Of all the emotions human beings experience, the one that is most difficult to talk about is grief. People are very uncomfortable with the concept of losing a loved one or a close friend. What can one say? What should one do? How does one cope with not having that person around? Perhaps adults have problems dealing with death and loss because they fear something that is unknown or that cannot be explained. If adults have these problems, isn't it more difficult for children to learn to cope? If Nathan Were Here is a warm, sensitive story of how one little boy is encouraged and supported to find his own way to remember his best friend. A comforting, empathetic squeeze from his father, a quiet time sitting by Nathan's favorite strawberry garden, and an understanding teacher who allows classmates to fill a memory box help the young boy think through the things he and Nathan enjoyed doing together and wonder what they might do together if he were here.
Mary Bahr gently explores the grief that a young boy feels when his best friend dies. Because adults in his life intuitively refrain from inadequate explanations and choose to quietly be there for the youngster in an understanding way, he is able to find ways to express his questions and his sorrow. Because he is allowed to grieve in his own way, he is able to reach out to Nathan's sister, who needs him.
Most touching is the dreaming rug that is kept in the special tree fort Nathan and the young boy shared. Here the two best friends met to talk about all the things little boys think about, dream about, and do. It was an important place just for the two of them. It is here, in the quiet solitude, the young boy closes his eyes and finally asks, What am I supposed to do without my best friend? If Nathan Were Here is written in simple, honest language, and the warm, expressive watercolors by Karen A. Jerome tenderly express the sensitive story of children's friendships. Young readers ages 5 and up would appreciate and understand this book especially if one is experiencing the loss of a friend.
Cynthia Drennan is a grandmother of seven.