Trendwatch 2020: Death Death Death Death Death
Sorry to be such a blogging bummer today as you will soon come to realize, this is not my fault. You see, here in bucolic Evanston, Illinois I run a committee that attempts to winnow down all the children’s books published in America in the current calendar year to a mere 101 titles. It is difficult work, but my committee (which consists of pretty much any library staff member who wants to take part, as well as some local booksellers) is up to the task! And as we read the galleys and advanced reading copies and f&gs (folded and gathered picture books) we start to notice trends. At its best, this can yield weird similarities between books. For example, has anyone else noticed that paperclips are becoming very important in a variety of books this year? (See: The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers, Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar, etc.). Yet that oddity pales in light of what may well be the most sweeping trend of 2020.
Now you might point out that dead dogs are nothing new. Why just last year there was that thoroughly charming book Paws & Edward by Espen Dekko, to say nothing of Stephanie Lucianovic’s The End of Something Wonderful. And I’m with you on that! I want to believe that there isn’t something peculiar going on in 2020. But then . . . well, here’s how it happened.
It started innocently enough. Someone handed me a copy of Where Lily Isn’t by Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine. A sweet looking title with a fine author/illustrator pedigree. Heck, it has a star in Kirkus, for crying out loud. And it begins well, with a young child playing with the titular Lily, talking about all the great stuff they did together. Turn the page . . . “But not now.” Whoops! Yep, Lily, it seems, is all kinds of dead. Some folks obviously don’t find that sudden shift in tone surprising, but I was a bit taken aback.
That’s okay. There are other books to look at, like An Ordinary Day by Elana K. Arnold, ill. Elizabet Vukovic. That one begins with two houses, side by side. And while everyone outside is doing mundane things two doctors pull up. They go into the two houses and you turn to see . . . a dog being humanely euthanized. See, there is a real disadvantage to my method of not reading the flap copy on a book before I pick it up. Again, we get a kind of surprising dead dog moment. To be fair, this fact is paired alongside the other house where someone is giving birth, but that doesn’t lessen the initial shock.
But let’s say you want something more than a dead dog book. Well, now you have options. Thanks to the British import Love From Alfie McPoonst, the Best Dog Ever by Dawn McNiff, ill. Patricia Metola, now you can get an epistolary dead animal book!
Not poignant enough? Turn your sights then to A Last Goodbye by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim. Animal mourning and coping techniques are the focus here. Kirkus gave it a star and called it, “Staggering.” PW called it, “deeply sad in a way that befits their subject matter.”
Early chapter books more your thing? Well, I can say without reservations that you won’t find any dead dogs in the truly charming Swedish import All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, ill. Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall. What you WILL find is pretty much every other kind of dead animal out there. What starts with a single deceased bee becomes a day of playing at funerals for three kids. That sounds pretty bleak, but trust me when I say it’s one of the more delightful books of the year.
Honestly, though, I think I’m getting too wary. By the time I got to Brooklyn Bailey, the Missing Dog by Amy Sohn and Orna LePape, illustrated by Libby Vander Ploeg, I was beginning to wonder if any canines would survive the year. I mean, why is Bailey missing? Is it because Bailey is DEAD? Spoiler Alert: No. Still and all, I find myself eyeing with great suspicion books like Hey, Little Rockabye: A Lullaby for Pet Adoption by Buffy Sainte-Marie or How I Trained My Dog in 10 Days by Norma Lewis or Roy Digs Dirt by David Shannon. How ya feeling there, Roy? You feeling, okay? Gonna survive the whole book? Good boy.
We shall always have new books produced to help kids deal with the profound grief that comes when a beloved family pet passes away. I’ve no problem with the content of these titles in the least. I just find it surprising that they’ve all come out at around the same time. These books are good, but sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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