Becky and her brother John were best buddies, telling jokes, caring for their dog Toby, and playing soccer. John was always there to cheer her up and help her out-until he died. Becky wishes everythin
Becky and her brother John were best buddies, telling jokes, caring for their dog Toby, and playing soccer. John was always there to cheer her up and help her out-until he died. Becky wishes everything could go back to the way it was. When she is surprised and feels guilty about enjoying a friend's birthday party, her mom wraps reassuring arms around her and says, "Don't you think he'd want you to laugh, even now?" She gradually realizes that she can still enjoy the things that they used to do together and that the memories of John continue to make him part of their family. Always My Brother is a sensitive, realistic story about the process of grief, acceptance, and recovery. Phyllis Pollema-Cahill's lovely illustrations bring readers right into the heart of Becky's family as they struggle to move forward.
"In a better world, no child would need a book about the death of her brother. But here is a tender, even joyful book about such a tragic event. And the last line had me sobbing." -Jane Yolen, author of Owl Moon and Grandad Bill's Song
"Always My Brother is a poignant book written to help families and friends dealing with grief arising from the death of a child. It is a direct and touching story that sensitively addresses this complex topic, a loss that should not be."-Louis Borgenicht, M.D., pediatrician, writer, and coauthor of The Baby Owner's Manual
View Biographical note
Jean Reagan lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, Peter, and daughter, Jane. Their beloved son and brother, John, died in 2005. Born in Alabama, Jean spent most of her childhood in Japan. Since graduating from Earlham College, she has worked as a community organizer, a union activist, and a writer. She cherishes her years as a full-time mother when she also worked at her children's public school, the Open Classroom. In the summers, her family lives in a tiny, remote cabin in Grand Teton National Park where she and Peter serve as volunteer backcountry rangers. Bears visit them frequently. For more about Jean: www.jeanreagan.com
Phyllis Pollema-Cahill grew in rural Minnesota. She went to work as an assistant artist in a small design studio right after high school, and ended up being creative director for one of the McGraw-Hill divisions. She later received a degree in illustration from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and has been illustrating full-time for children since December 1995. She has illustrated over forty children's books and many magazine stories, as well as textbooks, activity books, posters, and book covers. Phyllis lives in the Colorado countryside with her husband and their two cats. She has three grown step-children and three step-grandchildren. For more about Phyllis: www.phylliscahill.com
View Review text
"Always My Brother is a sensitive, compassionate book about an ordinary, soccer-playing girl who misses her brother, John after his death. With her parents' love and support and her beloved dog Toby, she gradually returns to a semblance of enjoying her life. When she feels bad about this because she still misses John and does not wish to betray his memory by returning to life as normal without him, her parents remind her that he is always her brother, that he will always be with her, and that he would want her to be happy and have a normal life again. Always My Brother is enhanced with delicate watercolor illustrations that clearly portray both the everyday life before and after the death of a much-loved brother. Always My Brother is well crafted to appeal to children in grades 3-6."
—Midwest Book Review
"In a better world, no child would need a book about the death of her brother. But here is a tender, even joyful book about such a tragic event. And the last line had me sobbing."
—Jane Yolen, author of Owl Moon and Grandad Bill's Song
"Always My Brother is a poignant book written to help families and friends dealing with grief arising from the death of a child. It is a direct and touching story that sensitively addresses this complex topic, a loss that should not be."
—Louis Borgenicht, M.D., pediatrician, writer, and co-author of The Baby Owner's Manual
View Description for teachers/educators
"Sorrows are our best educators. [One] can see further through a tear than a telescope."
It can be helpful to teachers who work with children who have suffered a loss to view grief as a process—or a journey. Grief is not a static response to a single event. Loss and the grief that follows it is a transformative experience. Grief is also mediated by different factors such as culture, personality, and temperament. Until recently, many adults had been taught that children lacked the capacity to grieve. Now it is generally acknowledged that, like adults, children who have experienced a loss will also find themselves capable of grieving.
Teachers often see different aspects of children's grief reflected in the world of the classroom. Some bereaved children may exhibit sadness, anger, and learning difficulties. Other children may go in the opposite direction, and become over-achievers. Adults can offer important reassurance to children by being accepting and warm. Psychologists who specialize in working with children experiencing bereavement issues emphasize that there is no "best way" or "right way" to grieve. No one can predict the rate and intensity people feel when confronted with loss. In particular, younger children may have a hard time grasping many of the abstract concepts of death, most especially its finality. Remember, the goal is to learn how to honor the dead and comfort the mourners.
When reading books aloud on sensitive subjects such as sibling death, attention must be paid to how children may respond. If you have questions about how to approach a grieving child, do not hesitate to contact either a school guidance counselor or call your local center for grieving children. (For more information, see the local resource links on the right.) Finally, please remember that children who are grieving are very vulnerable and some may be unprepared to discuss this subject, ESPECIALLY in a group context. Some children may need to deal more privately with their losses, and want their school routines to remain as normal as possible.
It's not unusual to feel unsure about what to say to bereaved children, and teachers are often especially challenged to find the right approach. Luckily, most communities now have good resources to support families and educators. Contacting these centers is easy because many have a presence on the web. These centers can give offer advice on a broad range of topics that may be helpful—especially if the situation is complicated. Getting guidance when responding to losses that result from situations such as a stillbirth or a traumatic death can be especially helpful. Grief reactions in those circumstances can be different than those experienced by children who have lost family members or friends to natural causes. Sudden traumatic death—whether brought about by tragic accident, combat, suicide, or the criminal actions of others—can leave survivors in need of special care. However, it is important to note that death (of all kinds) is traumatic event in any child's life, so the key is to see how children seem to be responding and base support on the identified needs. Teachers may welcome advice on: understanding developmentally appropriate grief reactions; setting the right emotional tone in the classroom; knowing when to encourage the bereaved child to talk; strategies to develop listening skills and build empathy among classmates.
Jean Reagan wrote Always My Brother hoping to help bereaved children and families understand and work through their grief. Whether you've gone through a loss of a sibling, or know a family
coping with grief, this special book can help with the challenges families surviving loss often face. We believe that Always My Brother will become a valuable resource for all those living and working with bereaved children.
Always My Brother can be used as part of a curriculum that is designed for elementary-age children who have experienced the death of a family member or friend. It may help inspire classroom conversations about:
Memories, and the role they play in healing from a loss
Things we can do to stay safe and healthy
How friends can help grieving classmates.
Simple Ideas for Things Schools Can Do to Help Families After a Loss:
Take time to honor the bereaved child's loss and create a ritual in which the class can participate.
Deliver flowers or meals to the grieving family.
Establish an ongoing fund-raiser such as a car wash or bake sale, with proceeds going toward the family's designated charity.
Donate to a local center that serves grieving children and their families in the memory of the loved one.
We All Wonder What to Say:
Your students probably wonder what Becky's friends could have said or done that would have been helpful after Becky's brother John died. Here are a few simple suggestions:
I am sorry that John died, I bet you miss him a lot.
John and you looked like you were really close. I'm so sorry this happened.
I will always remember your brother. He was a great guy!
Also, it really is okay to say John's name out loud. It's better to say something, than to try to pretend nothing happened.
And don't forget Becky would still want invitations to parties and sleepovers.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia (Slack, 1982)
The story of Freddie and his companion leaves, who change with the seasons and finally fall to the ground with the winter snow.
When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny Brown (Little Brown, 1998)
Using some appealingly quirky characters, this book answers some basic questions about death.
Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman (Fairview, 1999)
An art therapy and activity book encouraging children to express in pictures what they might not be able to say.