One of the most effective ways to help children understand normal grief reactions ~ their own and that of the people around them ~  is to tell them a story, or you can read together one of the many wonderful children’s books now available on loss, dying, death and grief.  ~ Marty Tousley

Former children’s book editor Jayne Pillemer has penned a moving story to help kids work through feelings of grief. In the wake of COVID-19 and with school shootings at a record high in the U.S. according to the National Center for Education Statistics, thoughtful books like Pillemer’s are an essential balm to the soul, nurturing hope in grieving hearts.

In “Still Mine,” Pillemer’s lyrical writing and Sheryl Murray’s sweet illustrations offer gentle comfort and reassurance to anyone who has experienced loss that you still carry those you love with you in the smallest things—and in your heart—forever.

 An Interview with Jayne Pillemer

There are many children’s books about grief, but none quite like this. How does “Still Mine” stand out in the crowd?

There are some really special books out there, but lots of them focus on just one relationship: a grandparent, a pet. What’s unique about Still Mine is that we see diverse children experiencing all types of loss: a grandparent, a parent, and even a friend.  This allows grief to feel universal and for the book to be applicable in so many situations. It also shows that love is universal, and I think children everywhere–and in any kind of grief situation–can identify with the idea of love staying in your heart. 

Loss is such a complex thing; you have said that “There are so many facets of death, so many stages of grief, and so many complexities with the emotions surrounding it” – how did you approach tackling such a nuanced topic in a way that children will understand?

I wanted the book to acknowledge that death is sad and that it hurts. It’s okay to feel lost and empty. These things are normal and part of a really hard experience. But I really wanted young readers to come away with a sense of peace, so that was my focus:  finding what might give them peace, what gave me peace. I noticed that my own children were comforted in times of change when I could emphasize what was staying the same. Approaching the topic of loss from the perspective of what you get to keep (love), seemed to be a way to deliver the message with tenderness. 

How can adults talk to kids about grief in a way that is comforting and hopeful?

I always believe in being as honest with children as you can, while being conscious of what is developmentally appropriate. Still Mine is a perfect way to introduce the idea of loss and death in that it pairs a sad and scary topic with a strong message of home: the idea of this permanence of love.  The message that love will always be in your heart is so comforting because it shows all the ways we can continue feeling good things, even though this bad thing has happened. 

When is the best time to read this book? Should readers wait until their family experiences a death firsthand?

Not necessarily! I think it is a great tool to help a child process death and show them the ways that they can still love the person who has passed. It is a wonderful sympathy gift for children and families–I often found myself at a loss for something helpful to give in times of sorrow. But I’ve been reading Still Mine to children who have never experienced death, and when I asked them how they feel after listening to the story, they have said things like “warm” and “calm”. Introducing the topic of death to children can be scary, but when you deliver it in a gentle way, children can peacefully process the concept, and they really do accept that hopeful take-away. 
What do you hope readers of all ages will take away from “Still Mine”?

Things are different when you lose someone you love. There are so many things you will miss. But love is the most powerful emotion there is, and love and your memories will always live on. Holding love in your heart is healing, and sharing love with others helps love and happiness grow. 

What’s next for you on your author journey? Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I have three children and Still Mine, though a short picture book text, took me a few years to write! But I am at my desk during nap times, tinkering with new ideas and new voices. Sometimes I don’t know if it’s going to be any good until I’m done, but I hope Still Mine is just the start for me! 

About the Author: Jayne Pillemer is a writer and former children’s book editor. Still Mine is her first book. She loves to make her Grandma Helen’s old recipes and drink hot chocolate like they used to do together on sleepovers. Jayne lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband, children, and a heart full of love for people who are still hers. Follow Jayne on Instagram at @jaynepillemerbooks.

About the Illustrator: Sheryl Murray always had her nose in a book and her head in the clouds as a kid. Her sister Sheila and her own imagination were her very best friends, and they spent many happy hours creating their own world together. Now she finds incredible joy and hope in helping bring stories to life for other kids through her artwork. For more information, visit Sheryl at www.sherylmurray.com and follow her on Facebook at @sherylmurrayillustrator.

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