Named for her parents' maternal
grandmothers, Elizabeth Margaret Simon was born on Mother's Day 1991; her
brother Jack called her Libby. Libby was born with a rare metabolic disorder, and although doctors
expected her to live less than six months, she lived to be
AustinMama: This book is a bittersweet tribute not only to your daughter, Libby, but to respecting and validating a child's complex grieving process as well. Can you describe the book's journey from idea to realization?
Annette Simon: When Libby died,
Jack was five, and struggling to understand. We found few resources for
grieving kids, even fewer from a child's perspective. In fact, we found
only one book -- a fictional story about rabbits. For a year, I wrote down
Jack's concerns. He thought no one in the world could possibly know how he
felt. Turns out, his questions were universal. Which is why grief and
hospice experts urged us to get his words 'out there.' With Jack's
permission, I set out to get the journal published, and with his input,
illustrated his questions. (I work as an art director, but Jack was one of
my toughest clients.)
AM: Can you share some of the feedback you've received?
AS: The book seems to be striking a chord. It's prompted personal notes from Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush (who also lost a sister when he was a boy), and a phone call from Paul Glaser of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. BookPeople made it a staff pick. Women I admire, like Jan Karon, Holly Hobbie, Marion Winik, and Sara Hickman recommend it. But more importantly, the book is finding its way to grieving families, who find solace in the words of a five-year-old kid.
The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Oklahoma City's The Kids' Place, and the American Hospice Foundation in Washington, D.C. use the book in both their children and adult groups. Southwest Airlines donated copies nationally to the Ronald McDonald Houses. The New York City Elementary School System received copies, at their request. Hundreds more have been given to those aching from last September's tragedies. Last fall, Jack got a thank you note from Bill Clinton, for allowing him to share the book with families who were hurting. It was designed to be a book for children, but it's becoming a source of comfort for readers of all ages and faiths. I like that. ;)
AM: What elements do you think are lacking in our culture's way of dealing with loss, and how we include (or don't) our children in the process?
AS: Well, we know communication is
especially important at a time of loss. However, it's also when no one
quite knows what to say. Not even grown-ups. I don't think there's a right
way or a wrong way to help kids deal with grief; we kind of flew by the
seat of our pants. Jack didn't go to Libby's funeral. He didn't want to,
we didn't force him. But a thoughtful friend taped it so he could 'be
there' if/when he chooses. (Jack's 12 now; he still hasn't watched the
AM: What's been Jack's reaction to being a young published author?
AS: "Cool." Honestly, he doesn't think all that much about it. His friends are more impressed that a book by a kid their age is available over the Internet.
Thanks, Annette! Congratulations
on the book's success.
Click on the images below to enlarge pages from the book: