April 24, 2012

The Good-Bye Book

The Good-Bye Book
By Judith Viorst
No Author Site
Illustrated by Kay Chorao
3-4 Preschool Primary Atheneum 32 pp.
978-0780788572 Hardcover $16.25

The Good-Bye Book is not so much a story, as a child's reaction to being left with a sitter while his parents go out to dinner. The boy, illustrated by Kay Chorao with just the right blend of vulnerability and stubbornness, does not want his parents to go to a French restaurant. He begs, wheedles, yells and even offers to go to the restaurant with them rather than be left at home with a dreaded sitter, whom he imagines as an old lady with too much make-up who makes him eat vegetables and watch boring TV. When that doesn't work, he decides that he's sick, ("I mean, maybe I'm dying") and asks for "one more book. Okay, half a book. A poem?" Meanwhile, his parents continue to get dressed, (though the sting of this is softened by their concerned looks and patient expressions). Finally, the boy refuses to say good-bye just as the sitter, (a young man with a stack of picture books) arrives. The boy begins to smile and ends up waving good-bye to his parents, perched on his sitter's shoulders.

The Good-Bye Book is interesting in that it's written entirely in the 2nd person, with the boy addressing the soliloquy to his parents. It makes the situation feel very immediate, mimicking the immediacy of his distress. Viorst allows her young protagonist to run the entire emotional gamut without ever going over the top so that, while funny in places, (the boy imagines being attacked by the celery the sitter might force on him), his distress always rings emotionally true. Just as important is the fact that his turn-around in the face of the real sitter feels organic and unforced. The end result is a book that acknowledges the difficulties of saying good-bye, while allowing the protagonist (and the reader) to naturally conclude that it will be all right. A reassuring message made all the more reassuring by the voice of the boy and the strength of his initial worries at being left at home.

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