This week is something of a reunion for me, in that I’ve actually read the book I’m reviewing several times before, and am only now ready to post the review. I have also reviewed a book by this author before, and you may remember his name from my review of the middle grade novel The Portal several weeks ago.
So, why the delay?
The Enchanted Rope is a story of loss, grief, and what comes after. In particular, it depicts a child who has lost his mother and who desperately seeks to stay connected with her by weaving a rope made from her favorite wildflowers. It has a happy ending, in that he meets his mother in “the great beyond” (to quote Soul), albeit in a transformed state, and they do end up maintaining the connection he was so desperate to recreate. Those who know me well already know this, but my own mother has undergone a “health journey” of her own over the last five months, one that she is lucky to have survived––and yet she is changed, fundamentally, as the result of months of cascading problems totaling to a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). The first few months I spent by her side, I thought we might have lost her. I am so, so grateful that her story didn’t end there, though, and that despite her total transformation as a person as a result I have another chance to forge my own new connection to her before facing the struggle that Jack, the boy at the heart of Bernstein’s The Enchanted Rope, must go through at the beginning of this book.
Yup, I read a children’s picture book about a child grieving the loss of his mother while I was at the bedside of my own precious mother, not knowing her fate. And as the weeks ticked by with little apparent progress, my ability to handle fictional portrayals of grief and loss over sick or lost mothers took a bit of a nose-dive. (Thus the delay. I’m so sorry about that.) I was already the kind of person to cry over a really good Christmas commercial, or anything involving injured animals, but this experience has sensitized me to a whole new range of possible emotional triggers. Including Disney (Disney+?) movies. Mothers don’t tend to last long or be very caring/capable in most of the animated classics. Even the new live-action Beauty and the Beast highlights the fact that Beauty’s mother has passed away and that she and her father grieve daily for her. My heart, my heart.
I should note at this point that The Enchanted Rope was not itself triggering for me, merely that its subject was one I wasn’t terribly well equipped to handle for a while, and yet I’m so grateful to get to review it now. In my years as a librarian, I came to realize that there are relatively few books for toddlers through elementary school that grapple with loss. There aren’t even a huge number of books on the subject of losing pets! (One good one, though, is Big Cat, Little Cat.) I continue to hope that authors and illustrators will add to the general canon more beautiful, sincere, and helpful books on grief. That David D. Bernstein goes down this road is in and of itself a rare thing for a children’s author, and that he finds a way to give voice to a child in need of connection to a lost loved one is rarer still. Sally Taylor’s illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, too.
I think I’m one of those people who will always have a soapbox on balancing the text-to-page ratio in picture books, and I can’t even blame the typography professor at my alma mater, since I cleverly (and errantly) arranged to skip that class, despite my minor in Illustration. As Bernstein’s book goes on, there is simply more story that he wants to share than in its early pages, where he communicates much with very few words. I try to remind myself in many ways, though, that any objections I have on this front come down to taste, and not necessarily even all that educated of a taste, if we’re talking about my own. (Just imagine a self-conscious laugh-cry emoji here!) I doubt many of Bernstein’s readers would even notice the shift in text-to-page, much less object. It’s just … a thing that is there. There are one or two typos to get excited about, but nothing that detracts from what I believe to be an invaluable central message:
As Bernstein might put it, one’s connection to people gone or transformed is not necessarily severed by death, and in remembering and cultivating the kinds of beautiful things that our loved ones loved, we maintain our relationships with those who leave us for what comes next. Love, imagination, and a bit of arts-and-crafts know-how can be healing to the hurting heart. More of this, please!
WHERE TO BUY?
You can find The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.
Next week I will be posting my review for Kevin Fodor’s memoir, Turn it Up! Confessions of a Radio Junkie.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.