By Cece Meng; illustrated by Jago
Nature is a great instructor on how to navigate life. There are things you can control and things you can’t. And, sometimes you have to know when to let go, and what to accept, as it is.
We spend a life gathering in and accumulating, yet perhaps we need to focus more on the ability to let go.
Everything and everyone that touches us leaves an imprint and a memory.
And those memories are the things that last.
How to explain to young readers about the letting go in death that may touch their lives? The picture book can be a wonderful primer here.
I remember a priest friend of mine saying, “So long as a person’s name is spoken, they will be remembered and never forgotten.”
I found that profound.
So when I chanced on Always Remember, that quote struck home again, for this picture book evokes that very feeling and theme.
Cece Meng’s picture book touches on the passing briefly of Old Turtle. I say briefly, because it is not the passing that is the focus of the book, though there is sadness among his friends at his loss.
But the focus is definitely on the gifts of friendship and fraternal fatherliness that he left in his wake. Each of his sea friends in turn recalls an intervention or kind deed that allowed them to grow and thrive.
Young turtles recall swimming lessons, a hump-backed whale remembers the pleasant companionable Old Turtle swimming side by side with him, sea otters reconnect with moments shared with someone that loved to dive and play with them, dolphins dove with Old Turtle as they together probed the darker and deeper waters in the ocean, and a small storm tossed star fish remembers Old Turtle’s efforts to find and bring her home.
My particular favorite is the memory of the manatee:
When Old Turtle found a
manatee tangled in a fishing
net, he snipped and pulled
and would not stop until the
manatee was free.
The manatee told the story to
his children, and they told the
story to their children.
Old Turtle would never be
And it is in this role that we play in each others lives as teachers, friends, explorers, and simple sharers of moments of fun, that we create a kind of eternity for a person.
He showed kindness and strength
And he made his world a better place.
When he was done, the ocean took him back.
But what he left behind was only the be-
Cece Meng has given young readers a pretty profound look at loss, unafraid to look at it, yet allowing kids to focus more on a person’s legacy, in who they were, how they touched us, and what they can take forward into their lives from other lives shared with them.
Jago’s complementary images of the ocean depth in muted colors, of the ocean creatures and occasional bursts of contrasting light, set a mood and tone that is respectful and ruminative for the reader.
Loss, be it pet or person, touches kids soon or late.
But, isn’t it pretty wonderful that there are picture books to read with them as they experience it, that lets them know that others feel as they do and that people do live on – as long as their deeds and gifts to us, live in memory and in us.
Remember to speak their names…often.
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