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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Harry & Hopper, written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. Feiwel and Friends, 2011. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"And every evening, Hopper sneaked past Dad to sleep on Harry's bed. He started at the bottom of the bed, then wriggled to the top, next to Harry.

" Good night, Hopper," said Harry. And they gazed at each other, their eyes gleaming with mischief and delight."

Harry and Hopper are best pals, and have been since the moment they set eyes upon each other. Hopper was just a jumpy, wiggly puppy then. Harry was a little boy with great love to give. They spend as much time together as they possibly can.

An accident ends all that. When Harry comes home from school to hear the news from his father that Hopper has died, he is frightened and thrown off balance. He cannot accept the fact that Hopper will no longer be in his life. His bed is no longer the haven that it was when Hopper shared it and Harry cannot bring himself to sleep there. His dreams are filled with images of Hopper, and Harry finds it hard to separate the reality of his death with the dreamtime visits he makes at night. The recurring dreams bring changes in Hopper and too soon those images  fade away, allowing Harry a final farewell.
When I was working in the library, and in doing workshops with teachers, I am often asked for books that will help children come to understand death and grieving in a more tangible way. A book might be just the catalyst needed to help them talk about some of the uncertainty and sadness they are experiencing. It is a struggle for them.

Harry's reaction to the death of a beloved friend is common: withdrawal, refusal to acknowledge what has happened, imagining the world returning to what was normal, and finally, acceptance. Margaret Wild handles a tough subject with a deft and sympathetic hand, allowing Harry to grieve in his own way and time, always acknowledging his need to keep Hopper in his heart. This is a lovely book.

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