Judith Viorst's The Tenth Good Thing About Barney
Illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Sometimes things just are what they are. They have to be accepted. Parents might be able to make things a little better, but they can't make things all better.
Written in the first person in simple, childlike prose, this is a little boy's account of his cat's death and the mourning that followed.
And with mourning, learning.
After Barney's death, Mom has a hug for her upset son. When that isn't enough, she offers a funeral.
She suggests her son think of ten good things about Barney to say at the ceremony.
She's giving him something to do, and isn't that what children need at a time like this?
Dad digs a grave. A little friend attends from next door. But the grieving boy is only able to think of nine good things about Barney. (For instance, that he only once ate a bird.)
They all sing a song and head inside for lunch.
Life goes on. Mom and Dad return to their own business.
But it's not over for the boy. He remains upset and snaps at his little friend for saying Barney is in heaven.
Barney is in the ground, the boy says. He isn't going to take comfort by deluding himself, and his parents - to their credit - don't encourage him to.
Dad does invite his son to join him in the garden, where they consider how Barney's body will return to the earth and help things grow.
The boy takes some comfort from this. He decides that this is the tenth good thing about Barney.
I appreciate Viorst's proportionality. She doesn't try to turn something sad into something happy, nor does she depict parents overindulging their son as if the world just came to an end.
If the death of a cat is treated like the worst thing that could happen, what then when a beloved grandparent dies, or - God forbid - a parent or sibling?
Blegvad's black and white sketches are the perfect, mood-appropriate accompaniment for Viorst's text, but with two notable touches of whimsy.
Judith Viorst has written many children's classics. This one is still in print 38 years after its initial publication.
Do your children have pets? They won't last forever. That's why The Tenth Good Thing About Barney is a good book to keep around.
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