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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, written by Julie Sternberg and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Abrams, Canadian Manda Group. 2011. $16.95

"Bibi loves cherries. 
Before she moved away, 
we used to sit at the kitchen table
with a bowl for me
and a bowl for her
and a bowl in the middle for the pits.
We'd eat all those cherries
and spit out the pits."

Eleanor is only eight when the babysitter she has loved since she was a wee girl must move to take care of her ailing father. Bibi will miss Eleanor as much as Eleanor will miss Bibi. It is a difficult time for our young narrator.

Her story is told in verse, with a clear voice and a great deal of honest emotion. Everywhere she looks there are constant reminders of the woman who has helped raise her, who has loved her unconditionally and who is loved back:

"Bibi is my babysitter.
She has been my babysitter my whole life.
She is the best babysitter in the world.
She makes me soup when I am sick.
She holds my feet when I do handstands.
She knows which of my teeth are loose
and which ones I've lost
and where I was when I lost them.
She rubs my back when I am tired.
She takes a needle and thread
and sews my pants
to make them fit right.
And she knows not to tickle me.
Because I hate to be tickled."

In this book that is funny and sad, ebullient and poignant, Eleanor voices her most personal thoughts and feelings. Young readers will find much in its pages that ring true for them and their own lives. She talks truthfully and with a strong voice while keeping it real from start to finish. Her parents understand how she is feeling and honor her right to say what she is thinking. They do their best to help her cope with the loss, and with all of the angst that she needs to share. Natalie, her new babysitter, is a wonder and will make sure that Eleanor has opportunity to adjust by giving her time and space to deal with her feelings about someone taking Bibi's place in her life:

"First babysitters are very special."
We started walking again.
Then Natalie said,
"I know I'm not Bibi.
And I'll never be your first babysitter.
But I'll try to be an excellent
second babysitter.
Does that sound okay?"
"Yes," I said.
And it sounded better than okay.
It sounded good."

Eleanor is coming around, and isn't that all we can ask? When a letter from Bibi arrives, Eleanor takes it to her room to read and discovers that the love she and Bibi share has not changed, while their circumstances have:

"Bibi will always be my first babysitter.
My very special babysitter.
And she will always be my Bibi.
Even if she is waiting for a breeze in Florida,
and I am far away."

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