ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE
are many books that help a young child cope with death, but this is a
particularly moving one—and it’s surprisingly direct about how different
religions view the subject. The narrator’s grandfather, Zayde, has come
to live with Rachel’s family because he’s dying. Rachel and he still try to
play together, but he is tired. Rachel worries what will happen to him when he
dies. Her friend Megan says Zayde will go to Heaven—if he believes in Jesus.
Hakim says there are milk-and-honey rivers flowing in Paradise, but he must
believe in Allah. “But we do not. That’s because we are Jewish.” So Rachel
asks the rabbi what will happen: “He’ll take one last breath . . . Then his
energy will live on with your ancestors in the World to Come.” Rather than a
nebulous visual, illustrator Swarner depicts this as family dancing in a circle
of love, against a blanket of stars. And Zayde, too, tells her he is at peace
and that he’ll live in her love and memories. And, as she snuggles next to her
grandfather, Rachel realizes that as long as there is life, another memory can
still be made. The artwork, linoleum prints touched with watercolor and colored
learns that the impending death of her grandfather—her zayde—doesn’t have
to be tragic in this beautiful and accessible tale that gives expression to many
children’s fears about dying. Now that
her elderly grandfather has moved in with her family, Rachel sees firsthand his
waning energy and confused moments, and is worried about where he will go when
he dies. When her Christian and Muslim friends provide answers that don’t suit
Rachel because she is Jewish, the rabbi explains that “his energy will live on
with your ancestors in the World to Come.” Her zayde, too, helps her
understand that there can be peace and completeness in death. Sinykin
hits just the right balance of communication and reassurance with her
storytelling, as does Swarner with her
endearing and soothing illustrations. Children
will relate to Rachel’s concerns and appreciate the comforting and positive
messages relayed in a story that takes on a difficult and important subject.
Ages 6–10. (Oct.)
PreS-Gr 1–Rachel’s grandpa has come to live out his final days with her family, and the girl worries about what will happen to him next. Predictions from her non-Jewish friends don’t quite fit, but she is satisfied when her rabbi says that Zayde will join his ancestors and points out that the man is living until the moment he dies. Rachel focuses on making a few final memories and treasuring Zayde’s remaining time.
There are many stories for young children about grandparents passing away, but this one is unique in that it centers on the time leading up to death instead of its aftermath. The beautifully sensitive storytelling comforts readers by showing the inevitability of the circle of life in the context of strong family love. Although the book is aimed at Jewish audiences, the emotions ring true universally.
Swarner’s gentle, softly colored linoleum prints suit the story perfectly,
both in the household scenes and the spiritual ones. The artist has illustrated
Howard Schwartz’s Before You Were Born (Roaring Brook, 2005), an excellent
companion piece to this story. Pitch-perfect text and illustrations combine to
create a story that will touch readers’ hearts.-Heidi Estrin, Congregation
B’nai Israel, Boca Raton,
Though many parents tend to shield their young children from the realities of terminal illness, this picture book looks at death through the concerned and loving eyes of a child who begins to understand the concept behind the "circle of life."
When Zayde comes to live in Rachel’s house, it is
“because he is dying.” Watching him sit and sleep day and night in a
sleeper-chair with an oxygen tube, Rachel instinctively knows that he is close
to death and begins to question where he will go after his last breath. Megan
says he will go to heaven, and Hakim says he will go to
Though Rachel's quest takes place within a Jewish context, her emotions and situation are near universal, and this artful book handles both well. (Picture book. 5-10)
Sinykin, Sheri. Zayde Comes to Live. Illus. by Kristina Swarner. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2012. 30 pp. $16.95.
(9781561456314). Reviewed from an advance reading copy. Ages 5–9.
This lovely story exemplifies the concept of “bibliotherapy,” as it attempts to help young Rachel deal with her grandfather’s impending death. Rachel’s Zayde has come to live with her family, for he has grown infirm and weak. She realizes that he is dying and wonders where he will go when he dies. She asks everyone she knows—her friends, her rabbi, her Zayde—but no one has the perfect answer. Her friends introduce her to Christian and Moslem concepts of death, which Rachel knows are not right for her and her Jewish family. Megan assures her that Zayde will go to Heaven but first he must believe in Jesus. Another friend, Hakim, says that Zayde will go to paradise, but first he must believe in Allah. Eventually, Rachel finds a way to make peace with the reality of her Zayde’s death, as well as comfort and acceptance with the concept of Olam HaBa, the world to come. The lush illustrations have a dreamlike quality that perfectly embellish this story. While the publisher’s blurb describes the book as touching, it is rather searing and painful and may be too intense for a child to read independently. Recommended as a read-aloud and helping book, with adult guidance.
Shelly Feit, Moriah School Library, Englewood, NJ
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Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2007):
Booklist (Anne O'Malley):
For Davia, the summer before eighth grade would not be the usual routine. Instead, she travels to the deep South with her parents to help a great-aunt through her final illness. Even at death’s door, Aunt Mari is a force to be reckoned with, to say nothing of her strangely haunted estate near New Orleans. Mari fixates on Davia, sharing some secrets of the family’s tragic past and challenging the girl to grapple with the wandering ghost Emilie. When Emilie is at rest, Mari can expire peacefully. That’s a tall order for 13-year-old Davia, who is both terrified and fascinated by the cantankerous Emilie and holding her breath as her own mother recovers from cancer. Death permeates every nook and cranny of Sinykin’s haunting tale, yet Davia persists to face her fears and engage Emilie, in some ways her alter ego. The two have a way of releasing the sorrows that bind their lives. What emerges from the process is peace and hope. Grades 6-8
Children's Literature (Amie Rose Rotruck):
Davia has already dealt with her mother having cancer. Now in remission, Davia’s mother goes to take care of her dying Aunt Mari, bringing Davia with her. Aunt Mari lives on an old plantation that has a lot of history . . . and ghosts. Aunt Mari tells Davia to help Emilie, a girl from the nineteenth century who died when she was only thirteen, Davia’s age. Davia has a difficult time getting over her fear of ghosts, but once she gets used to Emilie’s presence, she finds the ghost to be rather unpredictable. Aunt Mari cannot die peacefully until she knows Emilie is at peace as well. This story is less about ghosts and more about death and how people can chose to face it for both themselves and loved ones. Davia learns to take joy in memories and family history, and Sinykin manages to convey the message without being trite. This is a very thought-provoking story that inspires readers to treasure their loved ones, living or not.
KLIATT Review, November 2007 (Vol. 41, No. 6) (Janis Flint-Ferguson):
It’s a hot, steamy day as Davia and her parents arrive at Great-Aunt Mari’s house in the Louisiana bayou outside of New Orleans. Davia’s mother is in remission from cancer and now, Aunt Mari is dying of cancer. Mom wants to spend time with Aunt Mari during the final weeks. Davia, however, is afraid--she fears for her mother’s health. Mari is a demanding patient and so Davia is encouraged to find her own entertainment. While walking near a deserted old plantation house, Davia is startled by a young woman her age, dressed in white and obviously a ghost. Later, Davia and Mari talk about the history of the old plantation and the ghost who does indeed wander the property. Of course, nobody believes Mari, but she enlists Davia to help the ghost rest in peace. The novel includes a realistic look at death and dying. Within the story of Aunt Mari’s death is information on what to expect and how to comfort the dying. Through the story, death may become less frightening for YA readers, and questions will arise from the realistic tone and informational passages. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students.
VOYA, December 2007 (Vol. 30, No. 5) (Jenny Ingram):