The healing power of poetry
People of all ages have long turned to poetry as a way to express profound emotions of grief. Award-winning author Nikki Grimes, who lost her father when she was 15, calls upon those memories in her new book for children and teens. What is Goodbye? is a story in poems, elegantly designed and beautifully illustrated by Raul Colon. The poems are narrated in two voices, from the points of view of a brother and sister whose older brother has suddenly died. The story begins the day that Jesse and Jerilyn hear the news of Jaron's death. Each child has a different reaction to the tragedy. Jesse feels a physical response: "My ears aren't working. My hearing's broke," he says. Jerilyn feels confused and alone, as her parents try to deal with their own shock: "Mommy also hid, her eyes dull coins peeking from the pockets of her lids." The poems take the reader through the familiar, painful process we all experience when a loved one dies. There are poems titled "The Next Day," "The Funeral" and "The Awful After." As time passes, Jesse and Jerilyn recount their reactions to the "First Day Back," the changed family dynamics at dinnertime and their anger at Jaron for leaving. By the end of the story, an entire year has passed. As the children pose with their parents for a new family photograph, they have begun to feel that even though one piece will always be missing, their family is nevertheless whole once again. In creating this book, Grimes drew not only on her personal experiences, but also on the work of psychologists who specialize in grief counseling for children. In a note, she reassures young readers that "There is no right or wrong way to feel when someone close to you dies . . . Some people cry right away, others don't. Some get angry, others don't." Together Grimes and Colon have created a lovely and poignant book that is sure to be embraced by readers of all ages.