Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Death Came Home Unexpectedly

We go to the library every week and choose five or six picture books for DD (depending if I need any reading matter or not). The system works like this: we each choose a pile of books that we like the look of and then we sit down at a table to go through them. I read some of them to her and others we save for later with just a glance to make sure there aren't too many words. Some books we have to reject as they are too long, not enough pictures, too many pictures without a story, too boring, or unsuitable in other ways.

Last week I chose a book called Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola (G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1998) . DD wasn't particularly interested in it so we didn't read it at the library first. I thought it looked sweet though and it had about the right text to picture ratio. So I included it in the borrow pile and we brought it home.



That night in bed we started to read Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs as one of our three bedtime stories. It was a sweet story about a little boy called Tommy who visits his Nana every Sunday. She's usually downstairs cooking on the big black stove. However, upstairs is another Nana. This is his Great-Grandmother, Nana's Mother. Nana Upstairs is so old she has to stay in bed most of the time.



Tommy loves his Nanas and spends a lot of time talking to Nana Upstairs and hearing all her stories. DD and I were enjoying the visit with Nana Upstairs too. I thought, what a lovely story about spending time with a very old lady. Then I turned the page and saw that Nana Upstairs had died.

My first thought was to say she'd gone on holiday. We know about Grandmas and Grandpas going on holiday. What did I need to start talking about death for? But then I thought, why should I need to avoid it? So I read: His Mother came in to talk to him. "Nana Upstairs died last night," she said. "What's died?" asks Tommy. "It means she won't be there anymore."

Tommy has a good cry and asks if she will ever come back. "Only in your memory," answers his Mother. "She will come back in your memory whenever you think about her."

"What's died?" Asked DD.
"It's when you are very very old and you go to live with God in heaven."
"Very very old?"
"Yes, older than Grandma and Grandpa."
"OK." said DD and we continued with the story.

One night Tommy sees a falling star. His Mother tells him that maybe Nana Upstairs is sending him a kiss. Then he grows up and Nana Downstairs becomes as old as Nana Upstairs. One day she dies. Luckily there is another falling star to tell him that both Nanas are together again.



The library is closed for three weeks over the summer so we've read this book more times than we usually would. Sometimes we discuss it but only to the extent described above. We also always mention that very very old means much older than our Grandma.

I'm glad we've broached the subject and it's there as a concept if we need to face it in real life.

22 comments:

  1. Sounds like a beautiful book, and a lovely way to have had the subject broached, even if it was unexpected.

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    1. It is a beautiful book. A note form the author says that it's autobiographical.

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  2. Possibly a bit of a bedtime surprise, but children at DD's age are so great at taking things into their stride and storing things like that up until its needed. Looks and sounds a lovely gentle book that would be a great comfort if needed in context or just a good read otherwise!

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    1. I agree, it's now become just one of the stories we read from the library (until we take it back next week).

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  3. How lovely! We have the Mog the Cat books. Well we have a few of them anyway and we borrowed the final Mog book on the series. Mog goes to heaven! When I saw it Bambi `s mother nearly died again! Dd aged four was fine. We had previously discussed her grandad who had died when I was a child as we have pictures around the house. Small ones are great with things like this.

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  4. We used to watch Bambi on dvd but DD went off it. I think the mother dying went right over her head. I was probably more hesitant to bring up the subject when it's the mother who dies.

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    1. When my DD was 2.5 or 3, she asked me what happened to Nemo's mommy in Finding Nemo... I don't remember what I said.

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    2. Come to think of it - we know that Nemo's mum gets eaten by the shark. On the other hand she's a fish and we also eat fish. It's all a bit too murky to be alarming in any way I think.

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  5. Sounds like a lovely book and a very gentle way to broach this difficult subject. Your DD seems to have taken it in her stride alright, that is good.

    xx Jazzy

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    1. It is a very gentle book and I like that it concentrates on the loving relationship between Tommy and the very old lady.

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  6. Such a difficult subject to discuss with a young child, and so easy to shy away from. It sounds like a wonderful book in the way it handles the subject - good on you for seizing the moment - it sounds like DD accepted it all very well.

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    1. Thanks M Plum, I do feel that it was a job well done now that it's happened even though it was in n o way planned.

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  7. I agree - it sounds a lovely story - and much better, I think, to introduce the concept before it's actually needed and when emotions are less raw.

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    1. Totally agree Sherrie although I would never have considered doing it if we hadn't accidently brought it home.

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  8. What a beautiful-sounding book and a gentle means of introducing a difficult subject. I don;t think enough children's books are about the older generation.

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    1. I agree, and this one described how the younger Nana had to look after the older Nana. It was done very nicely.

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  9. Well it sounds like you seized the moment and handled that really, really well. What a lovely, gentle book though, and it handles a tough concept really well. I like the way it says that gran is gone but she will still be with you in your memories. Well done you! :o).

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    1. Thanks OM - it was touch and go but I'm glad I went with the book. And yes, I also like the concept that she's always there in your memories.

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  10. Thanks for posting. I have a couple of recommended kids' books about death as well. Actually, I started making a list yesterday.
    Unfortunately some kids have to learn too soon that death is not just for old people. :(

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  11. That sounds like a really lovely book actually. But one guaranteed to make me cry. I can't read anything like The Little Match Girl for example without turning into a sobbing wreck. A book we used to broach the subject when my mother's much loved dog died was Goodbye Mog. Yep, I cry at that one too! :D

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    1. I did have to control the tearing up and the lump in my throat the first couple of times we read it. After the 10th time it gets easier :P.

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