Walker, was my gramma now… How we loved to hear Miss Eula sing.  She had a voice like slow thunder and sweet rain.”

Even if you’re not the crying type, these books are so wonderful, you shouldn’t go through life without reading them.  But if you, like me, know the value of a good cry, grab these books and don’t forget the Kleenex!

Your turn!  What books make you cry?