Adults tend to fret about how kids will handle the death of a loved one. How much can they understand about permanence? What should they be told about the possibility of an afterlife? How will they move on?
The children’s books that stand the test of time often deal with questions like these–classics from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden to Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia have shown kids finding everyday magic in the natural world as they grapple with death. Helen Frost calls to mind that timeless milieu with Applesauce Weather, a novel in verse (with charming illustrations by Amy June Bates) that explores the common ground children and adults can find in the wake of loss.
Applesauce Weather is made up of poems from alternating perspectives: Arthur, who has recently lost his wife of many decades; Faith, 9, his great-niece; and Peter, 10, his great-nephew. It’s the first harvest season since Aunt Lucy died, a poignant time of year for the family. When apples start to fall from the tree in Faith and Peter’s yard–a tree Lucy planted herself as a young girl–the family gets together to make applesauce. The children and their parents aren’t sure if Uncle Arthur will make the trip this year. But he decides to come, and he does his best to keep telling the tall tales his young relatives have come to expect, though it isn’t quite the same for anyone.
Helen Frost is not as strict with meter as the more famous poet Robert Frost (no relation), but her verse has a simple musicality that seems designed for young readers to recite aloud. In an interlude called “Lucy’s Song,” the late great-aunt recounts the early history of the tree:
Each year it stretched its branches high
past my window, into the sky.
One year it gave us an apple to share–
the next year it gave us a pie.
Older readers who cried at the opening sequence of Up will find these recollections of Lucy and Arthur’s courtship equally moving, and young readers will find them illuminating about that strange country, life-before-me. As it turns out, Peter’s crush on the girl down the street isn’t so different from Uncle Arthur’s puppy-love phase with Aunt Lucy. This is the great lesson of Applesauce Weather: it presents a continuity between generations, showing kids how to value a life well lived, even as they anticipate the one about to unfold in front of them. That makes this pleasantly old-fashioned book an appealing resource for grieving kids and parents alike.
This appears in the August 29, 2016 issue of TIME.
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