Bookworm: Dying to know more; an emotional journey

Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly” by Pimm van Hest, illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg.

“Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly”

  • By Pimm van Hest, illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg
  • c. 2019, Clavis Publishing
  • $17.95, $26.95 Canada; 32 pages

Grandpa knows almost everything. He knows why birds fly, he can whistle with his fingers in his mouth, he’s good at putting things back together, and he can tie any kind of shoe or boot. Ask him something, and he always has a quick reply although every once in a while, as in the new book “Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly” by Pimm van Hest and illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg, there are things he really doesn’t know.

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Christopher just liked to hang out with his grandpa, that was all. When they spent their day together, they did what they enjoyed doing most: They talked about things, this and that and a little bit of the other. So, when Christopher found a caterpillar and he wanted to take it home to put in a jar, he listened when grandpa said that was a bad idea. If they put it in a jar, Grandpa said, the caterpillar might die.

“Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly” author Pimm van Hest, illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg.

That made Christopher think; he asked if grandpa thought he might die someday. The answer was yes, someday, grandpa would die, but nobody knew when.

“Not even Granny?” Christopher thought some more. He figured he might like to know when he was going to die, so he could hurry and visit the beach or maybe get a puppy. But grandpa reminded him that he could do those things now, which was probably a better idea anyhow.

Was it possible that Christopher might die before grandpa? Yes, but not likely. Christopher hoped that he and grandpa might grow old together, but that wasn’t likely, either. It bothered Christopher a little that nobody really knows what happens after someone dies, though grandpa said he wanted to go “to a place where it rains chocolate.”

That made Christopher laugh, and it gave him more questions. Was grandpa afraid of dying? Was it scary or were there things he might miss when he was gone? Or maybe – just maybe was dying something altogether different?

While it’s a very sweet story and the illustrations by Lisa Brandenburg are gently appealing, “Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly” is not the kind of book you’ll want to get for an action-packed kid. It’s just not busy enough.

No, this story is quiet, almost a little slow, and very introspective, as author Pimm van Hest lets his characters unspool their day without a rush. That unhurriedness would be downright refreshing to an adult who’s reading this book aloud to a little one, if it weren’t for the somber subject – and yet, Pimm’s Christopher doesn’t treat his talk with grandpa as anything sad. It’s more of a matter-of-fact learning experience, and the questions asked are framed perfectly – with childlike innocent, unobtrusiveness, and totally without being scary.

If your child will be facing this issue with a grandparent this year, be sure to read the info at the back of the book to help parents and grandparents approach this sensitive subject. For the child who needs it, “Maybe Dying is Like Becoming a Butterfly” has wings.

“The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation”

  • By Peggy Wallace Kennedy with Justice H. Mark Kennedy
  • c. 2019, Bloomsbury
  • $28, $38 Canada; 292 pages

The path your parents first set you on is not the path you ended up taking. Somewhere along the way, you veered to the left or stepped to the right. You found your own groove, made your own decisions, and made adjustments while you learned where you were going. And as in the new book “The Broken Road” by Peggy Wallace Kennedy (with Justice H. Mark Kennedy), it was essential to know where you came from.

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She never doubted that her daddy loved her. Still, when Peggy Wallace Kennedy was growing up, her father was absent more than he was present, even when he was in the room: George Wallace’s political promise to himself as a young man consumed him until campaigning became an obsession. He was away for much of Kennedy’s early life, meeting prospective constituents and asking for votes.

After he lost the 1958 Alabama Governor’s seat to an opponent who was “racist to the heart,” the obsession grew and festered.

“The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation” by Peggy Wallace Kennedy with Justice H. Mark Kennedy.

Before then, says Kennedy, when her father was a judge, he was known for fairness and equality in the courtroom but when Wallace lost that election, something changed in his mind. He started telling people that he was a segregationist, he began using words that were shocking, and his behavior attracted voters to his side. He all but abandoned his wife and family and focused only on winning the next time.

Kennedy says that once the Wallace family were ensconced in the governor’s mansion in 1962, she thought everything was fine until she learned of the violence happening throughout their state and, though she was just a child and somewhat shielded from her father’s actions by her strong, tenderhearted mother, she couldn’t believe her daddy would allow that. After her mother’s death, however, when Wallace renewed his decision to run for president, Kennedy’s eyes were opened, and she wished she could stand for racial equality by standing up to him.

But by “the fall of 1968,” she says, “I was neither white nor black. The color of my skin was Wallace.”

“The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter’s Journey to Reconciliation” author Peggy Wallace Kennedy.

Absolutely, “The Broken Road” is a book of a thousand emotions. Anger, disgust, outrage – of course, you may remember those.

Keep going: Deep sadness rings this tale, but a sense of satisfaction may be found, too, as pieces of a 50-plus-year-old puzzle fall into place. Also, in author Peggy Wallace’s hands, the story of her mother is told with steely inspiration, while other passages hold a tinge of droll Well-Bless-Your-Heart zingers that are delightfully tucked in.

Mostly, though, this book seems to be about teasing apart the years, trying to understand why and how what happened, happened, and reconciling what was with what is. It’s a child’s-eye view of history with an adult’s careful perspective, finalized as Kennedy writes of spiritual generosity and the forgiveness her father received toward the end of his life, and the tender friendships she has with those he hurt.

Love, politics, the tumultuous ‘60s, current events, it’s all in this can’t-miss biography. “The Broken Road” is paved with grace.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.