Couloumbis, Audrey. Getting Near to Baby. Putnam, 1999. ISBN 0-399-23389-X. $17.99. 211 pp. A 4-6 FI Reviewed by Carla Morris Unspeakable grief and the healing process that follows are the very heart of this recently announced Newbery Honor book. Twelve-year-old Willa Jo and Little Sister, who hasn't uttered a word since the loss of their baby sister, are staying with their Aunt Patty. The loss of a child must be the most excruciating of life's experiences. Getting Near to Baby tells of this heartbreaking depression from a child's point of view. “After Baby died, times were hard. Funerals cost a lot of money. And they make you feel tired, real tired, for weeks after. What it comes down to in the end, you stop doing everything but what you have to do. We didn't bother about making the bed or doing the laundry. We didn't wash dishes unless there wasn't one left in the cupboard. We didn't worry about breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We ate whenever we were hungry.” Left alone by an unemployed father, Willa Jo, Little Sister, and their mother sleep together in one bed for comfort. Aunt Patty comes to check on them and finds conditions unfit for living. After cleaning the house and buying food and wood to burn, she feels it is her duty to take the girls so the mother can “rest.” Aunt Patty has never had children of her own. So along with coping with their baby sister's death, Willa Jo and Little Sister must put up with Aunt Patty's choice of clothes and regular living habits. The book slowly unfolds the story of how the girls' father lost his mining job and left them. Only near the conclusion do we hear about the death of Baby. Milly, a neighbor, had taken them all to a traveling carnival, where the baby was given tainted water to drink. The mother spent the night with the sick baby, thinking a new tooth was coming in. By morning, the baby had died in her arms. She sat and rocked the dead baby for some time, watching the rising sun. She could not bear to put the baby down. Looking at the pink sky of early morning, she felt heaven and angels were opening their arms to welcome her baby in. At Aunt Patty's house, the girls often climb the roof to see the sky and watch the town below. They miss their mother and her understanding ways. Several chapters cover Aunt Patty's frantic pleas for the girls to come down. Uncle Hob tries a different approach by joining them on the roof for a good talk, and in the end Aunt Patty goes up to the roof as well. She apologizes to the girls for past misunderstandings, and she explains that she was just trying to help and wouldn't hurt their mother, Noreen, for anything. All four sit on the roof and watch the sunset as Noreen drives up to reclaim her daughters. Plenty of resolution helps the grieving see the light at the end of the tunnel. Note: 2000 Newbery winner is Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Honor books include Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis, 26 Fairmont Avenue by Tomie de Paola, and Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm.
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