Grimes, Nikki. What is Goodbye? Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Hyperion Books for Children. 2004. ISBN 0786807784
The simplest way for me to describe What is Goodbye? is by saying it is a child’s In Memoriam. It is a story told in pairs of poems, one written by a younger brother and one by an older sister, both with the same title, that deal with death, grief, and life. It is written about children, and in a way children can understand.
There are two distinct voices, the little brother Jesse uses rhyming poetry. Jerilyn writes less lyric, but often deeper poetry. Both speak of holding grief in and both speak of letting anger out, neither in particularly healthy ways initially.
Despite the grim subject matter, the book is clearly aimed towards elementary and middle school aged children, similar to the ages of the still living brother and sister. While reading it to a group does have the potential to backfire depending on the backgrounds of the children, it also allows them to work through the grief in the story together.
The one poem that lends itself most towards reading aloud is the final poem in the book “Photograph-Poem for Two Voices.” If the two parts are read separately, they are choppy and incomplete. They have to be read together for the complete picture to be seen, and for the complete poem to be heard.
Mommy won’t say Jaron’s name
so I write it everywhere,
on the walls, my book, his chair.
If I’m punished, I don’t care.
Let her take away my pens.
I’ll write it on the air.
It would be an interesting exercise, especially with middle schoolers, to have them write or tell someone about something important, without ever using that word, or that person’s name. It would put them in a mindset similar to Jesse’s when his mom won’t say his older brother’s name.
ALA Notable Book 2004
Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award 2004
Kirkus Review—“The unimaginably painful situation of losing a sibling is the theme of this poetry collection, told in alternating viewpoints by a younger brother and sister in the year after their older brother’s sudden death from an unspecified cause.”
Kirkus Review. April 1, 2004. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/nikki-grimes/what-is-goodbye/