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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

And What Comes After a Thousand? Written and illustrated by Anette Bley. Kane/Miller, 2007. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"FOUR is for the four corners
of your favorite pillow," Otto
goes on, "and FIVE is for our
legs!" "Plus your cane," adds
Lisa. "All our legs plus my cane.
Did we get any farther?"
"SIX was for the tomato plant
stakes in your garden. SEVEN
was for the days of the week..."

Death is a very difficult concept for young children. Sharing a soft and gentle book like this might help to ease the sadness and help them understand the loss of a loved one.

Lisa and Otto are long time friends. They share walks and talks, the earth and sky, and joy and sorrow. Otto has much to share with his young friend; he's especially good at guidance and patience. They wander the farm and garden, look to the skies and wonder at the infinity of numbers:

"FIFTEEN, SIXTEEN, SEVENTEEN," Lisa and Otto count together as they spit the cherry pits onto their plates.
"Exactly SEVENTEEN EACH!" Lisa beams. "Otto, where do numbers come from, anyway?" Otto thinks for a long time. Finally he says, "I think they're just inside of us..."

When Otto can no longer get out of bed, Lisa sits with him and holds his hand, each drawing comfort from the other. And when Otto dies, Lisa does her best to understand what has happened. She misses her friend, his wisdom, his gentle winks and his companionship. Olga helps her come to terms with why he left and how much she missed him by having her imagine a beautiful and delicious birthday cake. She explains that although Lisa can't see the cake, it is there. By thinking about Otto and the many wonderful things they did together, he will stay close.

"You know, Olga," she says after a little while,
"Otto is like numbers. He's inside of us, and that will never end."

As with all beautiful picture books, the text and illustrations work in perfect harmony.  The pastel artwork in the first half of the book exudes joy in its bright colors, diffused light and happy smiles. When Otto takes to his bed, the mood is quiet and melancholy. Each page is filled with emotion. The perspectives are ever-changing and add wondrous depth to the telling. I wish I could share them all.

One of my favorites has Otto and Lisa sitting on a rock wall star-gazing. Her one arm is comfortably stretched over his round belly, while his arm encircles her and she holds his hand on the other side. Pure contentment and absolutely gorgeous. I could say the same for many others, but will leave it for you to discover when you get a copy of this soft, comforting tale of friendship and death. Despite the sadness of its message, it makes me want to join Lisa in a 'happy dance' of celebration for Otto's 'forever' place in her heart.  

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