Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review: Each Little Bird That Sings

Summary: Ten-year-old Comfort Snowberger has attended 247 funerals. But that's not surprising, considering that her family runs the town funeral home. And even though Great-uncle Edisto keeled over with a heart attack and Great-great-aunt Florentine dropped dead--just like that--six months later, Comfort knows how to deal with loss, or so she thinks. She's more concerned with avoiding her crazy cousin Peach and trying to figure out why her best friend, Declaration, suddenly won't talk to her. Life is full of surprises. And the biggest one of all is learning what it takes to handle them.

Deborah Wiles has created a unique, funny, and utterly real cast of characters in this heartfelt, and quintessentially Southern coming-of-age novel. Comfort will charm young readers with her wit, her warmth, and her struggles as she learns about life, loss, and ultimately, triumph. -- Harcourt

Today, our Mother-Daughter book club will meet to discuss EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles. I wasn't familiar with the book or Ms. Wiles when it was announced at our last meeting, but I came home and immediately started researching it. It has won numerous awards (far too many to mention in this post) including : 2005 National Book Award finalist, Booksense Top-Ten Pick, Borders Bookstores "Original Voice", Junior Library Guild selection, and Golden Kite Honor Book. Needless to say, I was very excited to read this book and possibly discover a new-to-me author!

When I sat down to read this book, I started with the author's acknowledgments section. I was a little surprised by the first sentence, " death followed another in my family and I came to understand the meaning of friendship and the power of love." I appreciated the author's honestly about how she came to write this novel; and I just had a feeling that EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS was going to be a very special read for me. Unlike the author, I haven't had much experience at all with the loss of loved ones. (I know you are all scratching your heads because I'm 40 years old!) I still have three of my four grandparents, and it's only been the past few years where I've really lost anyone special. When it comes to death, I probably have the emotional maturity of a middle grade child so this book did appeal to me. I found that this novel touched me deeply and resonated with me on so many levels -- it truly is a wonderful story.

As many of you know, I love coming-of-age stories; and I don't think I will ever tire of good ones. EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS was a beautiful story of a young girl who does a lot of growing up in a very short time. Even though Comfort's family runs a funeral home and she has been to 247 funerals, she find that death is very different when it strikes one of your loved ones. Throughout the course of this book, Comfort faces many surprises as well as tragedies; and she discovers that she has what it takes inside of her to face them all. She learns so many valuable lessons in this book including how to handle loss, how to forgive others, and how to forgive herself. She also learns the very important lesson that different people handle grief in different ways.

I absolutely adored Comfort and her family! EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is told through the eyes of the 10 year old Comfort. She is a wonderful narrator for this story. Not only is she brutally honest (which is so refreshing,) but she is also very funny! I loved her newspaper articles where she wrote "Life Notices" not "Death Notices;" and I thought her writings on funeral etiquette were hilarious. I really appreciated how the author did incorporate a lot of humor into this story because it kept the book from being a downer. Ms. Wiles was able to keep it light at times, and she did a wonderful job of presenting difficult topics to young readers.

This book definitely affected me deeply and I even found myself tearing up a few times as I read it. While parts of the book were very, very sad, I also cried at how absolutely beautiful some things were in this story. As Comfort began realizing things about herself and others, her self-less actions were so touching. I know how hard it can be to forgive and let go of anger. I also appreciated all of the little things about life that Comfort's Great-uncle spouted such as: "It's not how you die that makes the important impression, Comfort; it's how you live;" and "Think of disappoint as a happy little surprise, Comfort... There's always something good to come out of disappointment, Comfort. You'll see." And I especially liked this one, "Open you arms to life! Let it strut into your heart in all its messy glory." There were just so many examples of words and actions in this novel that showed the reader how truly special life is!

I'm going to be honest and tell you that my daughter didn't want to read this book after I told her that it was about dying. She hasn't had to handle the death of a loved one (or even a pet) and she hasn't even attended a funeral yet. I think dying isn't something that she wants to think about yet (of course, who does?) I explained to her that she definitely needs to read EACH LITTLE BIRD SINGS because it's a very good book (for a lot of reasons.) This novel does deal with death and funerals, but it's really about life! I highly recommend it to middle grade readers (and adults too!)

I am very anxious to hear what all of the young girls and their mothers think about this book. I admit that I am a little concerned about how my daughter and her friends will react to it. I have a feeling that some of the kids might not understand a lot of the positive messages that I took away from this novel. That's why I'm so looking forward to the discussion! I was so relieved to find that there is a discussion guide of sorts available for EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS because I think I'm going to need some assistance to talk about this book with kids!


rhapsodyinbooks said...

That's interesting about your daughter. Whenever I give my 8-yr-old niece a book involving an animal, I have to prescreen it to assure her the horse or dog or whatever doesn't die at the end!

Beth F said...

What an interesting book. I didn't have that much experience with death and dying either because my family is really long-lived. Like you, I had three of four grandparents until I was well into my 40s.

I could have and still could use a book like this. I'm going to check it out of the library and then consider getting a copy for my young nephews.

I understand Booking Daughter's hesitation; death is a topic that we don't do well in the United States.

Have you ever read The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford? The book was published in 1963, but I bet it still holds true today. Mitford wrote an update in 1998, which I still haven't gotten around to reading.

bermudaonion said...

This book does sound wonderful. I have had lots of experience with the death of loved ones since my parents were older when I was born and they both come from large families. A book like this would have been nice to read, though, because I didn't always understand what was going on.

Anonymous said...

I hate books that make me cry, but this one does sound like a great one.

I think my daughter's only attended one funeral, but just the other day she wandered out into the kitchen at about 10:30 pm crying about the dog dying 10 years from now.

Linda Nguyen said...

Wow, this sounds like a great read! The topic of death is always hard to approach, but maybe more so for younger readers. I'm glad there's humor in this story. I'm wondering about the funeral etiquette you've mentioned and what could possibly be so funny. =) It seems kind of dark, yet light. That's an amazing combo. =)