Benny and Penny in How To Say Goodbye starts out with the two best friends playing in a pile of leaves. Shortly after jumping in them and frolicking in the forest Penny discovers Little Red, a salamander that the two mice know. However, Little Red is limp and Penny supposes that he is dead. From here How To Say Goodbye turns into one of the most unlikely children’s books about loss that they need to read.
Author and illustrator Geoffrey Hayes draws and writes the book in such a way that it speaks to children without being condescending. That fact is even more impressive given that the subject matter of this particular book is death. This is real death; the characters see a lifeless body, have a funeral for them and more.
The core message of How To Say Goodbye is the fact that individuals grieve in different ways. When the two discover Little Red it’s Penny who immediately feels sad, whereas Benny says that he’s only sleeping in addition to other mean things. Melina, their forest friend comes out from the tree and helps Penny bury Little Red.
The two go about finding something to bury him in, dig a hole, sing songs to remember him by and share fond memories about the good times they had. All the while Benny is behind a bush listening to them, still being grumpy. It’s not until the two singing say a word that brings back memories between Benny and Little Red that he starts to cry.
Again, as the father to two children and someone who reads lots of children’s book it feels odd to see this happen in a book intended for young readers. Having said that, lessons like this need to be taught and Benny And Penny in How To Say Goodbye does an excellent job of covering the subject. It manages to have moments of happiness, laughter, anger, jealousy and remorse in only 35 pages of content.
The book is from Toon Books and their scale for measuring reading skill is top notch. All parents need to do is look at the back inside cover to see the differences between Level 1, 2 or 3. Then look at the back of whatever Toon Books your child want to read. In this case, How To Say Goodbye is perfectly aimed at 1-2 graders as a self –guided reader. It’s OK for even younger kids to look at the pictures or follow along as it’s being read to them.
How To Say Goodbye is unexpectedly fabulous. It tells a story that kids don’t need to hear every day, but do need to be aware of it. This book weaves together a disparate number of complex lessons into a vehicle that will make them think and ultimately leave them with a smile.
It’s also worth nothing that this book works for the elderly too. I was seeing my father recently and one of his friends at the assisted living facility asked if she could read the book. I said sure thing, but it’s a children’s book. After reading the book she gave me a wry look and said, “that is a lesson that any age can learn”.